Arguably the two most successful former British colonies are Singapore and Hong Kong. Not only are they strong and prosperous in their own right, they also showed Deng Xiaoping how the Chinese might transform their own economic fortunes if they embraced capitalism as well.
Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, advertised his own contribution to Singapore’s success only too well. He published volumes of memoirs, while his acolytes and admirers have scarcely held back either. By contrast, the man principally responsible for Hong Kong’s achievement – in several ways even more remarkable than Singapore’s – remains almost completely unknown. Sir John Cowperthwaite, who arrived in Hong Kong in 1945 and topped off his career there as financial secretary from 1961 to 1971, was not one to blow his own trumpet and never cultivated a coterie of followers to do it for him. Thankfully, however, the businessman Neil Monnery has now published the first biography of Cowperthwaite. Architect of Prosperity is no literary masterpiece. But it is a rigorous, workmanlike biography of a man who deserves to be much better known.
One of Cowperthwaite’s greatest fans was the economist Milton Friedman. The American summarised Hong Kong’s postwar achievement thus: ‘Compare Britain, the source of the industrial revolution, the economic superpower in the nineteenth century, with Hong Kong, a spit of land, overpopulated, overcrowded, no resources except for a great harbor. Yet