By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid writes “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” in the second person as a “self-help” book. From one perspective, it is a “tongue in cheek” tale of unregulated capitalism. It illustrates how human nature grinds capitalist’ morality into pulp fiction. Hamid’s story is like an eaten apple that exposes seeds that can be grown for good or ill.
The story’s two main characters are a young man and woman, born into poverty. They are seduced by the glamour of wealth. They are willing to do whatever it takes to make money. The young man acquires an education, and goes to work for an unscrupulous grocery distributor that undercuts competition by changing expiration dates on food goods sold to stores. The young man decides to cut similar corners through self-employment in a start-up, potable water business.
The second character, the young woman attached herself to men that advance her career as a model. With a gradual accumulation of wealth, the young woman becomes independent; not filthy rich, but relatively comfortable. The young woman is tied to the young man by background, ambition, and erotic interest. Their lives intersect at different stages of life.
Each of these characters adapt to the corruption of their environment. The young man pays bribes to local officials, hires a bodyguard that kills a threatening competitor’s henchman, and builds an organization that prospers and fails with a corrupt employee that bankrupts the young man—grown old. The corruption of the young man’s wealth seeds the corruption of the next generation. The next generation learns from the former generation; i.e. the new generation learns how corruption creates wealth.
The young woman’s trajectory is not quite so high or so low but suffers from the same corruption of morality; the morality of doing whatever it takes to make money.
In the end, the young man and young woman comfort each other in their old age. The young man, no longer young, has a prosperous son born from a divorced wife. The prosperous son furthers his education with his father’s wealth. The son leaves Asia to seek his own happiness. The young woman, no longer erotically seductive, ends life with a companion; i.e. the bankrupt old man.
To “…Get Filthy Rich in rising Asia” suggests it is necessary to leave morality at the door to enter a future of prosperity in Asia. One hopes the need to abandon morality is not a conclusion drawn by others choosing capitalism over other alternatives. All nations require some form of government to protect human nature from itself; regardless of economic system.