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Sunday, May 20, 2007

A new book on globalization starts with a long first chapter that might be called "Out of Africa." It's Nayan Chanda's contention in Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization (Yale Univ., $27.50) that international trade is really an attempt to recapture the original human condition -- the way we were in Africa before humans fanned out to begin the process of populating the planet somewhere between 50,000 and 70,00 years ago. In effect, Chanda is rephrasing E.M. Forster's "only connect" as "only reconnect."

Chanda emphasizes human demographics to buttress his view that interconnectedness is a basic human drive -- essentially the same impulse that "has led men and women to . . . try to convert fellow human beings to their faith . . . [and] generations of rulers to invade distant lands and bring larger populations under one umbrella of empire." It cannot be stopped and it's not a cause for alarm, provided that we remedy the "shortage of institutional capacity to address" the challenges that globalization raises.

In Connected: 24 Hours in the Global Economy (Farrar Straus Giroux, $24), Daniel Altman takes a more up-to-the-minute approach, trotting the globe to find out how globalization works now. Fastening upon June 15, 2005, , he investigates such topics as emissions brokerage in Slovakia, the difficulties of operating in China (rated by the World Bank in 2006 as "91st out of 155 countries for the ease of doing business," and relative levels of corruption around the world (least corrupt: Iceland; most corrupt: a tie between Chad and Bangladesh).

If your image of globalization features Third World sweatshop workers toiling over goods ultimately purveyed in glossy American mail-order catalogues, Sasha Issenberg's The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy (Gotham, $26) says, in effect, "Not necessarily." Sushi, Issenberg argues, "reveals . . . that a virtuous global commerce and food culture can exist. On a new landscape of consumption, power is decentralized, and supply and demand are regulated not by moguls but by local ideas about value and taste. Even large corporations that become involved, particularly the massive Japanese food conglomerates that supply supermarkets and restaurant chains with fresh fish, are usually forced to defer to local expertise." Issenberg cites an anthropologist for the proposition that "the sushi trade . . . is one of the last areas in which human beings remain hunter-gatherers."

-- Dennis Drabelle


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