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Generally good, but I'd like a bit more quantitation. Book is dated.
on August 12, 2012
This book has 31 chapters over 362 pages of prose. That works out to about 11.7 pages, and so each chapter is very bite sized. The notes to the book are 57 pages long and are arranged by page and the bibliography is 21 pages and, I estimate, about 500 different sources. So, I the breadth and depth of the book are good. In fact, having this many sources reminds me of Thomas Sowell's writings. The book was written before the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and so if you are a person who reads the news every day, you can go back and see how well this book predicted things. (Not, as it turned out, all that well.)
I don't think I've read a book this interesting in quite some time. The things that he talks about in the Chinese context are the things that I am most familiar with (I've lived here for a number of years), and those observations were 100% correct. That makes me very comfortable with believing his observations about the places that he discusses with which I am less familiar (Italy/ Korea). Even though Fukuyama has a mass of detail, his writing doesn't come across as fatty and manages to keep the reader interested. (It is because of the shortness of the chapters that I kept wanting to stay up another 30 minutes to just "squeeze in another chapter.")
There are, however, a couple of downsides. The first problem is there is not quantitative analysis and testing. I know that every author thinks that for every graph/ equation s/he will cut his readership in half, and I think that this author took that idea very literally. I count not one single graph in the whole book and ONE single table. The questions that I had (and that the author did not come close to answering) were: 1. If a country does have a large number of small firms (because of trust), then does it really make any difference? (Hong Kong SAR has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world in spite of this.) 2. Can some economies get away with having a low trust society because they are small enough to do that? So, is it possible for Hong Kong to have a high level of development, but not to expect China to be able to do the same thing because it is too big to do so? 3. Can we get some quantitative idea of how being low-trust impedes economic development? He classifies Frances as low trust, but in the same chapter (#11) says that it has one of the highest GDPs per capita and is a leader in many technological fields. 4. So, again, what does low trust correspond to? 5. Fukuyama gives some praise to the quality of French bureaucracy, but does that mean that if a country like Japan succeeds at once point in time that their bureaucracy was smart but when their growth severely declines that it became stupid? Or that growth can be improved by smartening up the bureaucracy?
Ultimately, I'm not clear what the author is concluding (or even asserting). Korea is a low trust society. Japan is a higher trust society, but they both went through the Asian financial crisis. Korea came out of it, but Japan has yet to come out of it--15 years later. Japan has a lot of name brands, but Korea has fewer. Israel has almost NO name brands that anyone recognizes, but tons of companies listed on NASDAQ and more venture capital (per capita) than anyone. And its income per head is almost exactly the same as ROK's. But if Israel has no world beating companies, it must be because trust is low (mustn't it?) So now what?
Other questions: Are all voluntary organizations good? Recently in the United States we've seen Occupy Wall Street, and in American English there exists the word "community organizer." (I'm not quite sure what they do that is of value.) Does it follow that more of them would be better (i.e. a matter of degree)? Or is it a matter of type? Is the capacity for forming organizations actually even getting less? How is this facilitated/ vitiated by the internet (which was not around in full force at the time of the writing of this book)?
At a minimum, this book has some interesting history and some interesting conceptual discussions. But the actual *testing*/ demonstration/ QUANTIFICATION of the concepts with data is lacking.
Toward the end, some of his arguments got *really* strained. He talked about the failure of black Americans to reach income parity and their various social pathologies as a consequences of atomization/ fragmentation. (p.302). And he goes on to say that Caribbean blacks are less fragmented and so they do a bit better. (And the same as to why Chinese people come to the United States and make money. More cohesiveness and willingness to buy from each other.) I just don't know how much that holds water. There are other factors (none quantified), such as: self-selection, attitudes toward work, and IQ. Was social trust and cohesiveness 25% of the story? 50%? 75%? No guess.
I bought this book second hand (paperback) and it was worth the price. It was a weekend worth of reading time, and because of the wonderful ease of Fukuyama's prose, I don't regret having spent the money or the time.