Winner Take All, by Dambisa Moyo

I just finished Dambisa Moyo’s latest book, Winner Take All, and I’m left feeling rather cold on the whole subject of China’s global resource grab. She spends a bit of time defending China’s non-combative, mutually beneficial approach to its deals with other countries, and in general, I’m pretty good with the Asian Onslaught. Unlike the U.S.’s “Gonna Fuck You Up and Take Your Shit” strategy for dealing with Iraq, China has adopted the technique of forming symbiotic relationships with countries who have stuff they want. And they want plenty. Coal, oil, minerals, food, you name it, and they are willing to pay for it. In fact, they are making so many international deals worth tens of billions of dollars that they are single-handedly skewing the world economy.

We’re now in a situation where if China withdraws its big bucks from a country, say the U.S., there will be severe global economic consequences. China now owns 8% of publicly-held U.S. debt, certainly enough to send the world economy reeling if they decide to discontinue investments of that size. Is there a chance that might happen? Well, here’s a scary little scenario. According to Dr. Moyo, the Chinese people were spending more on education and healthcare than the Communist Party liked. The Party wanted them to buy more stuff, more fridges and furniture, so they provided incentives to the populace. The incentives back-fired and the money the people would have otherwise spent on education and healthcare went straight to property, causing a lovely fart bubble in their commie bathtub. If things go south, as they always do with investment bubbles, the government will be forced to stop throwing dollars around the world and instead, fling the big bucks at their own populace to stop a revolution.

Though I’m fine with the style of give-and-take deals they’re making around the world, it’s not so good that no one else has the kind of cash they have to prevent inevitable monopsonies. Yeah, I’d never heard that term before either. A monopsony is the opposite of monopoly, where instead of there being only one seller, there is only one buyer. Still, barring their own internal troubles that cause ramifications in my own country, I’d almost rather Canada trade with China than the U.S.. Yeah, yeah, I know. No rule of law, etc, etc. But look how well that’s served the Americans, with their self-serving military incursions, their idiot prison culture, and their blatantly racist foreign policy. Don’t get me started. Yes, the Chinese are famous for their human rights violations. They may trash their own people wholesale from time to time, but I don’t see them killing 100,000 Iraqis to get what they want. The biggest complaint you can level at the Chinese is that they are causing problems because they’re overpaying for commodities world-wide, trying to make friends. And until they mess that up, I think I’m going to choose them as the lesser of two evils.

Anyway, as is my wont lately, I have to point out a few faults of this lovely book, stylistic and otherwise. You can sure tell it’s written by someone who’s spent waaay too much time in the ivory tower. OK, children, can we say, “Compound Sentence?” Nary a paragraph goes by without a parenthetical aside, either with actual parentheses or with dashes. And don’t get me started on the commas. These are the weapons of choice, not of big brains but of insecure thinkers.

Most books of this type inspire the author to either do their own research or at the very least, get their ass out of their office long enough to talk to another human being affected by the subject they’re covering. Not so Ms. Moyo. She could have written this thing from a bunker under the British Library for all the human connection she displayed in the book. A couple of times I found myself thinking some of her views of global problems and solutions were far too money and policy centric. She’s an economist after all, and to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I found it disturbing that in her lofty overview of China vs World Resources she failed to get high enough. It’s obvious even to idiot me that the speed of our Borg-like absorption of the world’s fossil fuels is due to the massive number of people those fuels serve and benefit. And when those fuels go, the party is over. What China is doing is securing everything it can in the face of known future scarcity. Ms. Moyo feels that current and future hunger and unequal distribution of resources can be solved, not by a concerted effort to lessen the number of people on the planet, but by the wealthy not wasting as much and by altering agricultural policies to allow poorer countries to sell more stuff to richer countries. All I can say is, in the face of the end of both oil and globalization, how are you planning to get African wheat to Iowa? Dinghy?

Similarly, in the face of increased demand for and dwindling supplies of water, food, energy, and minerals, she proposes that the U.S. military budget be cut back and the resulting cash windfall be used for R&D investment. Two for one, right? World peace and future prosperity. Well, doc, good luck. I’m sure the U.S. is planning to get right on that. But why the military? Why pick on them? Why not churches? Or the porn industry?

My last nitpick is her suggestion that we all just stop bitching about Monsanto and genetically modified crops. After all, they are basically feeding the world right now. “In 2009 Monsanto released a line of soybeans in the United States that … increase[d] yields by between 7 and 11 percent. More specifically, Monsanto points to yield increases… of 9 percent and 31 percent in Mexico and Romania…” blah blah blah. She feels that “…technologically-based food production must be tempered by costs such as degradation to soil or medical problems arising from genetic mutations. But when we can reduce the suffering of hundreds of millions of people across the world facing hunger and starvation, we should unreservedly do this.”

Right. Don’t educate anyone, especially not on birth control and don’t ever censure big business. Just keep on squirting out babies because Daddy Monsanto will provide. Wow.