It is a frequent comment: the second book/film/album is the most difficult.  The debut book/film/album is a success;  now comes the follow-up. Expectations are now higher, no longer a first timer.  It is Dambisa Moyo’s turn to step up to the plate a second time.  A one-hit wonder or does she live up to her stellar billing?

Dead Aid was a success. A polemic against the direction of foreign aid.  Not quite so simple but it challenged the cosy status quo and got the debates going.  You may not agree with her solution of course but it her arguments made you re-affirm your own views.  A success.

Now comes “How the West was Lost”.   And judging by her talk and Q & A at the RSA in London yesterday she has not quite lived up to expectations.   Did she make me go out and buy the book?  No.  perhaps a browse.  A candidate for Time’s 2011 Top 100?  Not yet but the year is young.

Dr Moyo included in her opening comments that her parents don’t see  what the fuss she causes “its just commonsense” and that was a perfect summary.    

Old  and well known statements abounded:  10 economists come up with 25 solutions; the USA guzzles a disproportionate  amount of the worlds resources; the “rest” is rising, you don’t need democracy to grow.

Wait a minute. Democracy is not the answer?  Heavens above.  Well no, not really.  Britains industrial revolution  in the late 18th centurywas based on a very small electorate which we would hardly call democratic today; Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore was based on a very narrow version of democracy and China today is doing fine thank you very much.

Where I did find common cause was her focus on the changes outside the “developed world”. Anyone who explains what and how China, India, Singapore, Brazil etc now works is more than welcome.   Too few people in the “west” have got passed stereotypes and cliches, and superiority.     I also agree with her comment that debt is good: if used for investment and not for consumption. No doubt she will take that back to Goldman Sachs.

Dr Moyo  handled the few questions tolerably well. Action Aid hit a raw nerve when they challenged her over mulitnationals avoiding as much tax as they can.  Her duty as a non-exec on mulitnationals came to the fore as she tried to discredit the messenger and put forward minor CSR projects as a solution.   Banker-speak came out pat and with feeling. 

A question about culture surprised her.  Asked whether cultural differences made a difference. Hofstede etc, she dismissed them.  Not surprisingly.  Another question then asked about the ruling elite in China. Dr Moyo explained how they would see themselves as the custodians of 5,000 years of history and not hostages to the short termism of elections.  Precisely as Hofstede would have pointed out: in his view Asian cultures have a different, longer, time persepective than say western.  Culture is indeed a critical factor.

In summary: it may have been the format of the event and the book may be better.  Listen for yourself.   It may take a longer view and not focus on a few recent statistics: important for todays market but less so over the next 20-30 or 50 years.  Browse the book in a shop, defer buying!

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