World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability is a 2002 book published by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua. It is an academic study into ethnic and sociological divisions in regard to economic and governmental systems in various societies.
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In the Philippines, Chua explains, the Chinese Filipino is 1% of the population but controls 60% of the economy, with the result being envy and bitterness on the part of the majority against the Chinese minority--in other words, an ethnic conflict. Similarly, in Indonesia the Chinese Indonesians are 3% of the population but control 70% of the economy. There is a similar pattern in other Southeast Asia nations.
According to Chua, examples of what she calls ethnic market-dominant minorities include overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia; whites in Latin America; Jews in America; Croats in the former Yugoslavia; and Ibos, Kikuyus, Tutsis, Indians and Lebanese, among others, in Africa.
In her book, Chua discusses different reasons for the market dominance of different groups. Some groups achieve market dominance because of colonial oppression or apartheid. In other cases, it may be due to the culture and family networks of these groups. For many groups there is no clear single explanation.
Americans can also be seen as a global market-dominant minority, in particularly when combined with using military might and flaunting political domination, cause resentment.
She believes that democratization can increase ethnic conflicts when an ethnic minority is disproportionately wealthy. "When free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. This backlash typically takes one of three forms. The first is a backlash against markets, targeting the market-dominant minority's wealth. The second is a backlash against democracy by forces favorable to the market-dominant minority. The third is violence, sometimes genocidal, directed against the market-dominant minority itself.". Also, "overnight democracy will empower the poor, indigenous majority. What happens is that under those circumstances, democracy doesn't do what we expect it to do - that is, reinforce markets. Instead, democracy leads to the emergence of manipulative politicians and demagogues who find that the best way to get votes is by scapegoating the minorities." She writes, "Ballot boxes brought Hitler to power in Germany, Mugabe to power in Zimbabwe, Milosevic to power in Serbia -- and could well bring the likes of Osama bin Laden to power in Saudi Arabia."
Chua states that she is a "big fan of trying to promote markets and democracy globally," but that it should be accompanied by attempts 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."
Selected one of The Economist Best Books of the Year 2003,
Amy Chua's other thesis and her conclusions have been disputed by George Leef of the John Locke Foundation, who proposes that many other factors may account for ethnic violence, including the most simple motivation of pure racism. Leef includes in his review:
Nothing does more to reduce violence and many other social ills than the rising standards of living that capitalism alone makes possible. What a tragedy it would be if nations were to forego the tremendous long-run benefits of capitalism out of fear that there might be violence in the short-run against those who take advantage of business opportunities the earliest. All that World on Fire proves in the end is that governments cannot be depended upon to prevent violence against people who have been, for whatever reason, demonized by others. That's nothing new.
Andreas Wimmer and Brian Min, criticizing the book, state:
By contrast, our analysis shows that what has been observed in recent decades may simply be more of the same old story. Although history never repeats itself, the same process patterns may be operating at different times and in different historical contexts (cf. Collier and Mazzuca 2006). The dismemberment of empire and the formation of the nation-state have led to wars since the time of Napoleon. The patterns of warfare in the Caucasus and the Balkans in the 1990s resemble those on the Indian sub-continent in the 1940s, those of Eastern Europe during and after the World War I, and so on. The return of the "Macedonian syndrome," as Myron Weiner (1971) has called the intermingling of ethnic conflict and irredentist wars, explains such recurrent patterns of war much better than any variant of globalization theory. To treat them as a fundamentally new phenomenon, brought about by the end of the Cold War or increased globalization, represents yet another example of the widespread tendency among social scientists to perceive their own times as unique and exceptionally dynamic (on "chrono- centrism," see Fowles 1974).
They also note that several studies support a variant of the democratic peace theory, which argues that more democracy causes a general decrease in systematic violence, at least for the most democratic nations. However, intermediately democratic nations do have a higher tendency for conflicts such as civil war than autocracies.