The Elephant and the Dragon – Book Review

The Elephant and the Dragon

By: Robin Meredith

Reviewed by: Paul McMahon

When I was in high school and college we were told that culture and knowledge move East. This made us proud of the success of what we called Western Culture of Europe and the Americas and the failure of the old cultures of what we called the Eastern Culture of China, Japan, India and the Middle East.

The Elephant and the Dragon does not mention culture and knowledge moving East, but it certainly makes it very clear that the movement is taking place.

Early on there is a chapter on China and Mao and the damage that was done to the Chinese economy.

There is a similar discussion of what the socialists did to India.

In both cases millions starved.

Then something happened. While China remains communist the leadership began to tolerate capitalist ideas and activities while still remaining communist. The change is best illustrated by this joke: The current chairman is riding in his state owned limo. The road comes to an intersection where you must turn left or right. The driver says “Honorable Chairman, which way should we go?” The chairman says “Signal left and turn right.”

The book provides a light dose of statistics. There is not one table in the book. It is very clear that the capitalist tolerance in China and the outsourcing to India have brought millions of people out of poverty.

There is a good discussion of the fact that the politicians do not have a clue about what to do. Protectionism is the knee jerk solution, but the authors note that a large portion of Western debt is held by our trading partners, especially China, Japan and oil countries like Venezuela and Middle Eastern states. If they unloaded the debt we would be economically devastated.

We all need to recognize that the barriers that made us (the US and Europe) rich are gone. We are now in a world where money, work and materials move effortlessly to where the cheapest labor is available. We need to recognize that China’s high levels of literacy and India’s huge investment in colleges will give them a huge competitive advantage.

We need to prepare ourselves to compete in this world-wide economy by being the best. We also need to understand that our competition is also trying to be the best. We will have to cope with seeing our jobs go overseas many times and our having to retrain several times in our working life. Languages and culture studies will be critical.

Read this book and also Tom Friedman’s “The World is Flat”, pick up at least one additional language and try to understand world cultures beyond fried rice and chow mein.

Paul McMahon

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