Read on the street 16 November 2019

"Chasing the digital dragon"

Good morning,

“Enlightened self-interest”. The aim of every business should be to find a way to solve the world’s problems profitably.  

I’m paraphrasing but that message of more purposeful capitalism, as described by the economist Sir Paul Collier, came to life for me this week as I spent time with some of the inspiring business leaders working with LeapFrog Investments.  

For example, Kshama Fernandes is the CEO of Northern Arc in India. Did you know that India’s GDP is about to overtake that of the UK and Germany combined? Anyway, her company provides credit to over 28 million people in India, mostly people who are accessing financial services for the first time. The majority of them are women and many of them access these small loans simply to send their children to good schools. She told me that India is hungry for a better world, at all levels of society. She told me that the energy moving that change is palpable and she hopes we catch the same headwind soon over here. 

But for this week I’ve turned my attention to China, so here’s a selection of what I’ve been reading and thank you for sending me your suggestions for longer reads too. 

Let the global digital currency battle begin

If you hang around with me for more than five minutes, I will probably ask for your opinion on digital currencies. This article by economist Kenneth Rogoff lays out the global story in black and white. More often than not I am met with raised eyebrows and scepticism when I talk to people about the potential for cryptocurrencies to change our world which is funny really when you consider that most of us can’t remember the last time we used cash for anything at all…

Read more on Project Syndicate.

Cash is not king

And if we aren’t using cash much at home anymore, they definitely aren’t using cash in China. This article in The Wall Street Journal looks at the increasingly common experience of Westerners being left high and dry in China without a (digital) dime to their name as cash is now being refused for common purchases including taxi rides, street food and even toilet paper.  

Read in The Wall Street Journal. (£) 

Is China actually stealing American jobs and wealth? 

One of the stories that is often repeated and feels like it might be true is that China steals millions of manufacturing jobs. But does it? In this Harvard Business Review article, John L. Graham and Benjamin Leffel argue that trade between the West and China over the past two decades has in fact led to net positive economic results for both, and not just that, but the relationship has proved to be one of the most synergistic “in world history”. That puts into perspective what might be lost should US-Chinese trade talks continue to head south.

Read in the Harvard Business Review

Meditation apps miss the point of Buddhist mindfulness

Chinese Buddhism is one of the oldest forms of Buddhism in the world. It developed we presume through road and sea, travelling back and forth between India, mixing with Daoism and other spiritual schools and has been a huge influence on Chinese architecture, philosophy and art since at least two centuries before Christ appeared.  

And in the 21st century that ancient tradition is proving irresistible in the west. 

Buddhist Apps, offering mindfulness meditation practice with the ease of opening a packet of M&Ms, are creating a growth industry valued at $130 million dollars. But are they really Buddhist? Probably not. And are they really working? Probably not again.

Read on The Conversation.

China’s Alibaba opens door to UK high street expansion 

Until recently, Alibaba’s London staff have been busy making sure that the company’s secure payment platform, Alipay, works seamlessly for Chinese visitors across the UK. But that is no longer their top priority. The e-commerce giant, which led the largest IPO in history in 2014, is about to arrive on the British high street. It may sound like an odd move, but this, in reality, an ambitious strategy that aims to reshape the retail industry. More than immediate consumption needs, high-street shops are increasingly looking to provide an experience for their customers, and Alibaba intends to offer just that. 

Read in The Telegraph (£). 

Endless growth

In an age where long-held certainties can be undone overnight, are we really so sure China’s economy will overtake the US? In this article from the Harvard Business Review, J. Stewart Black and Allen J. Morrison, professors at INSEAD and Arizona State University, explain why that might not be the case. In fact, China’s growth trajectory is starting to look remarkably similar to Japan’s during the 1990s, as its prospects are being increasingly hampered by an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. Without structural change to the country’s culture, politics and economy soon, Black and Morrison think the Great Leap Forward might be about to take one step back. 

Read in the Harvard Business Review

And finally… 

“The ultimate aim of the businessman is not to talk up business, but its values. And in that sense, I’m a top businessman.” 

In this interview with CNNMoney, China’s most famous artist-in-exile gives his view on the possibility of open societies, the business of art, Brexit, the US-China trade war and the future of his country’s relationship with the West. His conclusion? “Because it has a global view… and none of the Western countries really do… China will win, for sure.” It’s a perspective that reminds me of the need to listen to our artists and creatives in times of global uncertainty. Whether as audience or as artist, engaging directly with art offers up endless explorations of our indefatigable ability to react, create and recreate in the face of seemingly impenetrable obstacles. 

Watch on CNNMoney


Written by Harriet Moll, Creative Director