Archive for October, 2008

Hong Kong

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Another nice (but very busy) October visit to Hong Kong — but unfortunately I didn’t catch the Tai Hang dragon parade or National Day celebrations this year; hopefully I’ll be back on schedule again next year!

This trip included a series of business & academic meetings, including a visit to the new offices of Anemone Green Capital, a start-up company formed earlier this year by two of my former IETG colleagues, Hubert Tose and Jon Queen.  They’ve been growing extremely rapidly, and have already moved into bigger HK office space, as well as opening up new offices in Beijing and Shenzhen.  I’ve been working on a project involving carbon trading in both HK and China with them, and I’m very impressed with the team they’ve put together.

Anemone’s new ‘sister’ company, RESET, is also underway as well.  RESET offers ‘one stop’ carbon services for private sector companies in the region, and is run by Liam Salter.  Many of you may already know Liam — he formerly ran WWF’s climate change programme in Asia, and prior to that worked in Brussels for the Climate Action Network.  But he’s probably best known internationally for his work in developing the CDM ‘Gold Standard’ programme, a premium carbon credit for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that is sold in both the Kyoto Protocol and voluntary carbon markets.  Liam’s new HK-based company will provide a range of energy efficiency and carbon market services, and I’m looking forward to working closely with him & his other partners in this venture as well!  

Adam Smith in Beijing

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

I was on the Penn campus recently and ran into Dr. Elaine Simon, a cultural anthropologist whom I had worked with in the 1980s (in the private sector).  Elaine co-directs Penn’s Urban Studies program, and during our conversation she recommended that I pick up a copy of David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism.  Harvey, now at CUNY, had been the keynote speaker in her program’s well-known annual lecture series, and his book had a chapter about China’s economic transition (and even had a picture of Deng Xiaoping on the cover, along with Reagan, Thatcher & Pinochet).  I was glad I followed her advice, because it prepared me — at least a little bit! — for another book I subsequently came across, Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam Smith in Beijing.

Arrighi has written a controversial book, and a measure of its notoriety can be found in the acidity of some of the reviews: “an extended anti-market, anti-capitalism, anti-Western harangue,” noted one economist, offering “more insight into the sad state of intellectual development in sociology departments, even at such prestigious institutions as Johns Hopkins, than it does into the realities of wealth and poverty in the world economy.”   Another (political) reviewer wrote: “his arguments are a mixture of the Manichaean and the masochistic,” and “it’s sad to think that books like this may find an audience among impressionable college students.”  Given these reviews, the topic, & current market turmoil, of course I had to check it out for myself!

I started with high hopes, because the Introduction concluded with a statement that the Chinese were going to have to find an ecologically more sustainable development path than the West.  The early chapters on Adam Smith and Karl Marx took me back to my grad school days in political science… but pretty soon, arguments about the “terminal crisis of US hegemony” became more than a bit wearying.  By the end of the book, I had become quite frustrated, reading about the failure of recent US efforts to become a “world state,” while “China’s economic success was built on the extraordinary social achievements of the Mao era.”  Most of the book was about the U.S., not China, & the whole question of environmental conditions was essentially ignored (until the Epilogue).

While that wasn’t its primary focus, it would seem that any book espousing an East Asian rather than Western development path might at least consider the topic.  There was one sentence near the end of the text (positively spinning the fact that a pollution riot with 10,000 citizens caused authorities to reconsider things), & the Epilogue had a bit more to say, still blaming the West:

In short, by relying too heavily on the energy-consuming Western path, China’s rapid economic growth has not yet opened up for itself and the world an ecologically sustainable development path.

Nope, guess not.  (But at least I now understand the vitriol of the reviewers.)

[Note:  Despite this, you can see an interesting symposium about the book on Google video, with Arrighi, Harvey & others; the critiques from his own academic colleagues are particularly compelling.

And despite this (#2), my China-reading has been on a really nice streak lately.  I very much enjoyed Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China, a biography about the Sinophile Cambridge biochemist Joseph Needham, who wrote a 17 volume history of China’s historical scientific and technological contributions.  Laurence Bergreen — who authored the book about Ferdinand Magellan that I mentioned in last year’s Cebu posting — has now written a very interesting & readable biography of Marco Polo.  And I recently finished Sid Smith’s novel Something Like a House, which won a couple of major literary awards in Britain earlier in the decade for its realistic portrayal of peasant village life in 1950s & 1960s China.  Reviewers were stunned to find out that Smith had never even been to the country; his closest connection had been a one hour layover in the airport in Hong Kong.]