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A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization Hardcover – May 2000


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Toward a Global Community for the 21st Century? 1 July 2000
By Steven S. Berizzi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Read it before you make your own statements on globalization 15 May 2000
By Axel Thoma - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Since globalization is inevitably changing or affecting everyone's life and shaping our future, an open dialogue is crucial on how to ease the painful process of transformation and help people handle their new freedom and responsibility. But a dialogue will only be feasible if people stop to paint black and white and put themselves in the other parties position - on the one hand the cosmocratic elite that has no time left for politics since its members spend their busy lives in worldwide economic networks and, on the other hand, people who live in local communities and don't understand world economics.
By showing both sides, A Future Perfect can help people to understand other involved parties or at least encourage them to cross limited horizons, thereby fostering objective discussions about our mutual future.
The authors cite interesting examples and base their arguments on economic theories without turning to a business language that might be hard to understand for a non-MBA reader. It's not a book that will teach you all you have to know about globalization or offer the magic bullet but it allows you to understand the forces (technology, capital & management) that drive globalization and why the term globalization is a welcome scapegoat for mismanagement, regulation and corrupt politicians.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
�No Logo� for grownups 4 Nov 2000
By Magnus Lindkvist - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Future Perfect addresses what has become this era's equivalent of the Cold War; the discussion of whether globalisation is working for or against us. Bearing all traits of a classic media-fuelled conflict, i.e. simplification, exaggeration in all directions and, as always, a myriad of people taking a stand for others when they really have nothing to do with the issue at stake (compare the number of times when you've read thoughts on globalization by, for instance, a former child labourer, or an African farmer as opposed to the number of times you've seen well-dressed politicians delivering promises for change in the Third World or masked suburban kids tossing Molotov cocktails at policemen, all in the name of globalization). Refreshing then that John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge has opted for a different, and frankly more sober, view of this complex and politically charged subject matter.
Fans of Micklethwait and Wooldridge will recognize their style of writing from the brilliant "Witch Doctors", a critical analysis of the management thinker-industry, and on a superficial level Future Perfect is as enjoyable to read with a prose that shimmers with intelligence and wit whilst at the same time delivering insights into the many parts and people of the world that globalization has touched in one way or another. But referring to Future Perfect as "an enjoyable read" is as shallow as calling Schindlers List "a scary film". It is necessary to dissect certain parts of this work in order to better understand the argument that the authors present in favour of globalization.
At heart, Micklethwait and Wooldridge, are as arch-conservative as their mother magazine, The Economist (although the magazine would much more prefer the term moderate liberal), which complicates their independence in discussing the subject matter, because just like the Cold War conflict, globalization has also become a war between leftists and rightists; between those who think that the gobalization we are witnessing is dictated by the harsh world of western capitalism and those who think that only capitalism can save the oppressed regimes around the world, trade not aid as they say. The difficulty that arises, and that Mickltethait and Wooldridge unfortunately cannot steer clear of, is the problem of definition; Globalization of what? For whom? One of the reasons that this subject matter has become so politically charged is the fact that the pro's and con's seem to be talking past each other and instead focusing on sensationalist media-frenzy, whether it be poor little infants hammering away in sneaker factories or pot smoking youth blabbering about the world bank when their only excuse to go to Seattle or Prague was that there was no Woodstock or Lollapallooza around at the time. It is easier to react at simplistic and arcane symbols than to do the complex work needed in order to better understand this issue.
It is, however, refreshing that the authors at least attempt a definition of the driving forces behind globalization; technological innovation, management ideas and the free flow of capital since it presents a framework within which the reader can feel more comfortable with what type of perspective the authors are trying to convey. Another uplifting fact is that the authors do not disqualify any area or opinion in the book. Always sensitive for the fact that people and organizations have presented different arguments in the fight for or against globalization, Future Perfect reads almost like a journalistic summary of voices on globalization, not unlike "The Witch Doctors" relationship to the management gurus. What this aspect also adds is something that the other significant book on globalization right now, No Logo by Naomi Klein, failed to do; to allow both sides to have it out so that the ultimate verdict on whether globalization is something that should be favored or fought, will be determined by the only people who should; you, me and all other people who are getting involved in this issue at the moment.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Important arguments to address in globalization 24 Oct 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book offers some ideas that I had not seen before.
For one thing, it is rare to see a book that is pro-globalization that discusses it as fragile and in need of nurturing. It is generally referred to as an overwhelming tide that either must be embraced or stopped.
The book discusses the results of globalization in several industries, and it takes the economic perspective that comparative advantage will continue to operate. But it goes beyond that and discusses the loosers as well as the winners.
The most interesting idea I found in the book was it's discussion of what they call "cosmocrats." An elite that is without geographic identity and more bound to others of their class than to their traditional communities. The book "Bowling Alone" documents the breakdown of traditional social networks. It is easy to see in Silicon Valley's libertarian culture the people who feel they are "self made" and do not feel a need for reciprocal relationships with their geographic communities. This belief, of course, is totally without foundation. However, the belief that a technical elite should run society has been tired in Germany, Russia and other places with horrible results. The books does not go so far as to raise that type of alarm, but the dislocation that they document is well worth considering.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
An important book 5 Jun 2000
By Joerg Colberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What does globalization mean? For some people, globalization leads to the so-called New Economy - a world with never-ending growth and no inflation. For other people, in particular in Europe but also for a growing number of people in the US, globalization destroys social networks and makes money more important than anything else. Not surprisingly, both sides found strong advocates who try to hammer their points of views into people's heads. Of course, the world is not as simple as it appears to be.
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge lean more towards praising for what globalization leads to, namely free markets and thus to more happiness and freedom all over the world. This is hardly surprising given the fact that they both work for The Economist, a British business magazine which likes to talk about ideas like "comparative advantages" into people's heads. However, The Economist also mentions the problems of globalization and this books gives many examples. It is very hard to imagine the image of a starving African child with the caption "The Losers of Globalization" on the cover of, say, Business Week. It is equally hard to find another book which gives as many facets of what globalization means and stands for as this book. What's more, the authors even introduce the reader to the development of international trade and finance by discussing Bretton Woods and how it came about.
Everybody with an interest in what's going on in business should read this book. It's scope is very wide, ranging from the porn video industry in the US to little telephone shops in South Africa. The book's depth is about the same as that of an article in The Economist - the book is very well written and fun to read. Readers of The Economist will find that the authors recycled some of their articles (which they mention in the introduction) and now they appear in a wider context.
To summarize, this is one of the rare books where the reader is taught a lot by two brilliant writers. It is fun to read and is very hard to stick to one's opinion's afterwards without at least re-thinking them thoroughly.
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