From the February 2016 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

A Skewed Weltanschauung

What's your world view? I don't mean your philosophical or political view, but literally: When you consider our world, what lies at its center?

Before Copernicus, human beings and their governments and religions were convinced that the Earth was the center of the universe. We Americans of course consider ourselves the center of the socio-politico-economic universe. After all, we’re the most powerful, richest nation in the world, right?

My late mother liked to tell a story about me, who as a child (six, seven, eight years old?) was obsessed with a map of the world that hung on my bedroom wall. Apparently I would ask my parents, while looking at all the different nations on the map, “Is this country our friend? Is this country our enemy?”

It was the height of the Cold War when I was asking those questions, so it wouldn't be surprising if I were troubled by the fact that the USSR looked really big on that map. Perhaps I was consoled, however, by the fact that the United States — well, at least North and South America — was at the center of my map of the world.

Maps of the world are always skewed one way or the other, since we are placing on a flat plane a reality that is a sphere. Just as histories of wars are written by the victors of those wars, maps of the world differ based on where the cartographer is and what he or she wants to emphasize. Yes, the world confirmed in 1884 at an international conference in Washington that an imaginary line running through Greenwich, England, would be the prime meridian dividing the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the world, the longitude by which all other places in the world would be measured. It was not a coincidence that England was the greatest economic power of the time, owing in large measure to its economic and military seapower.

So if I grew up in Europe, the center of the world on my map may have been the Prime Meridian. If I grew up in Australia, for example, my boyhood map may well have been centered on Asia and Australia. The ancient Romans believed they were at the center of the world; ‘Mediterranean,’ means “the center of the earth,” or Middle Earth for you Tolkien fans. And so on.

I raise this political-geographical minutiae to highlight our cover story, in which Savita Iyer-Ahrestani presents the case for investing in Asia, the economic growth engine of the world. She begins by relating her personal experiences in a recent trip to Southeast Asia and in particular Vietnam. That country, she writes, is “quintessentially Asian, embodying those growth traits that for a growing number of investors make Asia the emerging markets region with the most investment potential.”

American investors’ thoughts about Vietnam, particularly those of us who grew up in the 1960s, may well be centered on the war that claimed 58,000 American lives rather than as an investment opportunity. But as advisors who must consider the actual risks and rewards of investing on behalf of clients, you might want to look at the economic and demographic numbers that Vietnam and Asia possess.

Here's just one set of numbers to consider. Peter Kohli, founder of DMS Funds, told Iyer-Ahrestani about a Pew Research Center survey of Vietnamese in 2014. The Pew survey found that “95% of the Vietnamese population stated that they favor capitalism over any other economic system.” Compare that to the United States, where Pew found that only 70% of the population placed capitalism first.

Again, what's your world view?

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