I approached reading this book with the assumption that I would viscerally dislike it: I hate popular culture; I consider myself, at best, to be a technological agnostic; and my impression was the "globalization" is being generated by international-business buccaneers. However, I discovered that John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge, correspondents for The Economist, are adept popularizers of complicated contemporary concepts; they share a certain sense of humor; and, while championing globalization's purported benefits, they are willing to acknowledge some of its more serious problems. This book is, therefore, a solid, if not compelling, introduction to the subject.
Micklethwait and Woolridge do not offer dispassionate analysis of globalization and its impact on international business, politics, and culture. Indeed, the authors are advocates, and they are candid about their biases, declaring: "[T]he underlying message of this book is that globalization needs not merely to be understood but to be defended." The reason, according to Micklethwait and Woolridge, is: "Globalization has become, quite simply, the most important economic, political, and cultural phenomenon of our time." That's probably hyperbole, but, without debating that point, the first issue is: What is globalization? In its most basic terms, globalization is the trend toward integration of the world economy into a single market. And what drives globalization? Micklethwait and Woolridge answer: Technology, the capital markets, and management. They might have added: International financial institutions. According to Micklethwait and Woolridge, "it is certainly true that many important decisions about the world economy have been made by a small cabal of technocrats at four institutions in Washington, D.C.: the World Bank, the IMF, the U.S. Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board." Nevertheless, the process of globalization still has a long way to go. According to Micklethwait and Woolridge: "Consultants at McKinsey reckon that only a fifth of world outputs, or $6 trillion out of $28 trillion, is open to global competition in products, service, or ownership." The issue is whether this is a good thing. Micklethwait and Woolridge seek to dispel the following "myths" about globalization: (1) it is leading to the triumph of big companies; (2) it is ushering in an age of global products; (3) it has ended the traditional business cycle; (4) it is a zero-sum game (some people have to lose in order for others to win); and (5) geography does not matter in the new global economy. The authors also reject various criticisms of globalization, including the allegations that it contributes to "the rise of homogenized airport culture;" that it involves the "loss of democratic accountability;" that "countries ruin themselves by reducing taxes, benefits, and environmental controls in order to woo rootless companies;" and that it is epitomized by the "weakness of global institutions such as the United Nations." The book is full of anecdotes, some of which are quite revealing. However, anecdote is not argument, and some of the authors' anecdotes in defense of globalization are simply exceptions to accurate generalizations. Micklethwait and Woolridge also tend to make profound statements of the obvious. For example: "The full impact of events that took place roughly a decade ago, such as the collapse of the iron curtain and the introduction of Europe's single market, is only just beginning to be felt." On the other hand, Micklethwait and Woolridge occasionally display genuine insight. According to Micklethwait and Woolridge: "Much of the globalizing drive and energy of multinationals is provided by the management industry: the business schools, consultancies, and gurus." Are we certain we want these people and institutions creating the dominant ideology of the post-Cold War world? The authors give us further reason to pause and ponder when they write at some length about "cosmocrats," whom they define as the class of people "who have benefitted from globalization." Their description of this class includes the observations that they are "[c]osmopolitan in taste," "usually Anglo-American in outlook," and preach a "gospel of wealth." The authors then declare: "These people constitute perhaps the most meritocratic ruling class the world has seen." In my opinion, the cosmocrats sound like just another elite. The fact that they have mastered the international economy - which is the basis for their self-interested conclusion that their ascendancy is based on meritocracy - does not give them a moral right to rule. Micklethwait and Woolridge observe that the "cosmocrats are increasingly cut off from the rest of society," and the authors express this concern: "One of the great risks of globalization is that it fosters anomie - the normalness that comes from having your ties with the rest of society weakened...The most common complaint among Internet addicts" is that they are "isolated, lonely, and depressed." I was not persuaded by the concluding chapter, entitled "The Hidden Promise: Liberty Renewed." According to Micklethwait and Woolridge, the "belief in individualism, which was at the heart of both the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, was actually a fairly global movement." According to Micklethwait and Woolridge, "the recent history of globalization can be written as a story...of spreading a political culture that is based on individual liberty" Even if that is an accurate statement of the cosmocrats' ideology, there is no guarantee that they will prove to be good global citizens. In fact, the cosmocrats may already have failed their first test: Micklethwait and Woolridge acknowledge that "globalization has certainly been a mixed blessing for the environment."
In the final analysis, I am concerned about the prospect of building a global community based on an ideology that exalts exuberant (and sometimes rapacious) individualism. Micklethwait and Woolridge are globalization advocates, and they are at their strongest when they discuss economic matters. They clearly believe that it will be the key organizing principle for 21st-century business, but I remain skeptical about globalization's impact on international politics and culture. Nevertheless, I am glad that I read this book and then spent some time thinking about its powerful thesis. I believe we now need a serious, non-Luddite, left-liberal critique of globalization.