FOR MANY SKEPTICS, globalization merely is a transparent euphemism for "Americanization," the global diaspora of American-style capitalism and, with it, the spread of its materialistic values. At best, our culture can be exciting and, sometimes, perhaps liberating. Yet, what often is perceived is the worst that we have to offer--from the narcissism of the Shopping Channel to the macho posturing of steroid-fueled TV wrestlers. For the left (and for many moderates and conservatives as well), globalization widely is perceived as a means by which the U.S. can expand its global influence under the more attractive banner of modernization. Although globalization is grounded upon economic activities, it has significant political and social ramifications: clearly, it cannot exist without political preconditions; conversely, it may be derailed by political "backlash" as symbolized by the impact of antiglobalization protests.
Most advocates of worldwide trade, such as economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, author of The End of Poverty, believe that free markets and democratic political institutions could eliminate poverty in the Third World by transforming those nations into a community of peaceful and prosperous societies. However, this hope just may prove to be a tempting illusion since globalization advocates also tend to believe that ethnic hatreds, sectarian bitterness, and other forms of social backwardness would be swept away by modernization. As a cautionary tale, the current sectarian struggle for political supremacy in Iraq should be a painful wakeup call for many such true believers. Nonetheless, the globalization movement still has numerous enthusiastic supporters. Among the best-known is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World Is Flat. Both books express exceedingly high expectations for globalization. For Friedman, globalization tends to turn all friends and enemies into competitors, with the result being multiethnic, pluralistic, free-market democracies. Optimism aside, two issues remain: will the values that our elites favor for the U.S. find acceptance abroad? Moreover, will they even work in this country?
In a seminal essay, "World on Fire," drawn from her book of the same title, Amy Chua, a Chinese-American economist and law professor at Yale University, asserts that the global spread of capitalism and democracy has certain potential dangers. In recent decades, according to Chua, emerging populist and democratic movements in the developing world have provided appealing legitimacy for the impoverished masses--precisely those who likely would be the most susceptible to anti-American demagoguery. Chua has argued that free elections inevitably would result in the rise to power of many anticapitalist and American political leaders. Since her book was published five years ago, Chua's fears have been realized by the turbulent political events in Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, as well as the ill-fated consequences of the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Nonetheless, for decades, U.S. policymakers consistently have advocated free markets and democracy as politico-economic elixirs for establishing peace and prosperity for developing countries as well as the post-Communist nations of Eastern Europe without reckoning all the consequences carefully.
As a specialist on developing countries, Chua points out that much of the ongoing debate over globalization in the West has been focused on the familiar left-wing notions of class conflict and the exploitation of workers while neglecting the more complex ethnic and racial dimensions. Although the left-liberal approach might make some sense for Western societies, it is inadequate for certain developing nations where economic life long has been driven by "market-dominant" minorities such as the Chinese in the Philippines (including Chua's family). The author has provided a lengthy list of examples: the Chinese in Indonesia, Myanmar, and Malaysia; whites in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa; Israelis in the Middle East; ethnic Russians in Central Asia; the Ibos of Nigeria; the Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia; and the Jews in post-Communist Russia. …