Crazy Rich Asians

Kevin Kwan‘s novel is a powerful testament to the need for a steeply progressive income tax and a 100% estate tax with no loopholes. The crazy rich Asians he writes about squander their money on 350-foot yachts, private jets, $10 million apartments, $200,000 dresses, and a $40 million wedding. Apologists for unfettered capitalism might shrug this off, but I can’t. I’ve seen too much of the real world these characters spend so much to keep at bay beyond the fifteen-foot walls around their homes.

If the phrase economic inequality seems like an abstract concept, reading Crazy Rich Asians will help you understand what politicians, pundits, and academics seem to have had such a hard time getting across. Billions of people suffer because the social and economic systems in place around the world permit such obscene misallocation of resources.

Yes, I’m well aware that simply distributing the accumulated wealth of the world’s billionaires wouldn’t in itself make a huge difference for the 7.5 billion other people on the planet. But truly leveling the playing field that now gives them such enormous advantages from birth would indeed make a difference, eliminating the barriers to advancement for the tens of millions of truly talented people who are trapped in poverty. How? Through genuinely progressive taxation and pouring resources into public education and other services for those who aren’t crazy rich.

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy #1) by Kevin Kwan (2013) 546 pages ★★★★☆

Crazy Rich Asians is set in Singapore, but it might as well have been staged in Dubai, New York, Mumbai, London, Moscow, Shanghai, or any one of a number of smaller cities where billionaires congregate. The crazy rich Asians of this novel could just as easily be Arabs, Americans, or Russians. In this new Gilded Age, the superrich are building a hermetically sealed global society all their own. They speak English or Mandarin, and often several other languages as well. They cross borders at whim, gliding through customs on diplomatic passports or by virtue of bribes. Kevin Kwan simply shows us how the center of gravity of this emerging superstate is steadily shifting away from the West and toward the increasingly powerful nations of Asia.

Most readers of Crazy Rich Asians seem to have focused on how funny it is. Admittedly, I laughed from time to time. Kwan’s dialogue is crisp and often clever. But I found it exceedingly difficult to laugh when reading page after page about how a single family might misspend tens of millions of dollars in a single year.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first novel in a trilogy. Well written as it is, I doubt I have the heart to read the other two books.

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