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on 8 March 2014
A stimulating book full of insights from all over the world. The main argument is that free market democracy can lead to violence against market-dominant minorities. It is a broadside attack at American policy of exporting democracy will-nilly. Not being American, I feel less concerned at this polemical point.

The argument clearly applies in many cases cited, and the insights extended my understanding. How Chua overdoes it sometimes. For example, Croatians are cited as being attacked by Serbs because they were a market-dominant minority. Not convincing. There were longstanding ethnic disputes which had little or nothing to do with economy. Slovenia WAS a market-dominant economy, but it got away into independence virtually unscathed in 1991.
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on 30 April 2012
World on Fire scores well as a piece of helpful shock therapy. For anyone assuming American policy toward the developing world is inevitably benign, Amy Chua gives them plenty to think about. She rightly draws attention to the downside of simply trying to export western economic and political systems to the rest of the world. In her summing up she makes the especially valid distinction between attempts to nurture democracy from the bottom up, and the mere mass-installation of ballot boxes at national elections to please western observers. Much of what the author writes appears to be informed and relevant, not least her sections on the societies of Latin America and their complex determination and consciousness of ethnicity. She clearly understands a lot about South-East Asia and its rich minorities, as one might expect of a Filipino of Chinese descent.

The text darts around from place to place and from one issue to another , its central purpose to present a global theory, applicable across the world. It is an over-ambitious project. Some of the generalisations are sweeping. Not the least of these is the author's sub-title `How exporting free-market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability'. Really? Chua's theory is that whilst western business underpins and further promotes the wealth of `market-dominant minorities' such as the Chinese in Malaysia, dark-skinned `whites' in Latin America, Lebanese in West Africa etc., the western encouragement of democracy empowers the majority in those countries and leads to increased hatred and tensions between the two sides.

The author is long on examples, many of which, in fairness, are interesting to the reader. And indeed her knowledge of conditions on the ground in many different parts of the world appears considerable. However one can easily think of important places she says little about, such as India, a country of many different market-dominant minorities. Yet the inter-racial strife in India, certainly that in Kashmir, would seem not to fit into the convenient pattern which Chua lays down.

Most importantly of all, as political science the book is weak on theory and modus as to how the central process of breeding economic hatred between ethnicities progresses out of the combined effects of free-market economics and democracy. Indeed the book lacks a continuing thread of argument. Chua fluctuates between criticism of America and venting her spleen at the world's circumstances, with particular reference to `conspicuous consumption' or the flaunting of ethnic pride on the part of rich minorities, against whom the book is a diatribe. Near the end she complains bitterly, when discussing the South-East Asian Chinese, and asks `What is to be done about ethnic minorities who `don't mix' with the indigenous majorities around them?'. The question may express a lot of personal pent-up frustration that Chua and/or her parents have experienced in making the transition from membership of that Chinese minority to becoming fully assimilated into western society. It also perhaps fails to recognise the acute cultural and religious differences prevailing among south-east Asian peoples.

What would be most helpful of all would be if Amy Chua could take just one example, of one of the regions she mentions, and apply her theory to it in more detail. That might help crystallise her very interesting ideas and bring much needed focus to her argument.
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on 13 July 2009
I'll assume that most people reading this are familiar with Any Chua's basic idea of `Market Dominant minorities' and the hostility that they receive. When I first read this a few years ago I thought it was fantastic and explained so much. However rereading it recently I have doubts.

The phenomenon certainly does exist in much of the world, the overseas Chinese (of which her family is part) has achieved enormous economic dominance in much of East Asia and been the victim of mob violence repeatedly as a result over the course of many centuries. The Lebanese in West Africa, Indians in East Africa and Jews in Eastern Europe are also examples of ethnic minorities vastly out performing the indigenous population.

However there are some things that leave me unconvinced, Chua claims that these resentments are likely to be inflamed by democracy and free markets. It is certainly true that free markets exacerbate the differences but World On Fire gives examples of this kind of mob violence going back centuries, to well before the era of democracy. Some of the outbreaks of violence, such as the anti Chinese riots in Indonesia in 1998 were concurrent with democracy, but surely this is because the same forces that weakened the grip of the dictator, Suharto, weakened the states control of law and order.

Secondly she tries to fit the Market Dominant Minorities idea to too many conflicts, for example she emphasises that the Croats were much wealthier than the Serbs as a possible cause of the bloody Yugoslav wars. Yet Serbian nationalist propaganda and violence was initially directed to a much greater extent at the impoverished ethnic Albanians.

Thirdly think her concept needs refinement. Early in the book she refers to the violence against the Indians in Burma and in East Africa, interestingly though there wasn't a similar level of persecution of the whites, who were even higher on the economic ladder than the Indians. In Nigeria the Ibo suffered badly however the Yoruba, who are also quite wealthy weren't persecuted.

Thomas Sowell's concept of middleman minorities explains this better than Chua's idea. Sowell argues that the two factors which particularly inflame resentment are when minorities act as economic middlemen and when they were once very poor but overtake the majority population economically. This refinement explains the outbursts of violence much better than Chua's idea in my opinion.

Lastly while the end notes demonstrate that she has been very broadminded and undogmatic about who she has used for the source material I do wonder whether there are quality control issues, particularly in the journalistic sources.
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VINE VOICEon 13 June 2009
The premise of the book is that the spread of free market capitalism and democracy are assumed to be desirable by most policy makers. "Free markets and free men" being the maxim. However, Chua argues that free market capitalism allows the concentration of large amounts of wealth in the hands of a privileged minority. By contrast, democracy concentrates power in the hands of the majority. The majority will naturally resent the wealth of the minority and will see democracy as a means to seize the wealth of the minority. Thus, the spread of free market capitalism and democracy can actually be a bad thing in some parts of the world.

This friction between the poor majority and rich minority are especially severe where there is an ethnic dimension to these identities. Chua argues that in many countries, certain ethnic minorities often do disproportionately well economically in sharp contrast to the ethnic native majority community in which it resides. For example, the whites of Zimbabwe were an extremely successful market dominant minority, in sharp contrast to the native black majority around them. The black community voted in Mugabe, largely on his promise to seize the wealth of the whites and "redistribute" it.

Chua argues that in this set up, there are two possible alternatives - one, is that the poorer ethnic majority will elect a Mugabe-like tyrant who will seize the wealth of the minority, but in doing so drive them and their expertise out. The second is that the ethnic minority will take anti-democratic measures so as to suppress popular demands for redistribution of wealth. For example, the ethnic minority whites in Apartheid South Africa constructed a police state so as to suppress democracy there which they felt would ultimately threaten their privileged economic position.

Chua then applies this principle to the global scale. She argues that Americans are a market dominant minority, whilst the rest of the world is the poor majority. Thus, much anti-Americanism can be explained using her dynamic of rich minority vs poor majority narrative. Whilst I found this point a little stretched, it is nevertheless an interesting one.

All in all, this book is definitely one of the ten most interesting books every politics, economics and international relations student or enthusiast should read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 December 2010
With many examples of ethnic conflicts all over the world, Amy Chua shows that the combined pursuit of free markets and democratization in countries with market-dominant minorities aggravates ethnic hatred and can catalyze ethnic conflicts with genocidal violence and the subversion of markets and democracies themselves.
However, her solutions for those problems are wishful thinking and, in fine, a plea pro domo. Also, she didn't delve deep enough into all the aspects of the general hatred of `us'.

Market-dominant minorities
These minorities can also be (very small) oligarchies. Obvious examples are the whites in South Africa and Latin America, the Lebanese in West Africa or the Chinese in Southeast Asia. There are important links with former colonization forces. The colonial divide-and-conquer policies favored certain groups and many market-dominant minorities are the descendants of former colonizers.

Free markets and privatization
Free markets, privatization and free trade don't spread wealth evenly. Instead, they tend to concentrate more wealth in the hands of the wealthy (e.g., in Mexico, privatization profited only to 13 families).

Democratization and backlash
Democratization can lead to ethnic nationalism and ethnic cleansing, targeting the wealth and the power of the market-dominant minorities (Ali Bhutto in Pakistan, Sukarno in Indonesia, the Hutus in Rwanda) through nationalization and confiscation. But, there can be a backlash orchestrated by those minorities (C. Taylor in Sierra Leone, Suharto in Indonesia, F. Marcos in the Philippines) leading to crony-capitalism, a corrupt arrangement between an indigenous autocrat and a market-dominant minority.

For Amy Chua, the US is considered as the market-dominant minority in the world. Therefore, the world hates `us'. But, the US itself is dominated by a tiny extremely wealthy oligarchy, which controls the political, economical, financial and media scene. The whole world doesn't hate indiscriminately the US and its population, but the US government and its policies. Thomas Frank's book `What's the matter with Kansas?' showed that there is a monumental chasm between the two entities (government and population). Who is `us'?

Amy Chua's solution, holy fear
The solution for the developing world's problems is not democracy, but lays in the hands of the market-dominant minorities themselves. The author wants `voluntary generosities' to important national `symbols'!!
We saw in the last part of the first decade of the 21th century what a minority is capable of: a worldwide depression (if governments all over the world hadn't intervened).
Her solution is `symbolic' wishful thinking. The powerful still want more power and fear like hell democratic governments with policies of redistribution, progressive taxation, social security and unemployment insurance as well as antitrust and financial regulation.

While this book contains many excellent analyses of countries, politicians and rebel movements all over the world, it is the work of an author who is anti-democratic, biased and pro - market-dominant minorities.

I cannot recommend this book.
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on 26 January 2003
This examination of the effects of US led globalisation sheds light on an otherwise seldom discussed aspect of the phenomenon. The (frequently 'foreign') minority that becomes exceedingly rich from the spoils of the export of capitalism are inciting a backlash by 'ordinary' disgruntled people, so it is claimed, and duly, many pertinent examples are cited.
Yet, there is the feeling that although good references and suitable examples are offered, there is still somewhat of a jump between the reasons for 'Why They All Hate Us' - a chapter title, and any conclusions that are subsequently drawn.
In much the same way as Bracken's 'Fire in the East' purports the angry, vengeance-seeking rise of the 'East', just does not ring true, so too it is with this book. However, the book is interesting and not dry in an academic sense, and highlights yet more potential problems of capitalism and globalisation.
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on 25 December 2010
"World on fire" argues that globalization has made matters worse, not better, in most Third World nations. The spread of laissez faire capitalism has made "market-dominant minorities" even more powerful than before. The introduction of democracy has given the dispossessed "indigenous majorities" a chance to attack the market-dominant minorities. More capitalism and more democracy, introduced simultaneously, therefore mean more instability and ethnic strife.

True, as far as it goes. But what does it all mean? And what should be done about it? It eventually turns out that the author, so seemingly critical of globalization, actually supports it. Her real problem turns out to be...democracy.

Amy Chua denies (!) that the conflicts between "maket-dominant minorities" and "indigenous majorities" are about class. She thinks it's a matter of ethnicity. I don't deny that classes are often ethnically based. But just as often, they are *not* ethnically based. Still, they are classes. From this, I draw the conclusion that "class" or "socio-economic status group" is a more fundamental phenomenon than ethnicity. The author believes the opposite, which simply isn't convincing.

But even as an analysis of ethnic strife, the book oversimplifies. Many of the market-dominant minorities mentioned in the book existed long before globalization. The Whites have long been "market dominant" in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi were dominant even before the advent of European colonialists. Strictly speaking, the Tutsis aren't a *market* dominant minority, but a landed aristocracy. The author points out somewhere that most shops in Rwanda's capital Kigali were owned by East Indians. Nor were the Tutsis actually in power in 1994, when the Rwandan genocide took place. It's also difficult to see in what way the Tutsis have been benefited by globalization. Further, in what sense were the Croats a market-dominant minority in Yugoslavia? The Croats didn't control the Serbian economy. Indeed, the federal army and apparatus were probably dominated by Serbs! Nor do Israelis control the economies of the Arab states.

In Latin America, Chua herself admits that the conflicts were, for an extended period, couched in terms of class rather than ethnicity. However, she never draws the obvious conclusion: that's because the conflicts, at bottom, *are* about class. Nor does she reflect very deeply on the severe class conflicts in the Western world. They obviously weren't about ethnicity, since the haves and the have-nots usually belonged to the same "nation" or "race". The French revolution was as French as the ancien regime, and the Paris Commune was as French as Galliffet. The Russian revolution was more complex, but most people on both sides were Russians. The Spanish Civil War was mostly a straightforward conflict between left-wingers and fascists. And so on! Chua never presents a unified theory about what on earth is going on, but she constantly veers towards the opinion that the bottom line is ethnical. Ethnically homogenous nations supposedly make the transition to stable markets, democracy and prosperity better than ethnically heterogenous ones. But this is empirically disproven by many examples. Bangladesh is ethnically and religiously homogenous but still Hell on earth. Belgium, Switzerland, Finland, Canada and Spain are ethnically heterogenous but stable, democratic and prosperous. (Somebody might respond that these nations aren't "racially" heterogenous. But that is irrelevant, since White peoples have always fought and killed each other, for instance during the world wars or the Balkan wars. Besides, what about the United States, a predominantly White nation with a large Hispanic population that elected a Black African president? But this is a sidepoint, since the author doesn't define ethnicity in terms of "race".)

Other parts of her analysis are equally problematic. For instance, she suggests that the United States is somehow "spreading democracy" around the globe. I disagree. In many nations, the US doesn't promote democracy (Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states) or supports sham democracy (how likely is it that Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, got 90% of the popular vote in Rwanda, a predominantly Hutu nation?). Chua also constantly complains about "crony" capitalism, as if that was some kind of aberration. Outside the dreams of libertarians, *all* large scale capitalism is by necessity crony-ridden. Finally, Chua seems to dislike the Western European welfare states, while grudgingly admitting that they have overcome class strife in the Western world.

At bottom, the author supports globalization, while suggesting that immediate democracy might not be such a good idea, since it gives the "indigenous majorities" a possibility to destabilize the situation. Instead, she hopes that the fraternal associations of the market-dominant minorities realize that, for their own good, they should play it more fairly.

Oh, please...

Since the market-dominant minorities are often targeted by ethnic and class violence, why haven't they come up with this themselves, after all these years? I mean, market-dominant minorities aren't stupid! It's not a co-incidence that they bribe off the corrupted indigenous leadership, while turning the indigenous majority into sweat shop labour, slaves or serfs. That, I think, is the whole point of the operation. And since class society has been working pretty well (more or less) for the past 10,000 years or so, it does have a certain "rationality" as well. As Chua points out when discussing Indonesia: the Chinese tycoons and their families easily avoided the anti-Chinese riots by simply absconding to Singapore, with most of their money, letting the Chinese middle class take the brunt of the attacks. Precisely. So why should they mend their ways, unless forced to, perhaps by a democratically elected "indigenous" government?

When all is said and done, this book, so seemingly critical of globalization and the greed of the dominant groups turns out to be another pro-establishment front for the same processes. The only solution the author can come up with is a more benign, Rotary-humanitarian form of globalization, coupled with a more limited (!) democracy.

As if that could stop the fire...
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on 30 November 2012
far from making the world a better and safer place, democracy and capitalism - at least in the raw, unrestrained form in which they are currently being exported - are intensifying ethnic resentment and global violence, with potentially catastrophic results.
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on 25 May 2014
Excellent summary of the problems of trying to build democracy & free markets in the context of the hegemony of minority ethnic elites.
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on 11 June 2010
Starting from the position of the Chinese in South-East Asia, this book looks all round the world at cases where a minority population is better at business, becomes rich and becomes resented. Jews in Europe are identified as just one instance of this wider phenomenon.
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