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The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall Hardcover – August 29, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With this timely book, political risk consultant Bremmer aims to "describe the political and economic forces that revitalize some states and push others toward collapse." His simple premise is that if one were to graph a nation's stability as a function of its openness, the result would be a "J curve," suggesting that as nations become more open, they become less stable until they eventually surpass their initial levels of stability. In other words, a closed society like Cuba is relatively stable; a more open society like Saudi Arabia is less so; and an extremely open society like the United States is extremely stable. Bremmer expertly distills decades—sometimes centuries—of history as he analyzes 10 countries at different positions on the J curve. North Korea is perhaps the most disturbing example of the left side of the curve, where a closed authoritarian regime produces effective stability; on the right of the curve sit stable countries like Turkey, Israel and India. This leads Bremmer to conclude that political isolation and sanctions often work against their intended resultsand that globalization is the key to opening closed authoritarian states. Bremmer persuasively illustrates his core thesis without eliding the complexities of global or national politics. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

On a graph on which the vertical axis measures a nation's stability and the horizontal axis measures its relative openness to external political and economic forces, the "J curve" plots the trajectory nations must take as they move from authoritarian control toward liberal democracy (or vice versa). Essentially, the curve is a graphical representation of the commonsense proposition that governments moving toward or away from authoritarianism must necessarily survive a "slide toward instability" as their institutions of governance are broken down and then reformed in new configurations. In Bremmer's hands, however, the J curve is a powerful heuristic that is capable of clarifying the persistent dilemma of how to nudge nations toward openness while sparing their citizens--and the world--the chaos that accompanies such transitions. In part, the J curve is effective because it explains why authoritarian states (like North Korea, on the curve's far left) are often more stable than relatively young liberal democracies (like South Africa and Russia); it may also show the fallacy of trying to undermine authoritarian states though isolation. A quick, fascinating read. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; annotated edition edition (August 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743274717
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743274715
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian Bremmer is the president and founder of Eurasia Group, the leading global political risk research and consulting firm.

In 1998, Bremmer established Eurasia Group with just $25,000. At present, the company is the leading global political risk research and consulting firm, with offices in New York, Washington, and London, as well as a network of experts and resources in 90 countries. Eurasia Group provides analysis and expertise about how political developments and national security dynamics move markets and shape investment environments across the globe.

Bremmer created Wall Street's first global political risk index (GPRI). He is the founding chairman of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk and is an active public speaker. He has authored several books including the national bestsellers Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World and The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? Bremmer is a contributor to the Financial Times A-List and He has written hundreds of articles for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, Harvard Business Review, and Foreign Affairs. He appears regularly on CNBC, Fox News Channel, Bloomberg Television, National Public Radio, the BBC, and other networks.

Bremmer earned a PhD in political science from Stanford University in 1994 and was the youngest-ever national fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a global research professor at New York University and has held faculty positions at Columbia University, the EastWest Institute, and the World Policy Institute. In 2007, Bremmer was named a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. His analysis focuses on global macro political trends and emerging markets, which he defines as "those countries where politics matter at least as much as economics for market outcomes."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mary Byron on September 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a timely and thought-provoking book for anyone who wants to better understand our rapidly changing world but is required reading for anyone leading an institution - public sector or private - at the forefront of globalization. Ian Bremmer argues that none of us can afford to ignore the risks created by failing and failed nations in a world where disease, terrorism, refugees and weapons of mass destruction can cross borders more easily than ever before. The complex dynamics of openness and stability brought by globalization are challenging all societies, markets and governments in new ways. This book provides an excellent framework for understanding the journey.

The J-Curve is an innovative approach to mapping these complex dynamics to the behavior of governments around the world. Much of what has been written to date has focused solely on the economic and social impacts of globalization. This book synthesizes those impacts and explains how they can undermine or strengthen a nation depending on where it is on the J-Curve. Understanding the political decision-making and the forces within their societies that are motivating these governments is the crucial missing piece of the puzzle laid out in the J-Curve.

His insightful analysis distills the history and the current political, social and economic forces in the countries most relevant to the world economy and global stability - North Korea, Iran, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, China and more. Ian not only explains where they are but provides a framework to interpret current events and understand in which direction they are headed on the J-Curve.

I find myself interpreting news in a new way after reading this book.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Marci Shore on September 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The central argument of The J Curve is quite persuasive: the path from authoritarian "closed" societies to democratic "open" ones leads through a "dip in the curve"--that is, a prolonged moment of dangerous instability. In this way, authoritarian societies that begin to democraticize become paradoxically more unstable in the early stages of "opening." The J Curve is an explanatory model. But the book is normative as well: If "closed" states are ultimately to emerge on the other, "open" side of the curve, they require sustained international support, in particular from Western democracies.

The J Curve is the work of a once precocious Sovietologist whose political education came inside a disintegrating Soviet Union-turned-dazzlingly successful president of a political risk consulting firm whose now experience extends far beyond former Soviet borders. Ian Bremmer's prose is lively, sharp and eminently accessible--free of both academic and policy jargon. His voice is a human one, and strikes a rare balance: devoid of sentimentality, but marked by an authentic concern about the human condition.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Beatles Fan on October 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is recommended, but with a caveat. Like most books about international relations written by social scientists who tend to simplify things for the sake of providing an over-arching structure, this one is to be read with a measure of skepticism. For a detailed review (or two), check out the recent debate in between the journalists Bill Emmott and Fareed Zakaria, who are, respectively, an editor of The Economist and a columnist for Newsweek. (You can search within Slate by typing out their names and the title of the exchange: "Debating the J-Curve".) Here's two quotes from their exchanges.

Emmott: "I found this a useful representation of what happens as institutions and regimes change and, certainly, a salutary warning against the view that democracy will grow as naturally as flowers in the spring. The book's main interest for me, however, lay not so much in the chart that gives it its title but in the fine and revealing case studies that Bremmer lays out to establish how complicated the political form of states really is. He outlines the situations in North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and China adeptly and looks also at countries, such as South Africa, that have made a successful transition to democracy; at others, such as India, where democracy has survived seemingly against the odds; and at Russia, where democracy has lately been foundering. The conclusion? That there is no clear rule that can guide us in judging which countries will move up the J curve and which will not. It all depends. Societies are fragile and complex organisms."

Zakaria: "he biggest real-world test of Bremmer's thesis is taking place right now in Asia. If he's right, India is a better long- and even medium-term bet than China. Is he correct?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Buchanan on September 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Any business leader contemplating investing abroad should read "The J-Curve. Bremmer's model puts a whole new complexion on risk management that encompasses far more than the traditional emphasis on economic vulnerabilities. The book argues persuasively for greater focus on the role of openness in a country's stability and presents an unusually deep and detailed explanation of what true openness entails. It is also a useful prism for policy makers and just plain concerned citizens overwhelmed by rapidly escalating, apparently unpredictable events. The J-Curve is, to some extent, a tool for making sense of chaos.

The contrasting studies of South Africa and Yugoslavia, in particular, are fascinating in light of the current efforts to build amity among hostile factions in Iraq. This is history for those who are truly committed to not repeating it.
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