Oct 13, 2011

Book Review: Aftershock by Philippe Legrain

Back in 2005, when globalisation and its detractors were still beating at full swing, a friend of mine told me the best book about globalisation wasn't Krugman's or Bhagwati's, but Open World, by Philippe Legrain. I never took the time to read it. Two years later, Legrain published Immigrants, making the case for the free flow of people. Being already convinced, I skipped it again. So when I came upon his latest book, Aftershock, I thought it was due time to give Legrain a try. And I'm glad I finally did.

Aftershock, first published in May 2010, is a great book about "reshaping the world economy after the crisis". It starts off with a few chapters on the crisis, how it happened, how it affected people around the world, how the financial system should be fixed, and how emerging markets are our best hope for a stable recovery. Instead of praising the BRICs, he praises the BEEs, i.e. the Big Emerging Economies, which include China, India, and Brazil, but not Russia. He then warns about the dangers of protectionism, especially against China, and argues that a free flow or people and ideas is of utmost importance for the a prosperous and peaceful world.

He does all this recycling ideas from his previous, Immigrants and Open World, and combining VoxEU-inspired analyses with anecdotes collected from interviews done all around the world. His writing style, probably his greatest strength, is a mix of Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, and Jagdish Bhagwati, the ardent defender of free trade. He's also reminiscent of Superfreakonomics, especially in his chapter on climate change where he describes the technologies that will allow us to stop polluting.

He is almost as radical as a Chicago boy when arguing about free markets, but most convincing in his conclusion when making the case for an open world from a moral, rather then economic, point of view. This is best captured by a quote from Kishore Mahbubani: "the real value of free-market economics is not just in the improvements in economic productivity. It is about how it uplifts the human spirit and liberates the minds of hundreds of millions of people". Hopefully, if politicians stop being retarded, our future will be an Open World.

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