Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East
by Clyde Prestowitz
Basic Books, 321 pp., $26.95
China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World
by Ted C. Fishman
Scribner, 342 pp., $26.00
The “rise” of China has suddenly become the all-absorbing topic for those professionally concerned with the future of the planet. Will the twenty-first century be the Chinese century, and, if so, in what sense? Will China’s rise be peaceful or violent? And how will this affect the United States, the current “hyperpower”? In fact, China has been “rising” for some time (after several hundred years of “fall”), but for many years its claim to notice was obscured by more exciting events. Attention in the 1990s concentrated on the fall of Soviet communism, “globalization,” the spread of democracy, and the high-tech revolution. These developments, which left America as the world’s sole economic and political superpower, seemed to belie Paul Kennedy’s prediction in 1987 of relative US decline and “more of a multipolar system.”
Continue reading “The Chinese Shadow”
Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry, the Nazis and the Road to World War II
by Ian Kershaw
Penguin, 488 pp., $29.95
Two themes run through the life and career of Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry. The first is the decline and fall of the British aristocracy; the second is British attitudes toward Hitler and Nazi Germany. They intersect in the person of “Charley” Londonderry because he was an aristocratic survivor in an age of democratic politics who, like many of his kind, saw agreement—friendship is too strong a word—with Hitler as a way of avoiding another war which would finally destroy his kind, and the civilization for which it stood.
Continue reading “In the Führer’s Face”
One World: The Ethics of Globalization
by Peter Singer
Yale University Press, 235 pp., $21.95
Free Trade Today
by Jagdish Bhagwati
Princeton University Press, 128 pp., $35.00; $14.95 (paper)
The Chastening: Inside the Crisis That Rocked the Global Financial System and Humbled the IMF
by Paul Blustein
Public Affairs, 435 pp., $18.00 (paper)
World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability
by Amy Chua
Doubleday, 340 pp., $26.00
Globalization was the most dramatic idea to emerge from the collapse of communism and the end of the cold war. Suddenly, it seemed, there was “one world.” US State Department official Francis Fukuyama said it first: there was now no ideological obstacle to the spread of markets and democracy. Further, it seemed highly plausible to suppose that the fall of political barriers to trade and the movement of capital would unite the world into a single economic unit. On top of this came the revolution in communications: cell phones and the Internet would, at the very least, speed up the emergence of a global consciousness. At the earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, a grimmer aspect of globalization was unveiled: “global warming,” or the threat to the world’s climate from carbon emissions. Common to all these perceptions was the thought that the traditional divisions of humanity into tribes, races, nations, religions, and cultures were obstacles to the “global” thinking needed to bring about prosperity, peace, and justice to all, or indeed to avert planetary disaster.
Continue reading “One World?”
The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth
by Liah Greenfeld
Harvard University Press, 541 pp., $45.00
Lectures on Economic Growth
by Robert E. Lucas Jr.
Harvard University Press, 204 pp., $49.95
The question of what causes economies to grow is theoretically interesting and practically important. If we could discover the secrets of economic growth—what causes income per person to increase over time—we might be able to make growth happen at will, abolishing poverty and creating a world of universal abundance.
Continue reading “The Mystery of Growth”
The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000
by Niall Ferguson
Basic Books, 552 pp., $30.00
In 1987 the historian Paul Kennedy published a controversial book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. Its message was that the United States was suffering from imperial “overstretch.” Its economy was no longer large or dynamic enough to support its strategic commitments. It had to accept a lesser role in a “multipolar” world. This message was embedded in a grand historical-geopolitical narrative. Kennedy discerned a long-run correlation between economic and military power. This gave rise to a historic pattern of “rise and fall,” in which successive dominant powers were drained of economic vitality by the cost of fending off their challengers.
Continue reading “What Makes the World Go Round?”
Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism
by George Soros
Public Affairs, 365 pp., $26.00
George Soros is the best-known financial speculator of our time, godfather of hedge funds, those fast-moving and largely unregulated raiders in the corporate jungle that make their killings from fluctuations in the prices of stocks, commodities, currencies. When he writes books readers might reasonably expect tips on how to make money. They will be disappointed. Soros’s ambitions are altogether more exalted. Having become a billionaire, he has set himself up as the philosopher and statesman of global capitalism, tirelessly telling the world that it now needs to remove the ladder by which he himself climbed to fame and fortune. On January 2 he was reported predicting a “hard and bouncy” landing for the US economy.
Continue reading “The World on a String”
Review of Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen
Norton, 431 pp., $27.95
When Karl Marx was twenty-four, a contemporary wrote of him: “Imagine Rousseau, Voltaire, Holbach, Lessing, Heine and Hegel fused into one person…and you have Dr. Marx.” Marx was not one of those brilliant young men who fail to live up to their promise. He produced the most powerful, coherent, and influential secular system of ideas ever devised to explain man’s past, analyze his present, and predict his future.
Continue reading “What’s Left of Marx?”
Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia
by James Fox
Simon and Schuster, 496 pp., $30.00
In the early 1980s, the English writer James Fox was shown a large trunk at his grandfather’s house in Northamptonshire covered in Cunard and White Star steamship stickers. On inspection it turned out to contain thousands of letters between the Langhorne sisters, as well as other correspondence, carefully collected and preserved by his grandfather, Robert Brand, who had married one of them. It was a collection, Fox writes, made possible by two or three posts a day and the convention of returning letters to their senders “in time of grief.” That first encounter with the trunk has led to his absorbing chronicle of a Virginian family which sprang to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic at the turn of the last century, but paid a heavy price for fame and fortune in the wrecked lives of their children.
Continue reading “All in the Family”
The House of Rothschild: The World’s Banker, 1849-1999
by Niall Ferguson
Viking, 658 pp., $34.95
The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets, 1798-1848
by Niall Ferguson
Penguin, 518 pp., $18.95 (paper)
In his delightful memoirs, the art historian Kenneth Clark recalls that Lord Cunliffe, governor of the Bank of England, came to lunch with his father on August 2, 1914. “There’s talk of a war,” said Lord Cunliffe, “but it will never happen; the Germans haven’t got the credits.” Almost a century earlier Gutle Rothschild, widow of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, is supposed to have said of a dispute between England and Prussia, “It won’t come to war; my sons won’t provide money for it.” Niall Ferguson’s extraordinary book is both a history of the world’s most powerful banking dynasty and an attempt to understand the role of high finance in an international system about which such statements could be made and be believed.
Continue reading “Family Values”
Morgan: American Financier
by Jean Strouse
Random House, 796 pp., $34.95
When John Pierpont Morgan died in 1913, he was the most powerful banker in the world. As the main conduit for British foreign investment into North America he helped transform the United States from a society of yeoman farmers into an industrial colossus. More controversially, Morgan helped change competitive business into what Lenin called “monopoly capitalism.” His bank financed the consolidation of large sectors of the American transportation, steel, and electricity industries. Most of this made economic sense, eliminating destructive competition, stabilizing the market, and lowering costs to the consumer through economies of scale and marketing. But the resulting concentration of power and wealth produced a popular backlash, leading Congress to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890.
Continue reading “Giant”