"Crazy Rich Asians," which has topped U.S. movie charts, gives a brazenly self-confident view of the continent's moneyed elite. Drenched in brand-name excess, the film has been praised for its breakthrough all-Asian cast. But rather than a celebration, Crazy Rich Asians should be viewed as a warning: of a continent once admired for inclusive growth now suffering a new era of rising inequality.
Not long ago even extreme Asian wealth seemed welcome. Few of the continent's early tycoons made their fortunes without a single-minded ruthlessness that was often criticized, from Hong Kong property baron Li Ka-shing to pioneering Indian industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani, father of Mukesh Ambani, presently Asia's richest man. But against a backdrop of recent poverty, these early super-rich were a sign of renewed entrepreneurial vitality. More importantly, their wealth came alongside economic growth that was both rapid and equitable.