Dambisa Moyo first came to my attention when I read a Guernica magazine interview in which she discussed her book DEAD AID, and she struck me as a fresh and intelligent voice, someone to keep an eye on. Her book about wasted aid in Africa appealed to me because I've often wondered about how much I should give to charity, if at all, given that I have doubts about its long term efficacy and my ability to guage it. Fast forward a couple of years and I finally catch up with her by reading WINNER TAKE ALL. This book also appeals to me because I've been working in China for the last few years and naturally become interested in the profile of this remarkable country. It turns out that Dambisa is more than equal to the task of outlining what resources China is acquiring and what that bodes for all of us in the future. In fact, I doubt I could have found a better author to negotiate the subject matter than her. She wears her learning lightly, but is clearly super smart and on top her brief. Her book is essentially a geography essay but it is a superb one, giving the layperson insights into all sorts of things from all of the metals that make up your mobile phone to the yield of Monsanto crops. And we get an insight into China's way of playing Monopoly and Civilization. I'm not being sarky, every statistic quoted in this book is given meaning by being placed in a context that should give us pause for thought. Afterall, copper is one commodity that we may not have enough of soon, but happily for China, a Peruvian mountain a few thousand feet high that they now own helps them sleep more easily at night. Basically, most of the book briefs us on the very real danger of looming commodity shortages and the fact that China appears to be the only country that is securing enough to weather the brewing storm. Unless governments can work together to reduce oil consumption and embrace new technologies, as well as agree on how to share what we've got, there will be inevitably be conflicts, she cautions, and in the worst case scenario: a world war. If I can make any criticism of the book it is this. It's all very well showing us what China is up to, but we can't really understand anything until we understand what sort of relationships and agreements Western countries have with their suppliers, how they source their materials and what contingency plans they have. Dambisa says we don't have a plan as such, we're just sitting on our hands. She concludes that the 24 hour news cycle, 4 or 5 year election cycle democracies don't have t time to look head, beyond the urgent to the important. I see where she is coming from and yet I doubt it's that simple. To me, that just sounds like an excuse to write half a book and therefore an unbalanced one. Secondly. I am writing this review in a cheap hotel in China. (There is no internet, I will upload later in a cafe). There is no restriction on how much electricity I use and the shower has been leaking water consistently for days. Dambisa quotes various stats to show us China's precarious water situation but I tell you this: They certainly can afford to waste a lot at present. I think change can only really come when the situation really demands it. So when times are rough water will be metered and more expensive. Essentially what I'm saying is, it won't become important until it's urgent. A case in point, food rationing in the 2nd world war showed a country could rapidly adjust to a change in circumstances. It didn't kill us, in fact it's said to have made us healthier. I'm not being totally glass half full about this. Sadly, if we interpret the future from the past, pain is ahead, but the truth often falling between extremes; we'll probably muddle on without our worst fears coming to past. Well, I hope. And I hope books like this contribute towards a smarter future that helps us prepare.
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