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 / Winter 2009 / Issue 57(originally published by Booz & Company)


Best Business Books 2009: Globalization

Shifts in trade are usually followed by shifts in finance, and here the evidence Simpfendorfer offers is equally revealing. Arab and Chinese businesses continue to court one another’s sovereign wealth funds, looking for capital infusions and building trust, while many U.S. companies and markets look more and more like dry holes. Even before the economic crisis struck in 2008, Gulf countries had begun a gradual shift of foreign exchange reserve holdings to euros, and the European Union is in the final stages of free-trade negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council. China has also telegraphed its desire to diversify investments and currency reserves away from the U.S. dollar, in essence signaling a certain ideological unity with its new Arab partners.

The political ties on the new Silk Road are evident in the frequent reciprocal summits to which Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and China’s President Hu Jintao bring planes full of executives eager to sign deals. Oil trading, foreign investment, arms deals, and the rhetoric of diplomatic alignment are all part of the mutual reinforcing.

In using the Silk Road as a metaphor, Simpfendorfer reminds us that the trade networks between the Middle East and Asia date back centuries, illustrating how globalization is not an entirely new phenomenon either. He also points out that the Silk Road was in fact plural; it was many routes in multiple directions. Much like the new world order, it had no single center.

The New Silk Road is a window into the deepening commercial and cultural ties that define globalization outside the Western domain. English may be the necessary global language, but it’s insufficient to understand and capitalize on today’s multidirectional globalization. Simpfendorfer’s first-person observations plausibly sketch the many individual threads that will likely be woven together to create tomorrow’s geopolitical alliances.

India’s Bid for Economic Leadership

It is remarkable how in the past few years the analytical perspective on globalization has shifted from Westernization to the rise of two Asian giants. The literature on Asian globalization has also matured; the overly simplistic language of “Chindia” is gone, with each nation now being treated as a confident competitor in its own right — and it is India that has gained ground, at least in publishing-volume terms, over the past year.

After several years of almost outlandishly unrealistic portraits of India’s rise that glossed over its crumbling infrastructure, fractious politics, and impoverished masses, in Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, we finally have an inspiring yet balanced account that takes these challenges head on. Nilekani, the hero of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), a former co-chairman of IT giant Infosys and now a cabinet minister in the Indian government, knows that for India to achieve global respectability, the success of firms like Infosys must spread to companies throughout India. As a CEO and statesman, he elegantly glides between national history, entrepreneurial autobiography, trend forecasting, and public policy — taking the attitude that “what’s good for India is good for Infosys” and focusing on how to improve access for all Indians to health, education, jobs, and infrastructure. (Also see Nilekani’s “India’s Demographic Moment,” s+b, Autumn 2009.)

Although so much of the talk about the Indian market opportunity revolves around the “bottom of the pyramid,” Nilekani wants to shrink the pyramid’s base by growing the middle class while also ensuring a dignified and sustainable life for those who are worse off. The twin foundations of this strategy are IT and the promotion of English-language education above all else. Exuding a confidence that rivals China’s pronouncements about its economic future, Nilekani states, “We can, first of all, reasonably assume that within a few years we should be able to have ubiquitous connectivity to cover every Indian home, hamlet and town.” Such ambition is coupled with a detailed strategy for harnessing an emerging demographic dividend created through the combination of economic growth and a boom in the number of working-age people. This will create tremendous business opportunities for foreign firms and Indian entrepreneurs alike, particularly in products such as low-cost computers and PDAs.

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