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on October 1, 2005
Although globalization, the latest theme to embrace the academic and journalistic worlds, is the subject of these two very readable books, it is handled very differently in both. Zachary, a senior writer for the Wall Street Journal, propounds the thesis that a new cosmopolitan figure is emerging on the world stage. This figure is equally at home in Japan or Ireland and is unencumbered by the prejudices of the past. This a new kind of Superman, who treats the world as his oyster and is as happy eating oysters as he is drinking pints of Guinness or bottles of sake. He is the true cosmopolitan and tomorrow, if Zachary is to be believed, belongs to him.
To make the same argument on a global scale, he introduces us to a host of globalized characters. We meet Barry Cox, an English kid from Liverpool who sings pop songs in perfect Cantonese; Vince Morabito, a nomadic farm expert who is equally at home in the wheat fields of Nebraska, the vineyards of Moldova or the rice paddies of Southeast Asia; Soo Ing, the German-educated, Canadian-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, who ranges the Mongolian plains on horseback studying the uses and abuses of fire. These super human characters all seem to be modeled on Indiana Jones, Laurence of Arabia or other such folk heroes. They certainly seem to travel a lot.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge, who both write for the Economist magazine, pursue a broadly similar path and also introduce us to an array of cosmocrats who are spearheading this revolution from one end of the world to the other. The authors introduce us to a range of people who are exporting Southern California's pornography to the four corners of the earth. We meet traditional Moroccan perfume sellers who export their fragrances to the entire world. We also meet Zambian-born economists, German and Japanese auto workers, Singaporean math teachers, Indian entrepreneurs and a galaxy of other characters drawn from just about every nation in the world showing us the benefits of this globalized age. Although the authors also show us some of the downsides, the overall message is clear. Globalization is the way of the future.
Despite articulate prophets like these, that future will be a long time in coming even in export-oriented countries like Japan and Ireland, which remain prisoners to the fortunes of the international economy. Countries and nations will continue to nurture their different cultures and opposition to the pronouncements of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other messiahs of globalization will remain as perennial as the economic insecurity globalization has visited upon most of the world's communities.
People, in other words, will still strive for meaning and a sense of belonging in today's global village. This need to belong will ensure that conflict will remain as perennial as attempts like these two books to reduce all of our desires and experiences to a simple cocktail of clichés. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, belief in Marxism waned. Many of Marxism's apostates have now embraced this new credo. Unfortunately, it explains as little as did the writings of the cosmopolitan Karl Marx, who is used as a straw man in the last chapter of the book by Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Ultimately, theories like globalization, which purport to explain everything, explain absolutely nothing. The same goes for these two books. Although they give us a nice overview of what the authors do with their time, they leave us none the wiser at the end. Worse still, by marginalizing the very real social and economic problems globalization begets, they help to guarantee that they will continue to fester in the years to come. Individuals like Osama bin Laden, who think globally and act locally, will see to that. There is, in other words, nothing new, noteworthy or novel beneath the covers of these and similar eminently readable but ultimately disappointing books.