It's become clear by now the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in most places around the globe hasn't ushered in an unequivocal flowering of capitalism in the developing and postcommunist world. Western thinkers have blamed this on everything from these countries' lack of sellable assets to their inherently non-entrepreneurial "mindset." In this book, the renowned Peruvian economist and adviser to presidents and prime ministers Hernando de Soto proposes and argues another reason: it's not that poor, postcommunist countries don't have the assets to make capitalism flourish. As de Soto points out by way of example, in Egypt, the wealth the poor have accumulated is worth 55 times as much as the sum of all direct foreign investment ever recorded there, including that spent on building the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam.
No, the real problem is that such countries have yet to establish and normalize the invisible network of laws that turns assets from "dead" into "liquid" capital. In the West, standardized laws allow us to mortgage a house to raise money for a new venture, permit the worth of a company to be broken up into so many publicly tradable stocks, and make it possible to govern and appraise property with agreed-upon rules that hold across neighborhoods, towns, or regions. This invisible infrastructure of "asset management"--so taken for granted in the West, even though it has only fully existed in the United States for the past 100 years--is the missing ingredient to success with capitalism, insists de Soto. But even though that link is primarily a legal one, he argues that the process of making it a normalized component of a society is more a political--or attitude-changing--challenge than anything else.
With a fleet of researchers, de Soto has sought out detailed evidence from struggling economies around the world to back up his claims. The result is a fascinating and solidly supported look at the one component that's holding much of the world back from developing healthy free markets.
“Property thus generates a multiplier effect that produces compound economic growth. This function of property was recognized most thoroughly by Marx, De Soto argues, and provided the basis for the Marxist critique of capitalism. But, De Soto says, Marx had it exactly backwards: it is precisely this function, succinctly captured in the term capitalism, that has proved the salvation of the lower classes of society. For when they too are able to have their property recognized before the law, they too can enter into the capitalist equation and benefit from material prosperity.”
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto is currently President of the ILD —headquartered in Lima, Peru— considered by The Economist as one of the two most important think tanks in the world. Time magazine chose him as one of the five leading Latin American innovators of the century in its special May 1999 issue "Leaders for the New Millennium", and included him among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. In its 85th anniversary edition, Forbes named Mr. de Soto as one of 15 innovators “who will reinvent your future”. In January 2000, Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit, the German development magazine, described Mr. de Soto as one of the most important development theoreticians of the last millennium. In October 2005, over 20,000 readers of Prospect magazine of the UK and Foreign Policy of the US ranked him among the top 13 “public intellectuals” in the world from the magazines’ joint list of 100.
Mr. de Soto has served as an economist for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, as President of the Executive Committee of the Copper Exporting Countries Organization (CIPEC), as CEO of Universal Engineering Corporation (Continental Europe’s largest consulting engineering firm), as a principal of the Swiss Bank Corporation Consultant Group, and as a governor of Peru’s Central Reserve Bank.
Currently, Mr. de Soto, together with his colleagues at the ILD, is focused on designing and implementing capital formation programs to empower the poor in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and former Soviet Nations. Some 30 heads of state have invited him to carry out these ILD programs in their countries. He also co-chairs with former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright the Commission on Legal Empowerment for the Poor, and currently serves as honorary co-chair on various boards and organizations, including the World Justice Project.
Mr. de Soto has published two books about economic and political development: The Other Path, in the mid- 1980s, and at the end of 2000, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. Both books have been international bestsellers – translated into some 20 languages.