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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 February 2010
Easterbrook begins with the story of the city of Shenzhen, a city most of us have never heard of even though it has nearly nine million residents. It is a city that didn't exist thirty years ago. Easterbrook's point is that this city stands for what is happening in the world today due to globalization moving at mach speed.

On planet is being transformed and our lives as well. He argues rather convincingly that economic freedom in terms of free trade leads to a lessening of hostilities between nations. Being able to compete economically, even though some may suffer, brings about a better world than competing in warfare. Easterbrook gives the obvious example of Europe, which since World War II ended has enjoyed the most peaceful time in its history.

I think Easterbrook is substantially correct, and this speaks well for the coming conflict between the U.S. and China. Both countries (it is hoped) will see the wisdom of competing economically instead of militarily.

Globalization is not all good of course. There is the little matter of the shrinking rain forests and other habitats. There is the uneven distribution of all the relatively cheap goodies. And yes people in poor countries are getting exploited as they work in sweatshops and pesticide-laden fields so that the first world can have cheap jeans and tomatoes all year round. But even though people in the developing countries are getting the short end of the stick, it's a bigger stick than they would have without globalization. Easterbrook expects as the years go by that the gap between the rich and poor countries will shrink. We can see this already in places like China and India.

Another excellent by-product of globalization is the increase in global literacy, which Easterbrook says "has risen from 74 percent a generation ago to 90 percent today." He points out that most of "the gains have been among girls and women," which brings us to another point: educated women essentially double the world's supply of ideas. (p. 22)

One of the reasons for this "sonic boom" is the ability for people and goods to move great distances quickly and cheaply. Consequently, as Easterbrook has it, "distance shrinks," and as distance matters less, differences shrink. (pp. 15-18) As people learn from one another "social progress gathers speed." When you meet and talk with people from faraway places, prejudices tend to dissolve. With the exchange of ideas, technological progress is accelerated.

A curious benefit of globalization that I don't think was predicted by economists is that globalization seems to keep inflation in check. Easterbrook writes, "Inflation has been driven into retreat by the advent of international interconnectedness, which increases efficiency faster than prices can rise..."(p. 19) Some might argue with this, but one thing is clear. During the last couple of decades inflation rates worldwide and especially in Western nations has been milder than in previous decades. And hyperinflation in developing nations has become almost rare.

As a cautionary note, Easterbrook warns that even though people are happier in the developing world as open elections and free market economies grow, people in the developed world, according to a World Values Survey measuring happiness, are either not as happy or only just as happy. (p. 199) This should not be surprising since once you arrive at a comfortable subsistence, money cannot make you any happier. Such is the nature of human psychology.

Easterbrook illustrates what he thinks is happening and going to happen by referring to events in various cities and towns worldwide as typifying the "sonic boom" in progress and to come. Thus the first ten chapters are named for places, beginning with Shenzhen, China and including Erie, Pennsylvania, Leipzig, Germany, Los Angeles, etc., ending with Chapter Eleven: Your Town. In an interesting endnote in Chapter Eleven Easterbrook writes:

"Your first reaction might be to say that if average life span extends into the nineties, society will be dragged down by pension costs. But if you'd told a nineteenth-century rationalist that today men and women typically enjoy active twenty- or even thirty-year retirements, your nineteenth-century interlocutor would have replied that society would be dragged down by pension costs. So far, life extension has been financially manageable for Western nations." (p. 232)

This is an inspiring, uplifting and very readable piece of work. I hope he's mostly right.
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