Monday, September 04, 2006

The J-Curve: Notes for a Book Review

Second post today. So likely none tomorrow, for anyone keeping score.

The J-Curve, Dr. Ian Bremmer's second book, is going on sale September 6. I have meant to write a book review on it, but the following notes, based on an advance copy, will have to do for now. As some of you know, Ian is a good friend of mine. And I do some work for Eurasia Group. So you have have been forewarned. But it's a great book anyway.


The basic concept of the J-Curve is that closed states (police states and authoritarian regimes) can raise the level of their stability by becoming more closed domestically and internationally, while states based on open governance can do the same by becoming more open, and that the transition from a closed state to an open state is fraught with the dangers of increasing instability. The J-Curve is a visual representation of this concept. Important policy implications flow from this and other subsidiary insights, such as that stability in an open country is self-perpetuating but stabilty in a closed one is brittle. The book gives twelve examples of states with various degrees of openness.

1) Revolutionary ideas, which change the way we think forever, are usually simple in form and easy to take in, if not always easy to fully understand. They often gcome with that "Why didn't I/anybody think of this before?" feeling. By these criteria, The J-Curve is, as the subtitle claims, "a new way to undestand why nations rise and fall".

2) Great ideas, of course, usually are not generated spontaneously. Thus, many people will no doubt claim this and that part of the thinking in this book as their own, or that it s not truly original at all (unless they like you or fear you so much that they just cant't bring theirselves to carp). They miss the point that a new idea is valuable precisely beause it brings together a large number of facts and thoughts and offers a unified whole.

3) The book is also well-written. The examples are all convincingly laid out in a crisp, no-nonsense style. (The sentences are mercifully short and punchy.)

4) Having said all that, this is a book for the general public. So perhaps Ian should be forgiven for not giving us a precise prescription including dosage for each and every example of left-of-the-curve regimes in the book. As well as for including in his J-Curve graph grids that raise false hopes that the J-Curve is a quantitive theory. In fact, Ian in his day job has developed a quantitive framework to analyze political rsk and has parlayed it into a multimillion-dollar advisory business. Perhaps at the end of the day each case, every situation is unique and it's ultimately a judgment call by policymakers. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know how the J-Curve and the Eurasia Group methodology complement each other.

5) SoI guess my question to Ian is, how long do we have to wait for the next book?

Postscript: Will the term J-Curve catch on, like "Soft Power"? It's short and catchy. But there are other J-Curves, and you have to italicize the "J" to make it fit the diagram in the book. So the jury will be out for a while.

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