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World on Fire

Amy Chua’s World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability is our book club’s fourth title to discuss.   Part One  defines a Market-Dominant Minority  (MDM) and then gives examples of MDM’s in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Russia and Africa.  Part Two describes the three types of political consequences of MDM’s: backlash against markets, backlash against Democracy and backlash against the MDM’s themselves.  This part of the book was pretty horrifying.  Chua has personal experience with some of the horror and she really makes clear the evil backlashes that can occur when a majority feels like an ethnic minority controls all their land and/or national treasure.  Part Three covers the unpleasant backlashes against MDM’s within the Western Free Market Democracies, describes the special case of the Middle East’s responses to MDM’s and closes with an inspection of how the US is a super-MDM (Chua uses a lot of ink clarifying the jump from the Chinese in the Philippines, for example, to the US in the World) to the rest of the world.  The last chapter covers some ways in which we might be able to mitigate the risks of the three backlashes against MDM’s going forward and some ways she is sure we could make things worse.

The book was very easy to read and I’ll keep her concepts in mind in the future.  You can watch or listen to Chua summarize the book here.  She’s not a great speaker, but the content is interesting and directly tracks to the book.  I wish our book club could have read and discussed this right after Friedman’s The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, but it will be fun enough talking about it right after Sachs’ The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time.  Chua disagrees with Friedman about the benefits of a free market and liberal democracy.

One of her main points is that the US never had a completely free market and completely liberal democracy at the same time in our history; so when we force both of them on others as the magic bullet, it creates a lot of problems, including the problem of the reactions against MDM’s.  Chua is very careful to admit that she is not covering all the factors related to the causes of historical events.  She is just pointing out that we have to be careful when we force too much of a good thing on a country all at once.  Other than the main theme, the best thing about the book was reading the refreshing voice of someone who is a bit contrarian and willing to remind us that things may look like great ideas, but we need to remember how they turned out last time and what people’s motives really are.


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