Naisbitt, J. Global Paradox

Global Paradox, London, Brealey, 1994. 304 pages.

John Naisbitt, well-known author of a number of popular books, is back on familiar ground with Global Paradox. The sub-title of this book is: the bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players. However, by ‘power’ read ‘economic power’. Similarly, when Naisbitt writes of empowerment, he is only thinking of business. Hence his work is primarily in support of entrepreneurship and the corporate sector. His view is coloured by the search for ‘opportunities’, and his tunnel vision overlooks the critical condition of the global environment. For example, in 46 pages devoted to development in China, only one paragraph mentions environmental consequences. This is a gross oversight, but one typical of this writer. It is partly the result of unconscious market-oriented ideology, partly the result of a superficial analytic framework. Hence the approach is fragmented and unconsciously biased.

In the view set out here, business is capable of ‘taking the lead in the environmental movement’ (p. 160), and a short list of corporate ‘good works’ is provided. No one has told Naisbitt that the collection of a few instances cannot demonstrate anything. If he had read Popper he would have known that theses can only be disproved by contrary examples, not proved by a few hand-picked cases. His environmental scanning is stuck at the level of empirical trends in business, marketing, geopolitics and the international economy. In this perspective, he does not see the world slipping steadily into a profound crisis. For him, ‘the opportunities for individual freedom and enterprise are totally unprecedented.’ (P. 51)

The text is characterised by flat ‘reportage’ of empirical trends and events; it even descends into ‘technobabble’ in places. It is obsessed with technology and the way that this increases ‘freedom’. The costs and drawbacks of specific technologies are never reflected on or discussed. Nor are any notions of impacts or limits. In short, this work is an expression of a late industrial cornucopian view. It is built on a flawed foundation and its prescriptions should be viewed with great caution. It is best read in combination with more insightful works – such as Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, New York, 1993) which takes a more responsible and productive view of the real tasks ahead for re-thinking business activities on a qualitatively different basis.

Published in The ABN Report, 1995