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 / Winter 2003 / Issue 33(originally published by Booz & Company)


Best Business Books 2003: Globalization

Instead, Singer proposes that affluent Americans “give at least 1 cent in every dollar of their income to those who have trouble getting enough to eat, clean water to drink, shelter from the elements, and basic health care.” Reasonable appeals have a way of motivating people. Indeed, reading One World produced an O. Henry moment in my own household, when my husband and I — unbeknownst to each other — made identical contributions to the International Red Cross and Oxfam. Having given 2 percent this year, I suppose next year is already taken care of.

Imposing Preferred Values
Niall Ferguson wants Americans to do more than open their wallets; he’d like them to be less inhibited about spreading markets and democracy. In Empire, Ferguson sets out to radically revise the conventional view of British imperialism by arguing that Queen Victoria’s empire did “more to promote the free movement of goods, capital, and labor” than any other. But his punch line is that the United States, “as the most successful economy in the world — as Britain was for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries — can do a great deal to impose preferred values on less technologically advanced societies.” By “preferred values,” Ferguson chiefly means Western norms of law, order, and governance.

This, of course, is advice that the Bush administration is putting to the test in Iraq. Ferguson is sufficiently politically incorrect to approvingly quote Kipling’s infamous 1899 appeal to America to “Take up the White Man’s burden/Send forth the best ye breed/Go, bind your sons to exile/To serve your captives’ need.” This reeks of appalling ignorance of democratic traditions in non-Western societies (more about this later). But Ferguson is making a serious argument when he claims that “without the spread of British rule around the world, it is hard to believe that the structures of liberal capitalism would have been so successfully established in many different economies around the world.” With some justification, he flatly rejects “the notion that British imperialism tended to impoverish colonized countries.” Much less convincingly, he also gives British imperialism credit for spreading democracy. “Without the influence of British imperial rule, it is hard to believe that the institutions of parliamentary democracy would have been adopted by the majority of states in the world, as they are today,” he writes. The French, America’s allies in 1776, would probably not agree. Neither would the Indians who came to equate democracy with independence and threw the British out after World War II.

Like Singer, Ferguson believes that the world sorely needs “a form of international government that can work — and not just for the benefit of the ruling power.” Unlike Singer, who sees a bigger role for the United Nations, however, Ferguson thinks that the United States is the only truly viable hegemon. At the moment, this is where things seem to be heading. Businesspeople will appreciate Ferguson’s sophisticated grasp of the interplay between politics and economics, along with his breezy prose. Ferguson acknowledges that America’s anti-imperialist tradition makes it doubtful that the U.S. will embrace the role he has in mind — at least openly: “…the empire that rules the world today is both more and less than its British begetter. It has a much bigger economy, many more people, a much larger arsenal. But it is an empire that lacks the drive to export its capital, its people, and its culture to those backward regions which need them most urgently and which, if they are neglected, will breed the greatest threat to its security.”

The unintended consequences of exporting America’s model and the possible repercussions for America’s security form the theme of Amy Chua’s provocative World on Fire. Her doubts about the kind of evangelism that Ferguson recommends stem partly from her reflections on the brutal murder of a wealthy aunt in Manila by the family chauffeur. That trauma eventually led her to conclude that capitalist success and the popular franchise can be an unexpectedly combustible mixture. Her cautionary note — that attention must be paid to the emotional fallout from globalization — will undoubtedly strike a chord with executives who live in, work in, or have responsibility for operations in rapidly changing traditional societies.

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