Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Pursuit of Globalization

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A Future Perfect is the first comprehensive examination of the most important revolution of our time--globalization--and how it will continue to change our lives. The authors, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, correspondents for The Economist, won the Financial Times/Booz Allen Hamilton Global Business Book Award on Strategy and Leadership for their previous collaboration, The Witch Doctors. In A Future Perfect, Micklethwait and Wooldridge expand their field of vision in order to analyze, demystify, and ...

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Overview

A Future Perfect is the first comprehensive examination of the most important revolution of our time--globalization--and how it will continue to change our lives. The authors, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, correspondents for The Economist, won the Financial Times/Booz Allen Hamilton Global Business Book Award on Strategy and Leadership for their previous collaboration, The Witch Doctors. In A Future Perfect, Micklethwait and Wooldridge expand their field of vision in order to analyze, demystify, and expose the global forces reshaping our world, and they detail both the challenge and the hidden promise those forces hold for individuals, businesses, and governments.

Do businesses benefit from going global? Are we creating winner-take-all societies? Will globalization seal the triumph of junk culture? What will happen to individual careers? Gathering evidence from the shantytowns of São Paolo to the boardroom of General Electric, from the troubled Russia-Estonia border to the booming San Fernando Valley sex industry, Micklethwait and Wooldridge mount a powerful, witty, levelheaded defense of globalization.

Along the way, the authors introduce us to the cosmocrats--the members of the elite business, information, and diplomatic class who are creating the new world order. They also identify the three engines of globalization and describe how people are managing and governing in an increasingly global era. As they did in The Witch Doctors, the authors also brilliantly puncture myths and conventional wisdom, separating false hopes from emerging realities.

Incisive, expansive, and optimistic, A Future Perfect isan illuminating tour of the global economy and a fascinating assessment of its potential impact.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom T. Landry
Two writers for the Economist offer a broad look at global integration and make a strenuous case for intensifying it. Drawing on classical liberalism, they suggest that free trade not only brings prosperity but also ends the tyranny of place that has stifled so many energetic people. They argue that advocates of globalization should do more to defend it because it is far less robust and entrenched than people assume.....history shows how crises can reverse the process. This is a well-written, informed report on an important phenomenon.
Harvard Business Review
Publishers Weekly
Despite the virtual blizzard of political rhetoric, statistics and rumors surrounding the topic of globalization, Micklethwait and Wooldridge (The Witch Doctors) wade into the fray and emerge with an accessible, up-to-the-minute report. In the tradition of classical laissez-faire economic philosophers Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, they portray globalization as a savage but beneficial process that has already led to greater economic efficiency and individual freedom of choice. "Business people are the most obvious beneficiaries," Micklethwait and Wooldridge acknowledge, but they also argue that consumers profit from variety, innovation and lower prices. With a vast array of anecdotal evidence, they point out that the cheaper materials and labor and faster distribution now available in the global marketplace mean that innovative goods and services can come from an entrepreneur like Charlie Woo of Los Angeles (who created a niche in the highly lucrative toy market), from the startups of Silicon Valley and from Hollywood, which they praise for its flexibility, innovation and hyper competition. Yet in their impassioned advocacy of globalization, Micklethwait and Wooldridge do not allow themselves sufficient space to systematically address the extent of its destabilizing economic effects or the havoc it has wreaked on many countries -- a significant flaw in what is otherwise an estimable effort.
From The Critics
Want to hear something spooky? Listen to John Maynard Keynes looking back on the halcyon era just before the start of World War I, and ask yourself if it rings any bells.

"The inhabitant of London," the great economist recalled, "could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages. ... Most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement."

The war blasted all this to smithereens. The economic protectionism that followed helped push the world into the Great Depression and another war, to say nothing of the economic and cultural ice age of communism. But Keynes might as well have been talking about the Internet Economy, which enables more and more of us to click our way to goods, services and investments without regard to distance.

Nowadays we too seem to believe things will always be this way. The spread of information and technology, the movement of goods and ideas and people - all of it is taken for granted, especially by the educationally endowed, who seem to carry around, along with their cell phones and handheld organizers, a burden of guilt that prevents them from defending too loudly the embarrassing state of affairs that has led to their good fortune. Globalization, after all, has a bad name. Who wouldn't like to get McDonald's off the Champs Elysees, or get Third World children out of factories and into schools?

Victims of the increasing mobility of capital, labor and thoughts are easy to find, yet the millions upon millions of beneficiaries go quietly about their business, building better lives for themselves, their families and their societies. Now that it's unfashionable to blame everything on the Jews, the world's footloose malcontents have seized on globalization.

Unmoved by decades of desperate poverty in countries such as Bangladesh, as well as U.S. unemployment approaching zero, a collection of anarchists, reactionaries, luddites and leftists have banded together to protect the Third World from the horrors of economic development.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, a pair of tough-minded journalists at the Economist, believe that these misguided do-gooders and their fellow travelers (who include tyrants, vested elites and others threatened by open markets) pose a profound threat to the fragile network of commerce and people that has so far helped deliver the remarkable peace and prosperity we now enjoy.

The authors' persuasive message in their important new book, A Future Perfect, is that while globalization is indeed good, it is by no means inevitable, and that if someone doesn't start defending it soon, it could go away.

Fortunately, Micklethwait and Wooldridge are up to the task. One of the many virtues of this passionate and readable work is that the authors know too much about history, as well as about the world, to assume that the current situation must persist, and they take up the argument for globalization with refreshing candor and verve, ranging across continents and deep into the history of ideas.

Again and again they surprise us with potent anecdotes and apropos statistics. They describe a world so interconnected that people in India guard office buildings in California ("the security pictures are simply sent by satellite"), yet they also note that "by some measurements, the world is not that much more 'global' than it was a century ago: Much of the final quarter of the 20th century was spent merely recovering ground lost in the previous 75 years."

In the authors' bracing company we meet a fascinating array of winners and losers, and hear a great deal of good sense about what can - and must - be done for those left behind.

The range of their research is at times breathtaking. Who knew that America's civil service is twice the size it was in 1960? That the undernourished Parisians who stormed the Bastille were 5 feet 2 inches tall vs. the average 5 foot 10 inches their ancestors are today? That theatrical productions of Phantom of the Opera have done better at the box office than the movie Titanic? That the assets of the world's three richest men exceeded the combined gross national product of countries that are home to 600 million people? And that in 1908 the French, now battling to keep Hollywood blockbusters at bay, owned 70 percent of the U.S. film market?

But Micklethwait and Wooldridge never allow their central message to be lost in this hurricane of information. They fervently believe and convincingly demonstrate that most troubles laid at the door of globalization have other causes; that the winners in this process far outnumber the losers; and that the process isn't just about money, but also about freedom. They also make it plain that those who seek to control the destiny of others have the most to fear in all this.

Personally, I think globalization is inevitable - in the long run. But as Keynes famously said, in the long run we are all dead. Meanwhile, read this brilliant book. You have a moral obligation to act on it lest people become seduced by the bizarre collection of activists (from Patrick Buchanan to Susan Sarandon) who seem bent on turning back the global clock.

The great irony, of course, is that the most-affluent beneficiaries of globalization will be the last to suffer if the world is once again divided and enclosed by protectionism. Blessed with schooling and drive, they will always do fine, whereas the poorest people on earth, deprived of economic development, will see their lives blasted back to 1914.


Daniel Akst is a contributing writer for The Standard and a columnist for the New York Times.
John Gray
If John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge have written the msot intelligent defense of globalization to date, it is because they readily acknowledge this gap between aspiration and reality.
Times Literary Supplement
Harold M. Evans
Globalization is such a mouthful. It is a pleasure to say that A Future Perfect, examining its implications, soars above the indigestible noun. The authors deftly make sense of the abstract with vivid specifics we can all relate to....This is an important book and, surprisingly, a lot of fun to read.
—author of The American Century
Michael Elliot
A tremendous book that dares to celebrate the potential of our new world.... A Future Perfect, at its heart, explains and defends globalization as an economic process driven by technology....For Micklethwait and Wooldridge, heirs to the particular tradition of 19th-century English political economy, globalization is a process that expands prosperity and choice, and hence liberty.
Newsweek International
Tom Peters
As the angry confrontation erupted at the Seattle WTO meeting in late 1999, I found myself furious. Not at the protesters, but at myself and my kind for having done such a rotten job of explaining in clear and compelling English the power and benefits of globalization. Now John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge weigh in with the response I prayed for. A Future Perfect fills a yawning void with a magisterial case for the most powerful -- an life enhancing -- force on earth: globalization."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812930962
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/9/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

John Micklethwait oversees coverage of the United States for The Economist, where he was previously New York bureau chief and business editor. He has won a Wincott Award for financial journalism. He has appeared on NPR and the BBC and written for the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times.

Adrian Wooldridge is a Washington correspondent for The Economist and was its West Coast bureau chief, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Measuring the Mind: Education and Psychology in England, 1860-1990. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and The Times of London, and has appeared on NPR and the BBC.

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Read an Excerpt

Once or twice a day, the rural calm of the Bruderhof's retreat near Rifton in upstate New York is shattered by the pounding of a heavy truck. The Bruderhof is an Amish-style religious community of four hundred people. The brothers (as they style themselves) have no patience with the godless modern world. They have banned radios and televisions, forbid divorce and homosexuality, and practice "Christian communism," renouncing private property and raising their children collectively. Each family has its own quarters, but the community usually eats and performs most chores together, with the women, who wear head scarves to preserve their modesty and routinely defer to their menfolk, performing the bulk of the domestic labor.

The brothers regard the spread of American culture around the world with suspicion. Hollywood preaches immorality, they argue; the Internet corrupts children's minds with pornography; and both, by stimulating materialism, distract people from the really important things in life. Every-where they look, the brothers see simple communities like their own being destroyed by the onward rush of industry and pop culture. One of their longest-standing relationships is with another anticapitalist island, Cuba, where they often send their children for holidays.

Yet the Bruderhof, no less than Cuba, are having to open the door to the modern world. The group's history has always given it an international edge. It was founded in Germany in the 1920s, but the brothers' communist principles and unorthodox approach to education inevitably attracted the wrath of the Nazis. Their flight from persecution scattered them across the world, with some ending up insouthern England and others migrating first to Latin America and then to the United States. Most of the group's 2,500 members now live either in England (where there are two settlements) or the northeast United States (with six). They have always tried to counteract this geographic separation by moving members from one community to another and running their affairs collectively. Modern technology has made this process less cumbersome: Rather than relying on letters and the occasional phone call, the group is thoroughly wired, with a constant flow of phone calls, faxes, and e-mails among the eight settlements. (Unlike their ideological cousins, the Amish, the Bruderhof can tolerate modern technology so long as it is used strictly for work.)

The other thing that has drawn the far-flung brotherhood closer together is, ironically, commerce. Since the late 1950s, the members of the Bruderhof have supported themselves by making superbly crafted children's toys through a company called Community Playthings; in the 1970s, they added another business, Rifton Equipment, which makes equipment for the handicapped. Since the brothers insisted on involving all their communities in the production process (and also excluding outsiders), the educational toys were expensive, but their niche seemed safe. This illusion lasted until the late 1980s, when the brothers began to run into competitors, many of them from abroad, who used new manufacturing techniques to combine the quality of handicraft with the efficiency of mass production. They had also en-countered bottlenecks in their own production.

The brotherhood held a series of crisis meetings around the world. Some members argued that, since they had taken vows of poverty, it hardly mattered that their income was shrinking. But one of the younger brothers argued that the community's only hope for survival lay in borrowing ideas from the same commercial life that they had always scorned. In most ways, John Rhodes is a textbook member of the brotherhood: He has lived virtually all his adult life within the community; his clothes are as drab as those of any of his peers; he has iron convictions, particularly on the evils of the death penalty and of homosexuality, all of them conveyed in a soft voice. In one regard, however, he is unusual: He is fascinated by business ideas. He gently persuaded his doubting colleagues that the Bruderhof could learn a lot from the Japanese and that they could turn the fact that their business was scattered around the world to their advantage.

Reluctantly at first, the Bruderhof immersed themselves in Japanese management techniques. They turned each of their communities into specialist centers, with some responsible for metalwork and others for carpentry. They introduced "lean production," scrapping assembly lines, dividing the workforce into "cells" (each responsible for assembling an entire product), and forcing their suppliers to deliver new parts as soon as the old ones had been used. It is this just-in-time delivery system that is responsible for the truck whose rumblings periodically shatter the rural calm of Rifton.

The gains in efficiency from these and other changes were dramatic. The Bruderhof found that they could deliver 60 percent of their orders on the same day, in an industry where the average delivery time is four weeks. They reduced their inventories by more than 90 percent. Even more important in a group that believes that work is a form of prayer, individuals started to find their jobs more fulfilling. From reluctant converts the Bruderhof became unabashed proponents of modern management and toured the world's factories looking for new ideas. They borrowed another Japanese technique, kaizen, that helps get rid of bottlenecks in production. They embraced American ideas such as reengineering, putting workers in charge of whole processes, and pruning the number of their products by 20 percent. They introduced computers and integrated the British and American factories into one system.

The ideas have not just changed how the Bruderhof make things but also how the group deals with the outside world. For instance, the brothers still instinctively prefer to sell things without meeting people. But techniques such as "customer-centric management" have also forced them to admit that their customers like to be able to associate a name and a voice (if not necessarily a face) with their supplier. So a team of account managers (most of them women) has tried to build close relationships with particular groups of customers, such as schools for the handicapped. Somewhere along the way, the Bruderhof even bought a private jet, which, when it is not used for the group's affairs, is leased out to the likes of Sharon Stone and Tom Cruise.

The Bruderhof are only too aware that leasing planes to film stars while refusing to watch their films and relying on e-mail while forbidding their children to play computer games is somewhat odd. But so far their strategy is paying off. The children still write letters to political prisoners and people on death row; the women are as deferential as ever; and business is booming, with revenues reaching forty million dollars in 1999 and orders streaming in from all over the world. The Bruderhof are now looking for ways to use their unexpected windfall to locate converts around the world, and starting a new Community in Australia. If the modern marketplace can do the devil's work, it can also do the Lord's.

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