Yale economic historian Garten (The Big Ten: The Big Emerging Markets and How They Will Change Our Lives, 1997, etc.) looks at 10 pioneers of the new global economy, from Genghis Khan to Deng Xiaoping.
Both Genghis and Deng were inarguably of great importance in opening up the worlds they knew to global, or at least continental, trade. Perhaps more important than Genghis was his descendant Kublai Khan, who built an actual rational economy and the bureaucratic structure to administer it, achievements that, writes Garten, “occurred well after Genghis Khan, but…evolved from his earlier attempts at establishing a multicultural society spanning vast territory.” Robert Clive, aka Clive of India, on the other hand, simply found a multicultural society spanning a huge territory and appropriated it for the British crown—one way to open up markets, to be sure, but perhaps not the best model for latter-day capitalists to follow. Without Prince Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese royal who spent money on science and education, Garten writes, the great Age of Exploration would have probably occurred anyway, “but it was Henry who seized the moment.” This rather offhand defense points to the central problem of the book: it lacks much explanatory power. The 10 individuals highlighted here, though their contributions were of importance to varying degrees, might just as easily have been replaced by any other 10 leading individuals—e.g., Genghis for Kublai, Andrew Grove for Steve Jobs, and so forth. That objection noted, Garten does well to highlight the different strains of enterprise that have gone into making a global economy, from military intervention to exploration and the innovation of financial and technological systems. He also makes the smart, though arguable, assertion that “globalization has given individuals powerful new avenues to make an impact.”
Of interest to students of economic history, though less intellectually compelling than David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations (2006) or even Robert Allen’s Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction (2011).