The Ethnic Question in Law and Development

World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, by Professor Amy Chua, is an analytically complex narrative of contemporary ethnic violence in the current era of globalization. Although such violence has historical roots, according to Chua it has also been fueled by free-market forces and democratization. The book is a forceful and provocative indictment of the current U.S. policy of promoting and exporting markets and democracy to developing and formerly communist, market-transitional countries. In her book, Professor Chua applies her thesis – that ethnicity, global capitalism, and democracy are a volatile mix – to countries such as Rwanda and Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Malaysia, Russia and Zimbabwe, Venezuela and the former Yugoslavia. As different as those countries are, they share a defining characteristic: the presence of what she calls “market dominant minorities” among the majority population – that is, minorities, such as the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, Indians and Lebanese in Africa, Jews in post-Soviet Russia, the ethnic Kikuyu in Kenya, whose spectacular wealth and “control” of the economy arouse deep resentment in the impoverished majority. This majority views itself as the “true,” “indigenous” native whose mission is to retaliate against the economically dominant ethnic “outsider” and return the country to its “rightful” owners. This ill-will is deep and historically rooted but for the most part controlled by autocratic regimes. Two phenomena, market liberalization and democracy, have exacerbated and inflamed the situation. The introduction of laissez-faire capitalism into such environments has benefited those already economically dominant; that is, the already-hated market-dominant ethnic minority. Simultaneously, the spread of democracy, in the form of universal suffrage and electoral politics, has allowed ethnonationalist demagogues to catapult themselves into office by exploiting majority rage against market-dominant minorities (p. 6). In other words, markets allow an already-rich ethnic minority to get even richer, and democracy allows the already-impoverished ethnic majority to get even.