While Mr. Perkins has written as much of a page-turner as the subject allows, complete with beautiful spies, afternoon trysts, and midnight visits to smoke-filled teahouses, his critique ultimately seems more evocative of colonialism as practiced by Europeans through World War II and of cold-war politics than the kind of globalization we are experiencing today. Still, one does not have to accept the author’s imputation of imperial intent to acknowledge that globalization as promoted by the U.S., the IMF, and the World Bank has often fallen short of the mark.
A New Era
Mr. Perkins’s prescription for a sustainable approach to development, like the other authors’, encourages enterprises to work with nongovernmental organizations and indigenous peoples rather than through large capital projects financed with debt. In recent years, Mr. Perkins himself has worked among many indigenous peoples to preserve their culture. In one instance, he helped negotiate a settlement in an obscure conflict between the Ecuadorian government and local tribes over the drilling of oil. Mr. Perkins’s journey, though extreme, echoes the transition multinational corporations have undergone in their approach to the developing world. The era of simply taking wealth out of the ground is over. A new era of working cooperatively has taken its place.
Another entertaining narrative of globalization in action across multiple borders and continents is Pietra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). An associate professor of business at Georgetown University, Professor Rivoli tracks the life of a T-shirt from the picking of cotton in Texas to the sewing of fabric in China to its import into the United States to its eventual resale as a used garment in Africa.
She decided to write her book after hearing protestors denounce globalization at a student rally. A believer in the benefits of free trade, she set out to prove the students wrong. What she found, however, was that while the benefits of globalization are quite real, free trade and free markets are rarer than one might suppose. From the cotton farms of Texas to the factory floors of China to the corridors of power in Washington, the author found that the T-shirt business is less an example of free trade than one of successful companies avoiding free markets wherever possible.
The Travels of a T-Shirt describes the Byzantine world of international tariffs on clothing codified in successive international trade agreements. Not until she follows her T-shirt into the market for the export of American secondhand clothing to Africa does Professor Rivoli find a truly free market. In addition to proving the point that profits often result from government protection, this book provides an idiosyncratic but vivid view of the global economy in action, particularly her accounts of manufacturing in China and the aftermarket for the export of secondhand clothing.
Operating successfully in the global economy, particularly in the poorly charted reaches of the developing world, requires optimism — optimism tempered by accurate, unbiased information. Each of the five books reviewed here provides such information, and contributes a valuable perspective on the critical role that businesspeople play in globalization. How multinational corporations champion capitalism in emerging markets will determine to a large extent whether today’s globalization continues as a force for fairness and growth, or whether it ends up malicious and maligned, entangled in a thicket of trepidation, tariffs, and taxes.
Michael Moynihan ([email protected]) is a professor of economics at New York University’s Real Estate Institute. Formerly senior advisor for electronic commerce in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Professor Moynihan is the author of The Coming American Renaissance (Simon & Schuster, 1996).