Book Review: The “Invisible” Continent – Politics at Play

The Invisible Continent by Kenichi Ohmae
Recently I read a book by the famous strategy consultant Kenichi Ohmae, called “The Invisible Continent”. Although written for audience in the early 2000, it did provide interesting insights into a changing world. A world defined by entities that do not physically exist, but still control the economic direction of participating nations. The book definitely provides insights into how structure needs to be established in the uncontrolled cyber environment, with globally acceptable legal laws defining the ways of the business.
I found the author admirable and highly inspirational, a nobrainer given his phenomenal success at McKinsey. However, what I found interesting in the midst of all the business-economic recommendations he generously provides (without a consultation fee!) to companies and countries in the book, is his political viewpoint on nations. This makes me wonder if a business personality is highly successful only if he can rope in political views to answer business dilemmas!
Nevertheless, what excited me when reading this book was the validation of nationalistic feelings of a Japanese citizen that another author, Chalmers Johnson, had portrayed in his book – “The Sorrows of Empire”. Kenichi questions the bureaucratic stodginess of Japanese political establishments and their reluctance in questioning the unwanted high costs of “maintaining” a foreign army (the US military) to “protect” Japan against its “enemies”! The dilemma lies in who the enemy truly is and why. Kenichi also talks about his association with Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohammad, described as a visionary who repeatedly challenged financial markets badly influenced by the West and at the same time promoted investments to allow Malaysia enter the information super-highway. The Asian financial crisis and the crisis in Latin America were explained by the actions of fickle minded global investors (primarily in the US) pulling money in and out of a country triggered by the slightest economic provocation. How the Japanese funds into American markets indirectly influenced it is interesting to learn.
But the biggest surprise I had from reading his book was his veiled attack on American economic policies in an otherwise highly appreciate prose on the American economy and their willingness to make bets on the next big unproven money machine. His take on how the United States dominated the world on two platforms – the dollar and the English language is worth reading. What I loved the most about it from a personal standpoint was that, even before I read this book, I always had this notion in my mind – if you would appreciate a single American who transformed the destiny and fortunes of the country for decades to come, it would be the guy who said – “let’s make the US dollar the global currency for exchange in the World”. This happened shortly after the “World” Wars (I’ll explain in an other post as to why I put the World in quotes) and led to global recognition of the US dollar as a powerful currency in the market. However, my thinking capabilities stopped at that thought and I didn’t have any intellectual inputs to back or further that view. Kenichi has a similar opinion on the power of the dollar and how the country is protected from inflation due to the constant inflow of funds from safety seeking investors (both legal and illegal), a privilege that allows the Fed to mint money without fear of ending up with large unmanageable cash reserves. He proposes a new currency similar to the Euro, a more expanded conglomerate of currencies from participating nations to alter this platform. However, I do not personally see a huge benefit from it apart from displacing the US dollar from its platform status, in turn, reshaping the World as we see it today, for good or bad!
On a final note, there was one aspect of the book or rather Kenichi’s thought process that I wasn’t comfortable with. In all the political talk of borderless nations, an economic system that has no place for politics, a continent that transcends cultural and regional biases and a system of universal opportunities for all, Kenichi repeatedly exposes himself to the inability to hide his nationalistic feelings as a Japanese and a “developed” nation psychosis of partnering with the developed West (the “Euro” nation and the US) to improve the lot of the “developing” World. I felt that references to this inherent belief contradicts the recommendations and feel-good moments that he tries to portray through the Invisible Continent. If the Invisible continent is indeed for everyone to enjoy, why should the skeletal structure of that continent and life into the continent (rules, regulations, laws, players, benefactors and beneficiaries) be molded by the so-called “developed” nations? If playing in the invisible continent is one that favors intellectual tenacity, why should other nations be restricted from framing the constitution of this continent?