HANOI, Vietnam—The best way to feel the sheer energy of Vietnam’s under-29 population is to ride pillion on Do Duyen’s motorbike. Like most Hanoi drivers (except when they drink too much rice wine at Tet or at weddings), Duyen has a sixth sense of how others will react in the flood of motorbikes and intruding cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and village peddlers balancing bamboo poles across their shoulders. Never mind that motorcyclists routinely make illegal turns at intersections by plunging left against traffic that is hurtling right. Everyone else simply swerves to accommodate this anomaly in his or her own way, and the collective streams of traffic glide on.

This might well be a metaphor for the course of Asia’s newest tiger, the one that took off in the late 1980s and averaged 7.5 percent annual growth over the next two...

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