Tiger Cubs See Asia’s Future Through a Western Lens
When trying to discern Asia’s future, perhaps the viewpoints we should seek most are those of Asia’s young, the people who will, after all, be living that future. (I admit, in full disclosure, to being one of them.)
“Through the Eyes of Tiger Cubs” is the result of an essay competition jointly organized by the Asia Business Council, Time magazine and the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. The competition solicited essays from writers aged under 32 about the major challenges that Asia will face in coming decades and ideas for possible solutions.
“Tiger Cubs” synthesizes the almost 400 essays that were submitted into a common narrative. As the discussion shifts from topic to topic, moving from growing income inequality to a lack of regional identity, the book manages to combine these disparate essays into a single voice: the voice of Asia’s educated youth. At almost no point does the work feel stitched together; each idea flows seamlessly into the next.
This synthesis reveals something interesting about how Asia’s young look at the world. The essayists seem to recognize the same problems and support similar policy prescriptions. Few of them write anything that could seriously be considered outside of the mainstream, at least at my university and, I imagine, at others.
Had this book been composed a generation or so ago, one would have expected a reduced level of consensus. The essayists would surely have debated capitalism and communism, import substitution and export orientation or alignment versus nonalignment. References would have been made to American imperialism, to the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and perhaps to the third world as a separate entity, with a greater discussion of South-South dialogue and trade.
In comparison, the intellectual differences between essays in “Tiger Cubs” seem small. All of the essayists appear, for example, to accept the intellectual foundations that underlie mainstream economics. Many support centrist economic policies, arguing for open markets in general, with limited government intervention when it would serve to improve social welfare and ameliorate market failures. The debate in “Tiger Cubs” is not between Smith and Marx, nor is it even between Keynes and Hayek. Instead, the book portrays a group of Asian youth who have come to a consensus about the problems facing Asia, and who generally agree on the necessary policy prescriptions.
Ultimately, then, “Tiger Cubs” shows the success of the Western paradigm in understanding economic and political issues. Perhaps there was some selection bias at play — anyone writing in English for an international writing competition would presumably be somewhat Westernized already — but on some level, many people in Asia apparently see the Western paradigm as a very useful tool for understanding and recognizing problems and solutions.
Perhaps it is no longer accurate to call this a “Western” paradigm, given its widespread acceptance.
Globalization plays a large role as well. Open borders have allowed students around the world to attend universities in the West where they are instructed with similar techniques, creating a group of globally-aware, educated youths; in Asia, these returning graduates will likely use what they have been taught to recognize and deal with the problems around them.
This might make it more difficult to recognize developments that fall outside of the Western paradigm. As the famous saying goes, “It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.”
But this intellectual consistency also has benefits, as it makes communication and cooperation much easier. Problems can be recognized earlier, and common solutions can be more easily crafted once multiple nations agree that a given issue needs to be solved.
At the very least, a shared intellectual paradigm will allow differing viewpoints of future Asian and Western leaders to be mutually understood and recognized as “reasonable” arguments.
The Asian Review of Books
Nicholas Gordon, from Hong Kong, is attending university in the United States.
Through the Eyes of Tiger Cubs: Views of Asia’s Next Generation by Mark L. Clifford and Janet Pau