Annette Kim recently joined our faculty here at USC, and she’s a specialist in international development who works in Asia. She’s got a long cv, but today I am going to write about her first book:
Learning to be Capitalists: Entrepreneurs in Vietnam’s transition economy. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Ok, before we start, I have to share my favorite line in the book:
The study of capitalism (and Communism) is an ideological minefield filled with caricatures.
This book presents Kim’s dissertation research in Ho Chi Minh City studying Vietnam as a transitioning economy. For decades, many believed Vietnam would be one of the least likely states to succeed in transitioning their economy. Kim suggests that the comparatively rapid changes in transition economies have to do with “social cognition.” Capitalism is a culture and a set of norms as much as it is an institution. People thus have to learn how to do it, and social conditions vary systematically in fostering that learning. Her study traces how individuals learn to behave as capitalists as they interact with others doing the same–thereby changing a place and culture. The research triangulates between state actions to foster capitalist growth with following business owners as they learn to grasp the stakes and rules, and also as they learn how to innovate in their particular contexts.
She’s interested primarily in real estate, so the story begins from a difficult position: property rights are unstable and ostensibly collectively held, so that anybody who goes forward believing they have the entitlement to developt might, actually, be wrong and find they have invested in property that might get expropriated. In addition, there is the development of the permitting and approvals process to get going at the same time that developers are hoping to get stuff done. That’s a problem everywhere, but in a place where protocols and private plans evolve at the same time, it adds even more risk to what is already a risky venture. Nonetheless, people figured it out, and as Kim shows, they figured it out primarily through social and political connections which represent a risk minimization strategy.
I’ll let you read the book–it’s beautifully written–to get the rest, but one point: she does discuss state-sponsored planning and what they did to boost capitalism, and it comes back to the old saw: infrastructure. They developed various plans and urban districts in Ho Chi Minh City, but I strongly suspect much of the planning support for real estate came in the form it usually does: streets, roads, transit, water, sewer, electricity, etc. etc.
She has another book, Sidewalk City: Re-mapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City. University of Chicago Press, coming out in 2015, so we can look forward to that.