DiCaprio's `Inception' Dream Team May Save China: William Pesek

The dream thriller “Inception” is quite the mind bender.

Few films in recent memory provoked more chatter than this corporate-espionage tale featuring Leonardo DiCaprio implanting an idea into a young billionaire’s head. Extracting thoughts, our dream catchers say, is easy. Introducing them? Not so much.

It also is a fascinating exercise in “what if?” Watching it, I wondered about how inception might be employed in Asia. There are many steps that leaders could take to improve the lives of billions and make economies more investor-friendly. Big ideas seem lacking, the challenges are many.

Imagine hiring Dom Cobb, the character DiCaprio plays, to plant the seeds of change in the dreams of important people. Were it possible, here are 10 missions we might offer him.

Target No. 1: Hu Jintao, Chinese president. There are many ideas we could plant in his subconscious: Don’t censor the Internet, stop making fat energy deals with despots around the globe, and reduce currency reserves. Really, isn’t a $2.5 trillion currency stockpile a bit ridiculous?

The idea I would implant is making green growth the priority. The most populous nation is lagging behind a target for reducing energy use relative to gross domestic product. Expect determination to meet the goal to wane as China focuses on growth. Tomorrow’s sustainability is more important.

Kim’s Sons

Target No. 2: Kim Jong Il, North Korean leader. Pssst! Your sons aren’t the answer. Kim’s third son, Kim Jong Un, will soon join the nation’s leadership. Considering the unambiguous disaster the Kim Dynasty has been for North Korea’s 24 million people, this hardly seems the way to go.

Target No. 3: Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister. Inception could focus him on the micro-economy. Gross domestic product has grown almost sixfold since 1991. Yet India’s leaders seem a bit too impressed with their high growth rates.

Singh has had such thoughts before. As finance minister in the 1990s, he introduced free-market measures that cut red tape, removed state-enforced capacity caps on steel and cement makers and allowed overseas companies, such as Ford Motor Co., to set up business locally. India needs more of this thinking.

Hiroshima Visit

Target No. 4: Barack Obama, U.S. president. Visit Hiroshima. Last week marked 65 years since an atom bomb was dropped on the Japanese city. Obama courted speculation by having John Roos, U.S. ambassador, attend the anniversary.

It fit with what may be Obama’s signature achievement: moving us a step closer to a nuclear-free world. The push needs to come from the nation that created the atom bomb and used it. Going to Hiroshima would show Obama’s resolve.

Target No. 5: Thaksin Shinawatra, former Thai prime minister. Talk about a guy who doesn’t know when to quit. Almost four years after he was removed in a coup amid corruption allegations, Thaksin continues to rally supporters from exile in swanky resorts around the globe. Here’s a thought: Stay away!

Target No. 6: Julia Gillard, Australian prime minister. Just because her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, got grief for a mining-tax plan doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Why shouldn’t all Australians benefit from their natural resources?

Rudd’s 40 percent tax on “super profits” would help Australia invest in its future. If I could invade Gillard’s dreams, I would tell her, if she wins the Aug. 21 election, she should demand billionaire miners share the wealth around more.

Malaysia’s Plight

Target No. 7: Najib Razak, Malaysian prime minister. Foreign investment plunged 81 percent in 2009, from 2008, and it’s hardly booming this year. Blame Malaysia’s four-decade-old affirmative-action policies that leave the economy uncompetitive. The voice in Najib’s head would say scrap it and bring your nation back into the global economy.

Target No. 8: Benigno Aquino, Philippine president. The shock resignations of 25 Philippine Airlines pilots, who left for higher pay abroad, highlight the brain drain afflicting the economy. Excessive population is a key reason why.

Let’s give Aquino a mind to take on the church. It muzzles serious discussion of family planning as a means of reducing poverty in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. Producing more people than good-paying jobs is a losing economic model.

Cough! Cough! Cough!

Target No. 9: Donald Tsang, Hong Kong chief executive. This one may be as easy as slipping a gas mask over his face as he sleeps. Severe pollution remains a clear and present danger to the city’s status as a global business hub. To Tsang’s subconscious, all I have to say is this: Cough! Cough! Cough!

Target No. 10: Naoto Kan, Japanese prime minister. He can’t revitalize Japan with the bureaucrats who really run the country blocking change. Here’s an idea: a mandatory rotation of responsibilities among government staffers every three years. The longer one stays in a job, the more entrenched their influence becomes and the more skewed their interests become toward their own personal success.

In “Inception,” DiCaprio’s character tries to persuade the next generation to break up an organization’s monopoly on power. Japan’s bureaucracy is a good place to start.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: William Pesek in Tokyo at wpesek@bloomberg.net

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