All Roads Lead to Monopsony? Moyo on China’s Commodity Grab

Following the success of Dead Aid (which I enjoyed very much), Dambisa Moyo tried a repeat with Winner Take All – a book on China’s rising dominance of global commodity markets – with very little success.

The first half of Winner Take All is mostly a recount of statistics (most of which are already in the public domain) and general information on the state of the global commodity markets. It is not until the second half of the book that Moyo delves into the real issues regarding her subject matter – global commodities and China’s insatiable appetite for the same. But even then, the chapters are rather short on actual information on China and are instead full of comparative statics with the rest of the world (or more accurately, mostly the United States of America).

Moyo is not a China expert, and it shows in Winner Take All.

If you are looking for an indepth take of Chinese firms involved in the global commodity markets, their specific investments, strategies and relationships with the Chinese authorities, you will be disappointed. Moyo simply treats all of China as a single actor. There is no domestic politics. There is no discussion of redistributive concerns within China and how they will impact China’s economic performance. There is no nuance on the potential impact of China’s impending demographic decline (except in the concluding chapter). In the end the whole thing reads like it should be a special in the Atlantic Monthly rather than a stand-alone book.

The book, mistakenly, falls into the trap of Western declinism, suggesting that China will undoubtedly emerge to be the ultimate monopsonist in the global commodity markets (almost unchallenged). There is also loose talk of potential for conflict over resources – something that is contradictory to discussions in other sections of the book that emphasize the symbiotic relationship between China and the rest of the world.

The greatest strength of the book is its balanced take on the economic, political and social effects of the rise of China – especially with regard to Chinese investments in the rest of the world. The “Angola Model” of infrastructure-for-resources, discussed in the book, is far superior to the Swiss-accounts-for-resources model that has been the preserve of the West in many resource-rich developing countries over the last half century.

Winner Take All is a far cry from the provocative Dead Aid. It lacks a substantive discussion on the political economy of China’s economic rise (whether domestically or globally). Instead, it gives perspective (for those not in the know) of the implications of China’s economic rise.

Most importantly, it is also a welcome addition to the works of scholars like Deborah Brautigam who continue to remind us – and rightly so – that China’s economic adventures in the developing world have net positive benefits, despite the overwhelmingly negative press. For this reason I would recommend the book. 

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2 thoughts on “All Roads Lead to Monopsony? Moyo on China’s Commodity Grab

  1. Sounds disappointing, but not surprising — at least to those who disliked Dead Aid. I thought it was provocative, sure, but the argument was thin and poorly made, and she didn’t seem like an expert on aid anymore than an expert on China. Also, I’ll admit I chuckled at this line: the book “falls into the trap of Western declinism” — of course, her last book was called “How The West Was Lost!”
    (Thanks for the good review.)

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  2. She did say, rather defensively, in her recent interview with The Guardian that she was ‘not a political scientist’ so I guess the lack of political analysis has been pointed out to her as a weakness already

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