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What's New
By John Naisbitt
William Morrow & Co., 1994, 304 pages

The major new trends in global economics, politics, and social life all point toward a "global paradox," according to John Naisbitt — "the bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players." As the overall system grows in size and complexity, the importance of the individual parts increases in direct proportion. This apparent contradiction is at work in both business and politics, he says. To survive, big companies today are decentralizing and restructuring. Many have discovered the increased efficiency and effectiveness of lateral rather than vertical organization — networks of autonomous units rather than formal hierarchies. Similarly, as the world economy gets larger, the component nation players become smaller and smaller.

By way of example, Naisbitt describes the political and economic imperatives underlying the break-up of the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, as well as the push for national sovereignty that has characterized such states as Andorra. While economic and technological forces have weakened the traditional nation-state, he maintains that they have strengthened, not separated people from, longstanding identities of language, culture, religion, and ethnic heritage. Paradoxically, "the bonding commonality of human beings is our distinctiveness."

Both of these trends, universalism and tribalism, are supported by technological advances in electronic communications, according to Naisbitt. Telecommunications are the driving force that is simultaneously creating the new world economy and making its parts more and more powerful. We are moving in telecommunications to a single worldwide network of information networks, with everything linked to everything else, he remarks. This change has important consequences for democracy worldwide — it can be likened to the shift from sluggish, centralized mainframe computers to interlinked PCs. "As the power and reach of the communications infrastructure expands, the tools needed to harness that capability shrink."

Consequently, the idea that the central government — "one huge mainframe" — as the most significant part of governance is obsolete, he says. In fact, traditional representative politics is coming to an end for "now citizens who live in representative democracies have the power to radically decentralize and to evolve into direct democracies."

Naisbitt devotes a chapter each to a look at the telecommunications revolution, the tourism and travel industry, the emergence of new "codes of conduct" in business and politics, the burgeoning Chinese economy, and the increasing importance of Asia and Latin America in the global marketplace. In each of these areas, he surveys the major trends and observes the "global paradox" at work — as the world becomes vastly more integrated, the small, agile, and informed players will profit the most.

Like his book Megatrends, this is a quick and dirty account of infintitely complex global trends. The prose has the same breezy tone as your average newsweekly. Naisbitt's pop sociology may not be to everyone's liking, especially those looking for a deeper and more complex analysis. Nevertheless, this book has has an important function, I think. It summarizes sweeping global trends that we need to recognize and reckon with — all of us, not just those the opinion-makers or those looking to profit from the new economy.