In the last half century, East Asia emerged as the uber-performer on the global economic stage. The various countries in the region found success with substantially different systems: state-led capitalism in South Korea, Singapore and Japan; wild and wooly, competitive, entrepreneur-led growth in Taiwan and Hong Kong; and more recently, what Deng Xiaoping once described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
But these countries shared one common element: a strong Confucian family ethos. Three of Confucianism’s five key relationships are familial, led by the all-important father-son tie. In East Asia, business has often been driven by familial concerns. Hard-driving “tiger Moms” or workaholic Dads sacrificed all for the benefit of the next generation. But now that foundation is beginning to crumble, and if the trend is not reduced, the 50-year-long ascendency of the region could be threatened.
The signs of an emerging Asian malaise can be seen in slowing economies — in Japan’s case an almost two-decade-long stagnation. South Korea and Singapore may grow this year at levels approaching that of the United States — mediocre by their historic standards. The notion of assured further progress is fading, as populations age and domestic markets seem unlikely to expand much.