Yale University law professor Amy Chua writes in World on Fire that “free market democracy” has an Achilles’ heel: market-dominant minorities. The disproportionate success attained by market-dominant minorities foments ethnic hatreds. Democracy provides the envious and resentful majority the means to strike at the successful minority, making conflict inherent in “free market democracy.”
What is to be done? Chua is too realistic to offer pie-in-the-sky alternatives to markets and democracy. After relating examples of how “free market democracy” works against itself in countries with multi-ethnic populations, she recommends that market-dominant minorities protect themselves with image management and good works. In the last line of her book, Chua reaches the conclusion: “It is difficult to see, in any event, how a little generosity and humility could possibly hurt.”
It is difficult to see how such a weak conclusion justifies her publisher’s claim that World on Fire is that rare book that “gets everyone thinking in a new way.” If Chua or her editor were aware that her ground had been more expertly ploughed by Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Sowell, and Peter Bauer, Chua’s knowledge of ethnic and tribal conflicts might have been put to better use.
Having nothing to offer but a report on ethnic and tribal conflicts, Chua tries to compensate by connecting globalism to market-dominant minorities. She writes that globalism disproportionately benefits these minorities and thus exacerbates hatreds and political instability. She blames the U.S. government and International Monetary Fund for contributing to ethnic conflict by promoting free market democracy throughout the non-Western world.
In this indirect way Chua takes issue with the neoconservative view, that exporting free markets and democracy to other countries will increase peace and prosperity throughout the developing world. Chua, however, seems no less interventionist-minded than neoconservatives, and as she neither believes that a government-run economy produces better results than the market nor that authoritarianism is preferable to democracy, she fails to challenge the neoconservative view.
Chua is on shaky ground when she blames market-dominant minorities on globalism. Such minorities long predate globalism and exist in lands that can by no stretch of the imagination be labeled free market or democratic. “Free market democracy” is an intellectual construct that nowhere exists.
At times Chua’s book reads like an aimless rant against free markets and laissez-faire capitalism. Perhaps she is letting off emotional steam over inequalities that reason tells her are intractable, based as they are in historical, cultural, and genetic differences. The left-wing is frustrated by the realization that society cannot be remade unless history, the gene pool, and human nature itself can be recast.
If truth be known, political correctness prevents Chua from bringing her knowledge of ethnic conflicts to bear on multiculturalism where it belongs. She is honest and bold enough to acknowledge the reality of ethnic hatreds, but her supposition that such hatreds are market driven is merely a repetition of 19th century Marxist economic determinism.
Certainly the U.S. government and the IMF should take care not to export policies that worsen ethnic conflicts, but the more powerful conclusion to be drawn from Chua’s material—a conclusion that Chua studiously avoids—is that the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand should immediately cease and desist from reconstructing themselves as multi-ethnic societies. Accentuating ethnic conflict abroad is stupid, even criminal, but it is insane to import unassimiliable ethnic groups into Western countries, thus replicating in the West the Third World conflicts that Chua so terrifyingly describes.
Chua’s report on ethnic conflict supports the undrawn conclusion, revolutionary for the political Left, that successful states are states with homogeneous populations. Even in ethnically or racially homogeneous states, ideologies such as communism can create class conflicts that are as murderous as ethnic conflicts. Life can be dangerous enough without a heterogeneous population seething with grievances. When a political system has to cope simultaneously with race, gender, ethnic, cultural, and class Marxism, social and political instability are guaranteed. Multiculturalism, not “free market democracy,” is setting the world on fire.
Paul Craig Roberts is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.