1/25/2020

A Story of Economic Contrasts

"Neil Monnery’s A Tale of Two Economies is in some sense a polemic against historical determinism, at least insofar as promoting economic reforms is concerned. It stresses the importance of two single individuals, one a great man for many, one an obscure official and political unknown to the most, in shaping the destiny of their respective countries. What they read, how they understood life, their passions and characters had an impact on the lives of millions. Monnery’s narrative is powerful because it concerns, together with two men, two countries which both “sit at a latitude of around 22 or 23 degree north, just south of the Tropic of Cancer,” that, in spite of geography, each came to represent the beacon of a peculiar political theory in the 1960s and after: Hong Kong, what Milton Friedman and many others called an experiment in “free enterprise and free markets”; and Cuba, the last bastion of socialism after the Soviet Union faltered and China reformed.

Each of these two countries came to embody a different political idea (whatever their deviations from the blueprint, as the real world is rather obstinate in not mirroring political treatises), and it was largely thanks to two men: Ernesto “Che” Guevara and John Cowperthwaite. To the latter, Monnery devoted a biography, entitled Architect of Prosperity , which remains the only book available on the subject. On the other hand, a search on Amazon reveals some 2,000 books somehow related to Guevara, beginning with his Motorcycle Diaries.

A revolution is “not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall,” wrote Guevara. Monnery shows how these two men shook the tree."