The true worth of this book will be known a decade or so from now, as statistics are accumulated and interpreted for those countries who are just now opening their economies to trade, investment, and technology flows. After all, this globalization phenomenon remains, at the present time, relatively new, and most people, though they have a loose understanding of it, do not fully understand its implications for life at home or abroad. In fact, Bhagwati's book is worth buying solely for his explanation of, in addition to, his pronouncements on globalization.
Did Bhagwati write this himself? I ask because I wasn't aware that economists wrote with the wit and charm that the affable Bhagwati exudes here. His book is peppered with colorful tales (such as the one about Indian car manufacturers who, protected from foreign competition in the 1960-80s, built cars of such legendary worksmanship that the only component in the car that didn't make a noise was the horn!) and hilarious one-liners.
Here, briefly, are the book's strengths:
1. He describes globalization's opponents. Bhagwati commences the book by describing two separate groups of people who attack globalization, each with different motives and ferocity. The hard core group often includes those who are, at a deeper level, anti-capitalist and anti-American. This group perceives the spread of globalization as the spread of American-style capitalism and, perhaps, American exploitation of weaker governments and countries. Bhagwati notes that this group is rarely able to back up its impassioned rhetoric with concrete evidence or economic thinking/models. Unequipped to focus on any topic for long, they resort to their loud anti-American and anti-corporate slogans.
2. Certain chapters are very strong, while others give readers the suspicion that Bhagwati either A) doesn't have any persuasive arguments to offer, or B) does but lacked the enthusiasm to lay them out. In the weaker chapters, one pictures the aging economist slipping on his bed clothes, packing his notes and models away, and yawning something about a promise to make amends in later chapters.
In particular, I felt his chapters on poverty and culture were his best, while his declarations on child labor and women's issues were lacking.
Bhagwati explains the correlation between economic growth and poverty reduction, and he is superb at explaining the underlying economics for the layperson. The reader cannot help but be convinced that outward-oriented economies do better (much better) because they gain from trade, improved resource allocation, foreign investment, and technology transfers. I doubt that Bhagwati uses the economic literature selectively, so it appears that the performance of India, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and others robustly back up the economic theory.
But, as I said, other chapters scream for more evidence and discussion. As far as I can tell, Bhagwati's defense against those who charge globalization with perpetuating and enlarging child labor is a single study done in Vietnam. This study found that when Vietnam opened itself more to trade, the prices received for a few Vietnamese commodities rose, allowing Vietnamese parents to substitute increased income for their children's labor. I would have liked to hear more.
There are other highlights and lowlights I might mention, but won't. Bottom line is that the book is sound and it's an essential piece for those wanting to understand globalization better. His scope is broad and he concludes with some policy recommendations, which was nice. His treatment of globalization is fair, and he seems aware of its downsides and opportunities for improvement through better governance and institutional design. Ok!