Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism

By Gibson, Warren | Freeman, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism


Gibson, Warren, Freeman


Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism by Robert Guest Palgrave Macmillan * 2011 * 256 pages * $27.00 hardcover; $12.99 e-book

Reviewed by Warren Gibson

Robert Guest, the business "editor for The Economist, has organized insights gleaned from 20 years of reporting on and analyzing events around the world into a breezy yet profound account of the flow of people and ideas across borders.

Raw immigration statistics miss the "networks of innovation," as Guest calls them. Immigrants may find it difficult to adapt to a new land with strange customs and a new language. But in just about any American city they find a community of people like themselves who can ease the transition and help them get established. This process is good for everyone involved.

For example, Indian immigrants to America - most notably Silicon Valley engineers - are tightly networked among themselves and have contacts in India and around the world. Having made their fortunes, some then return to India to pursue business or philanthropic activities. To illustrate, Guest describes the Universal Identity program. Hundreds of millions in India have no public identity beyond their immediate communities. A team of Indian expatriates returned to India and launched a program to create a computer-based system that would allow Indians to submit to fingerprinting and retina scans and to receive a national ID number that would serve as their entrée into the modern Indian economy. Libertarians look askance at government identification numbers, but in rich countries we take for granted our ability to prove our identities.

Some of the book's best economic analysis explodes popular fallacies, such as the concept of "brain drain." British hospitals have come to rely on Nigerian nurses; the hospitals would collapse without them. Is it a tragedy for Nigeria that these nurses didn't stay home instead? Guest argues that the prospect of emigration to Britain encourages young Nigerians to train for nursing, and some of those nursing graduates decide to stay home. Those who do migrate often send remittances home, and they also transmit firsthand knowledge of how rich countries work. So immigration is good for the migrants but also for the workers left behind.

Guest compares foreign aid with remittances from expatriate workers. Aid is often stolen and thus amounts to a forcible transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries, as the late international economist Peter Bauer put it. When not stolen, it is filtered through layers of bureaucracy in both the donor and recipient countries. …

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