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Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures [Paperback]

Tyler Cowen
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 21, 2004 0691117837 978-0691117836

A Frenchman rents a Hollywood movie. A Thai schoolgirl mimics Madonna. Saddam Hussein chooses Frank Sinatra's "My Way" as the theme song for his fifty-fourth birthday. It is a commonplace that globalization is subverting local culture. But is it helping as much as it hurts? In this strikingly original treatment of a fiercely debated issue, Tyler Cowen makes a bold new case for a more sympathetic understanding of cross-cultural trade. Creative Destruction brings not stale suppositions but an economist's eye to bear on an age-old question: Are market exchange and aesthetic quality friends or foes? On the whole, argues Cowen in clear and vigorous prose, they are friends. Cultural "destruction" breeds not artistic demise but diversity.

Through an array of colorful examples from the areas where globalization's critics have been most vocal, Cowen asks what happens when cultures collide through trade, whether technology destroys native arts, why (and whether) Hollywood movies rule the world, whether "globalized" culture is dumbing down societies everywhere, and if national cultures matter at all. Scrutinizing such manifestations of "indigenous" culture as the steel band ensembles of Trinidad, Indian handweaving, and music from Zaire, Cowen finds that they are more vibrant than ever--thanks largely to cross-cultural trade.

For all the pressures that market forces exert on individual cultures, diversity typically increases within society, even when cultures become more like each other. Trade enhances the range of individual choice, yielding forms of expression within cultures that flower as never before. While some see cultural decline as a half-empty glass, Cowen sees it as a glass half-full with the stirrings of cultural brilliance. Not all readers will agree, but all will want a say in the debate this exceptional book will stir.


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Mr. Cowen's point, argued neatly in Creative Destruction, is that the invasion works both ways. Indeed, it has for such a long time that it is hard to say exactly where one culture begins and another ends. Wherever people are, almost all the cultural products that they think of as indigenous owe their existence to the cultural exchange brought about by trade."--David R. Henderson, Wall Street Journal

"A short but rich study. . . . The book's basic point is that cultural globalization can increase the diversity of choices for the individual while reducing the diversity between societies across the globe. . . . Mr. Cowen underscores that cultural globalization is and always has been a dynamic process. . . . It can be an unsettling, disruptive process, but Mr. Cowen's book argues persuasively that it is a more creative way to go than the misguided cultural nostalgia peddled by the anti-globalization crowd."--David R. Sands, The Washington Times

"Cowen has created a text at once impressively academic and thoroughly accessible."--Library Journal

"Cowen's thesis is that diversity within society is heightened by globalization, at the same time that diversity across societies, as he puts it, is diminished. . . . His book is an attempt to take a realistic look at the changes wrought by today's market-driven, free trade-oriented world."--Philip Marchand, The Toronto Star

"Cowen argues that global trade and communication are enriching all the world's cultures and that there's no such thing as cultural authenticity. . . . In fact, Cowen believes that commerce and art are allies. And he contends that because commerce is driving technology, ideas, goods, services and people across borders more freely than ever before, we are in the midst of an unprecedented boom in creativity all over the world. The quality, quantity and variety of cultural output is greater than ever; if there is more dreck, there is also more genius. And more people have more access to it than ever, at lower prices, regardless of where they live."--Daniel Akst, Los Angeles Times

From the Inside Flap

"Creative Destruction is a brilliant book--by far the most original and sophisticated analysis of the place of art in the global market economy that I have seen. It is also extraordinarily readable. In clear and energetic prose, Tyler Cowen provides an economic analysis of a breathtaking variety of artistic cultures--from the restaurants of Paris to the soapstone carvings of the Inuit, from Nbebele bead art of South Africa to Tuvan throat singers in Mongolia."--John Tomasi, Brown University, author of Liberalism Beyond Justice

"Reading this book was a joy. The number of new books on globalization is large. But Creative Destruction adds a unique perspective. It constructs a largely economic case for optimism, the idea that globalization is not necessarily in conflict with cultural diversity but might instead promote, revive, and broaden traditional cultures. Many readers will find this argument both original and provocative. And the examples make for very entertaining reading."--Timur Kuran, University of Southern California, author of Private Truths, Public Lies

"Tyler Cowen is an economist who knows which rap artists are the best, what kind of Persian rug from which period is the best, which period of French cinema is the best, and what kind of Afropop is best. But he also has explanations for why they are the best, explanations that draw upon concepts from economics and other social sciences. Cowen, perhaps more thoroughly than anyone before, celebrates and details the changes in world culture which result from world trade and contact, in a word, "globalization." He is well aware of globalization's homogenizing dangers but convincingly argues that its unexpected benefits, in increasing "hybridity" as well as "authenticity," are not fully appreciated."--Michael Suk-Young Chwe, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Rational Ritual, Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691117837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691117836
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #816,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Hoan Chau's review February 3, 2005
Format:Hardcover
If you're at all interested in this book, ignore Hoan Chau's review. How does Cowen know Mexicans enjoy the choices available at Wal-Mart? Simple, they shop there and keep it in business. You don't have to like Wal-Mart (I sure don't) to recognize that it doesn't coerce anyone into its store. In an impoverished country like Mexico, it brings in more goods at lower prices than were previously available, thus improving people's standard of living.

On creativity: Cowen isn't writing a philosophical treatise on creativity, so if he ignores the "external influences" on it, that's not a just criticism. But it's surprising that someone could read this book and miss the point: Cowen is arguing that the creativity of others is an external influence on an individual's creativity, so the value of global exchange is that our creativity is stimulated by contact with other country's cultural goods.

Consider the U.S. without Chinese or Mexican food (or, in my case, the nightmare of not having Thai food). Consider the U.S. without the influence of African music. No spirituals, no jazz or blues, no "Graceland" by Paul Simon. Consider how popular Jackie Chan is, not to mention the more respectable Chinese films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." If you're more highbrow, consider the absence of Mozart or Paganini. Imagine no access to Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" or the Tao Te Ching, or the Boddhisatva.

In short, Cowen's point is that the global exchange of cultural goods enriches our lives. Efforts to restrict globalization will restrict the flow of these goods, impoverishing us all in ways that are hard to measure in dollar terms, but are easily understood in terms of cultural vivacity and creativity.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Book February 6, 2007
Format:Paperback
This book is about how globalization is *changing* world cultures, for better or for worse. One of Cowen's central arguments is that globalization creates less diversity between cultures but more between individuals. So should we be pro individualism or pro collectivism?

His last three chapters on Hollywood, Dumbing Down, and National Culture are the most memorable, and persuasive. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Hollywood. His explanation of how modern cinema is what it is was enlightening.

Overall Cowen does what he set out to do; explained how globalization has changed world cultures. More often than not Cowen thinks this has had a net positive effect, but he does argue the other side of the coin. In my opinion Cowen contributes to the globalization vs. anti-globalization debate arguing that it's really one of collectivist culture vs. individual culture.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Change is Constant July 21, 2006
Format:Paperback
Tyler Cowen very adeptly reminds the reader that the world's regional cultures have never been static. What we think of as "native" art is really a product of global influence on a local population. So of course it seems silly to decry globalization as homogenizing cultures, when we understand that cultures have always interacted with each other. Indeed, what we are seeing with globalization is the increasing heterogenizing of cultures. Sure you see McDonalds almost everywhere, but you also see indigenous art from Central America, music from the Congo, movies from France, and food from India.

Tyler Cowen does not dismiss the degredation of certain cultural aspects, but he matter-of-factly points out that the alternative, protectionism, is more destructive in the long run, since creativity is stifled.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the economics of culture April 28, 2003
Format:Hardcover
Cowen's book is one of the few books to
discuss free trade in the context of
cultural goods. easy and fun to read.
No economics background needed.
You will learn a lot about
the history of different cultural goods, including
persian rugs and the successful
movie industry in India (Bollywood).
simply great!
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Book Review For: Dr. Nicholas Capaldi
Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana
BA705 Business Ethics-Spring 2004
In Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction, he addresses the viability of diverse culture in a rapidly expanding global market economy. Most specifically, he focuses on "the particular aspects of culture consisting products which stimulate and entertain us." Cowan defines the following: "music, literature, cinema, cuisine, and visual arts, as the relevant manifestations of culture." The book attempts to answer, by his own account, the age-old question "dating back at least far as Greek civilization: Are market exchange and aesthetic quality allies or enemies?" He proposes that market economies and cross cultural trade have catapulted societies throughout history by facilitating the spread of scientific ideas, creative arts, and enabling isolated cultures to experience a "richer menu of choice" The author offers extensive detail concerning alternative arguments throughout the book as well as the fact that, as in all things, there are opportunity costs associated with each view and some resulting in tragic outcomes.
Cowen qualifies himself on this subject by defining his approach according to his "background as an economist" and his relevant studies of the "scholarly literature and diverse experiences as a cultural consumer", rather than an analysis based on a "single path of specialized study." He outlines his argument that the global economy fosters positive influences on the world's culture by subsequently analyzing the following three "primary lessons":
1. The concept of cultural diversity has multiple and divergent meanings.
2. Cultural homogenization and heterogenization are not alternatives or substitutes; rather, they come together.
3.
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