Magnus is particularly acute on the renminbi, and Beijing’s pretensions to turn it into a global currency on par with the dollar ... Magnus could have looked above the parapet more often, to put the voluminous detail he has assembled on to a grander stage, in his case, of economic history. In the end, Magnus emerges as cautiously pessimistic, comparing Xi’s outward omnipotence with the brittleness displayed throughout the Chinese system ... The reader in me would have liked starker, more dramatic judgments ... The analyst in me, however, respects the author['s] caution.
Magnus makes many assumptions in this book. Chief among them is the fact that liberal capitalism is the optimal economic structure ...
Magnus’ other problem in Red Flags is that he noticeably underplays the savagery of the Mao regime. Yes, China modernized under Mao, but it did at the cost of between 40 and 50 million lives. Only a cold-blooded economist could skip over such a fact. But, besides these issues, Red Flags is a timely and important read that deftly shows how China’s economic power may be just a passing illusion.
Red Flags provides a comprehensive and valuable survey of the threats facing China’s economy. Unfortunately, it’s a tough read. Mr. Magnus, a former investment-bank economist, has a penchant for acronyms and infelicitous phrases ... What’s more, Mr. Magnus lacks the courage of his convictions. On the question of whether strengthening of the Party-state bodes well for China’s economy, he writes lamely that it is 'too early to tell.' As millennia of Chinese history attest, the country’s economic potential has perennially been thwarted by a meddling bureaucracy. Under Mr. Xi’s 'imperial presidency,' China is returning to this dismal tradition.