Francis Fukuyama famously announced at the end of the Cold War that humanity had reached "the end of history." Unfortunately, he forgot to tell history not to bother coming to work anymore.
Easy as it is to make fun of Fukuyama, where exactly did he go wrong?
Fukuyama's conception was formed by his expensive miseducation in the works of Hegel and other 19th Century German philosophers. History consists of the struggle to determine the proper ideology. Now there are no plausible alternatives to capitalist democracy. History, therefore, must be finished.
Lenin held a more realistic theory of what history is about: not ideology, but "Who? Whom?" (You can insert your own transitive verb between the two words.) History continues because the struggle to determine who will be the who rather than the whom will never end.
Amy Chua's readable and eye-opening new book "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability" documents just how pervasive ethnic inequality is around the world-and how much that drives the traumas we read about every day.
Chua builds upon Thomas Sowell's concept of the "middle-man minority"-the often-persecuted immigrant ethnic group with a talent for retailing and banking, such as Jews, Armenians, Chinese, Gujarati Indians, Lebanese Christians, etc. She broadens that idea to include other relatively well-off groups, such as un-entrepreneurial hereditary landowners, like the Tutsis of Rwanda and the Iberian-descended whites of much of Latin America. She lumps them all together under the useful term "market-dominant minorities."
Chua begs off explaining why economic inequality exists between hereditary groups. So let me offer a general explanation.
Creating wealth is difficult. People who have wealth tend to pass down their property, their genes, and their techniques for preserving and multiplying wealth to their descendents, rather than to strangers.
In countries without a reliable system of equal justice under the law, clannishness is particularly rational. Businessmen must depend upon their extended families for protection and enforcement of contracts. So they are particularly loath to do serious business with people to whom they have no ties of blood or marriage and who would thus be more likely to stiff them on a deal.
"Globalization," or economic liberalization, tends to make the poor majorities slightly richer and the "market dominant minorities" vastly richer. Sometimes the masses find this an acceptable tradeoff. But sometimes it drives them into a fury.
Often, the minority's post-globalization riches are honestly earned, but not always. American-backed privatization schemes in Russia and Mexico put huge government enterprises into the hands of the most economically nimble and politically well-connected operators at give-away prices.
Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, is herself the progeny of a market dominant minority: the Chinese of the Philippines. Chinese-speakers make up only 1% or 2% of the Philippines' population. But they own the majority of the country's business assets. They seclude themselves in a luxurious world fenced off from the indigenous majority, whom they hold in contempt and wouldn't dream of marrying.
Not surprisingly, the impoverished natives aren't crazy about the rich newcomers. Chua's beloved aunt in Manila was brutally murdered by her chauffeur. The unmotivated cops made little effort to find him.
It's definitely nicer to belong to the minority than to the majority in these countries. But Chua makes clear that, to Americans used to our norms of congeniality and social equality, it would be an awfully depressing way to live.
A grimmer example: Indonesia. The Chinese made up 3% of its vast population, yet owned the great majority of all businesses. The dictator Suharto, whose family had lucrative ties to the Chinese community, fell in 1998. Democratization set off a vicious pogrom against the Chinese, many of whom fled to Chinese-majority Singapore. The government expropriated $58 billion in assets.
Not surprisingly, the native Indonesians proved inept at running the businesses nationalized from the Chinese, and the economy collapsed.
All of which leads to a disquieting conclusion: it can be contradictory for America to demand that other countries simultaneously free their economies and democratize their politics.
We are seeing this in Venezuela right now. The dark-skinned, democratically-elected Hugo Chavez is at war with the fair-skinned rich, who want the national oil company privatized. The Bush Administration ludicrously endorsed the white elite's coup against Chavez last spring as a "victory for democracy," only to be embarrassed when the majority rose up and reinstalled him.
That property rights and one man-one vote democracy don't always mix well would not have surprised Aristotle, Edmund Burke, or Alexander Hamilton. Yet many Americans who call themselves conservatives have forgotten this.
One reason: we are one of the fairly small number of lucky countries with "market dominant majorities." We can have our cake (capitalism) and eat it too (democracy) because our majority group is economically quite competent.
This raises obvious questions about the long term impact of our immigration policy, which, with all the brilliant people in the world to choose among, manages to bring in huge numbers of people who have never seen the inside of a high school.