Book Review for Amy Chua’s World on Fire_How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability | Malaysia | Free Market

Book Review for Amy Chua’s World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred

and Global Instability
By Richard L. Dixon It was with great interest and expectation that I had the opportunity to both read and review Amy Chua’s Book entitled World Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Usually a book of this magnitude is bogged down with endless statistics without really getting to the relevant point that they are trying to get across to the reader. However, Ms. Chua leads no stones unturned in her analysis that the introduction of neo-liberalization free market policies into developing countries can cause ethnic unrest, backlash, and violence against minorities in countries that dominated the market-based economy and often were oppressive to the entrenched majority. This subject is of particular interest to me because I have written extensively on the problems that the country of Malaysia experienced with both the ethnic Minority Chinese and Indians who had assumed all economic power in terms of ownership in businesses, land, homes, and money at the expense of the impoverished Malay majority in an essay entitled “Sons of the Soil (Bumiputra).” The resentment by the Malay majority towards the Chinese resulted in the race riots of May 1969 which scores were killed. “The term Bumiputra or Sons of the Soil is a Malaysian identity that connects the original population to their land, culture, and ruler (Sultanate). However, the Sons of the Soil became a different meaning for Malaysia as it evolved into a pluralistic and multicultural society with the introduction of Cheap Chinese & Indian Labor. This manifested itself in the May races of 1969 which the Malay

majority protested the inequality economically that they endured at the expense of the wealthier Chinese.” (Richard L. Dixon, February 2009). It was fortunate that both the Chinese and Indian Minority saw the wisdom (with some Political Arm-twisting by former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad) in standing behind affirmative action efforts to bridge the economic and inequality gap between them and the Malay Majority with the introduction of the NEP (National Economic Policy), the Second Malaysian Plan, and Vision 2020 which launched the country as a regional economical power. Yet even Ms. Chua contends that the Chinese still hold the reins of power economically in that country. “In Malaysia, too, privatization and other market policies have starkly magnified the economic dominance of the country’s Chinese minority. This is true despite extensive affirmative action policies for the indigenous Malay majority, which has been in place ever since bloody anti-Chinese riots in 1969 left nearly a thousand dead in Kuala Lumpur. Today, the Malaysian Chinese-the largest Chinese minority in South-east Asia, representing about a third of the population-account for 70 percent of the country’s market capitalization.” (Amy Chua, 2004). Unfortunately the Chinese minorities in the country of Indonesia weren’t as fortunate as their Malaysian counterparts and were massacred in the thousands during a period of ethnic riots in that country as well. Ms. Chua in her book has been especially critical of the Chinese even though she is of the same racial lineage. After the murder of her Aunt in the Philippines by one of her staff, is one of the factors that prompted Ms. Chua write this book. “My family is part of the Philippines, tiny but entrepreneurial, economically powerful Chinese minority. Just 1 percent of the population, Chinese Filipinos control as much as 60 percent of the private

economy, including the country’s four major airlines and almost all of the country’s banks, hotels, shopping malls, and major conglomerates.” (Amy Chua). It should be interesting to note, that 95% of the 250 full and part-time employees on the Island of Diego Garcia who work in the MWR (Morale Welfare & Recreation) Clubs Division that I oversee, are Filipinos. They are hardworking, loyal, loving, and generous employees. This has given me a unique perspective that Ms. Chua so elaborately writes about in the first part of her book. I remember one of my Club Managers telling me about his experiences at a Casino in Subic Bay, Philippines where he was employed as a General Manager in one of the Restaurants. He stated that the Casino was Chinese owned, and in a concerted efforts with female Chinese pawn shop owners, would often book rooms in the Casino itself. Nightly the Chinese pawn shop owners would wait patiently downstairs for the Filipino patrons of the Casino who would have gambled away all of their money. The Filipino gamblers finding them selves desperate to get cash to continue to feed into their addiction, would then seek out the Chinese pawn shop owners who would have readily available cash. The one catch though was that the Filipino gamblers would have to sign over their prized possessions such as cars, houses, and businesses. Often the exchange rate was unfair, because the Filipinos would get pittance for the true value of their property. Yet the Chinese Pawnshop owners would have amasses a huge profit and then turns around and sell the property at substantially marked up rates to other gullible and unsuspecting Filipinos. In essence, Ms. Chua’s contention about the cruelty and underhanded business practices that the Chinese use against the Filipinos are quite accurate.

The recurring theme throughout Ms. Chua’s book is that the model of free market enterprise and neo-liberal democracy that is exported by the United States to other emerging nations have not been practiced since the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. “Contrary to what its proponents assume, free markets outside the West do not spread wealth evenly and enrich entire developing societies. Instead, they tend to concentrate glaring wealth in the hands of an outside minority, generating ethnic envy and hatred among frustrated impoverished majorities. What happens when democracy is added to this volatile mixture? In countries with a market-dominated minority, democratization, rather reinforcing the market’s efficiency and wealth-producing effects leads to powerful ethno nationalist, anti-market pressures and routinely results in confiscation, instability, authoritarian backlash, and violence. (Amy Chua). The rising anti-Semitism in the Russian Republic is a textbook example to what Ms. Chua is alluding to in her book as well. The one thing that Ms. Chua clearly points out in her book is that the forces of economical and political uncontrolled Globalization is at the center of all of this madness. In fact, my studies have shown that her book is but one piece of the puzzle in documenting the abuses of uncontrolled market economic principles in underdeveloped and emerging nations. Naomi Klein in her book entitled “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism documents the same Modus Operandi. “This book a challenge to the central and most cherished clam in the official story-that the triumph of deregulated capitalism has been born of freedom that unfettered free markets go hand in hand with democracy. Instead, I will show that this fundamentalist

form of capitalism has consistently been midwifed by the most brutal form of coercion, inflicted on the collective body politic as well as on countless individual bodies. The history of the contemporary free market-better understood as the rise of corporatism-was written in shocks.” (Naomi Klein, 2008). The third piece of this puzzle in the exporting and forced implementation of unregulated market capitalism that both Ms. Klein and Ms. Chua allude can be found in the book by Pepe Escobar entitled “How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War.” It is Mr. Escobar’s observation that the forces of Globalization have torn the world apart into spheres that threatens to escalate into uncontrolled conflicts and sieges. In fact, he views it in the context of World System Movements in the theories as advocated by Immanuel Wallerstein and Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of Liquid Modernity. Thus just as combustible raging fires consume whole forest by sucking the oxygen the out of the air and destroying anything living in its past, so too is the liquidity of uncontrolled Globalization which annihilates nations, cultures, and people. “Beyond strategic and political conflict, Liquid War tends towards the destruction of singular cultures and everything capable of resisting globalization. Its optimum is anthropological genocide. If the future is being configured by Liquid War all actors are positioning themselves for the decisive movement, the catharsis in Greek Drama, when Liquid War boils to the point of Hot War. Dear Leader Kim Jong-il is a weak link; his acts are very revealing, denouncing real fears. So are Hugo Chavez’s.” (Pepe Escobar, 2006).

In the end though, all three authors readily acknowledge that the very same forces of Globalization that destroys cultures, nations, and economies are also the ones best suited

to set the path to lead emerging nations to development and the uplifting of their populations out of the depths of misery and poverty. Yet these force must by harnessed (just as we do with the capture of the sun’s rays in a solar control panel) and controlled by prudent legislation with a social safety net to burden the fall of those who fall through the cracks. “I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent. It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that requires no such brutality and demands no such ideological purity. A free market in consumer products can co-exist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economylike national oil company-held in state hands. It’s equally possible to require corporations to pay decent wages, to respect the right of workers to form unions, and for governments to tax and redistribute wealth so that the sharp inequalities that mark the corporatist state are reduced. Markets need not be fundamentalist.” (Naomi Klein). Ms Chua concludes in her book that there are lessons to be learned by the industrialized world, in that the best way to gain respectability is to promote a path of human rights and pro-development for all people in an emerging nations and not just the entrenched few who will reap the benefits. Promoting a form of market-based capitalism intertwined with Darwin Lassie Faire principles is the wrong direction to take which is why the Global South is in such a volatile state of ethnic conflict, war, civil strife, and economic meltdown.


1. Richard L. Dixon, “Sons of the Soil (Bumiputra),” Abstract, Comparative Political Systems, IRLS501 B001 Win 09, Dr. Thomas Kirkwood, Instructor, (February, 2009), 1. 2. Amy Chua, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, (New York, Anchor Books, 2004), 15-16. 3. Ibid, 3. 4. Ibid, 4. 5. Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), 18-19. 6. (Pepe Escobar, Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War, Preface (Ann Arbor, MI: Nimble Books, LLC, 2006,), x. 7. Naomi Klein, 20.

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