Hilton L. Root, "Network Origins of the Global Economy: East vs. West in a Complex Systems Perspective" (Cambridge UP, 2020)

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Twenty-eight years after Francis Fukuyama declared the “end of history” and pronounced Western-style liberalism as the culmination of a Hegelian narrative of progress, pundits and academics of all stripes find themselves struggling to explain the failed prediction that China’s increased activity in international markets would inevitably lead to increasing political and social liberalization in that country.

With his ground-breaking book, Network Origins of the Global Economy: East vs. West in a Complex Systems Perspective, out from Cambridge University Press in 2020, Hilton L. Root takes a road less-traveled in contemporary economics and brings the analytical tools of systems theory to bear on this perplexing question, believing that a study of network structure might be able to shed more light than the traditional tools of economic analysis. This clearly argued and eminently readable book accounts for much of the current state of affairs by tracing the contrasting historical evolution of Europe as a Small World Network constituted by the dense connectivity of dynastic marriages between the continent’s royal houses, and China as a Hub and Spoke Network with communications flowing outward through the branches of its vast and robustly structured bureaucracy from a primary central node. Other networked social factors under consideration are the development of Europe’s blend of Germanic custom and Roman law, and China’s tradition of the ideal Confucian gentleman and its deep commitment to merit rather than birthright as the condition for ascending the ranks of administrative power structures. Emerging from this thoughtful and well-researched study is a compelling explanatory narrative of Europe’s ongoing capacity to adapt to rapid change and China’s pattern of long stretches of stability, sudden collapse, and subsequent resurrection of largely unchanged network structure. This adventurous scholarly work simultaneously opens new theoretical doors for economists and provides systems scholars with access to new dimensions of application.

Tom Scholte is a Professor of Directing and Acting in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia located on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Musqueam people.

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