Amy Chua Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
|Photo by Jane Scherr|
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What are the policy implications of your theory? What should the West should do differently in these places?
Well, again, I'm a big fan of trying to promote markets and democracy globally. There are others who are not. Americans can be very fickle. There is a new movement, an anti-democracy movement -- I associate this with Robert Kaplan, whose work I think is very interesting, and Samuel Huntington -- that says that maybe these countries aren't ready for democracy; let's put in markets first. I'm not in that camp. I take it very seriously. I think sometimes, in some cases, they could be right. But I am not in that camp for the simple reason that I can't figure out how to ensure that you get a beneficent dictator.
You can ask for Lee Kuan Yew [of Singapore], and you could get Idi Amin or Saddam Hussein instead. I think we have to work to bring markets and democracy, but we've been doing a ridiculous job. There is no Western nation today with anything close to a laissez-faire capitalist system, and yet that's what we were doing for the last twenty years, telling everybody to adopt a raw capitalism with no safety nets, no redistributive mechanisms.
On the positive side, I think we have to find ways to spread the benefits of global markets beyond just the small group of market-dominant minorities and foreign investors. We need to find ways to redistribute the wealth, whether it's property title and giving poor people property, land reform .... Redistributive mechanisms are tough to have if you have so much corruption.
I discuss, not just wildly and enthusiastically, but there are "affirmative action" policies for the majority. It shouldn't be called affirmative action, but Malaysia and South Africa are exploring or have programs to try to spread the wealth to their majorities. There are a lot of economic costs to that. It's certainly not that efficient. You're going to lose some growth, but I think it might be the better way. At least, markets might be sustainable. It's more stable. So I advocate ways to spread the wealth, and I also ask for voluntary generosity on the part of the successful market dominant minorities.
So that they should think about the implications of where they stand in the system and how they might alter some policies to have redistributive consequences?
Yes, and also to just realize that their own safety and their own interests are at stake. A lot of times these market-dominant minorities, whether you're talking about Chinese in Southeast Asia, or the Lebanese in West Africa, or the Whites in South Africa, it's almost a feeling of invincibility. "We're so wealthy, we control everything." They forget that they're surrounded by a justifiably frustrated, very poor majority. And so I say, "Look at your own interests."
It costs money to hire bodyguards. All of my own relatives have bodyguards and barb-wired fences. Why not risk some of the money? Build a school. Build a hospital. Build infrastructure and try to fight against the image that you have of being an outsider. Demagogic politicians manipulate that [image]. They say, "These groups are outsiders; they're taking away our wealth" -- even if the groups have been there for four generations. So why not do some economic good? Show that you're a team player, a part of the country.
I make an analogy in the book to the United States at the global level. Most of my book is about individual countries, but at the end of my book I make an analogy -- it's a bit of a jump -- and I say, "At the global level, at the world level, the United States itself has come to be perceived as a kind of global market-dominate minority, wielding widely disproportionate power and economic wealth relative to our numbers." The numbers are similar: we're just 4 percent of the world's population. We are seen everywhere as the principal engine and the principal beneficiary of global capitalism.
In part, not totally true, but in part, for our extraordinary market dominance, we have earned the envy and fear and hatred of much of the rest of the world. So in the same way, I say it's in the United States' self-interest to see how we're perceived, and not just to say "We earned it," which may be true. To say, "Let's try to give back to the international economy and try to look more like a global team player." I think it's better for our own interest.
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