Book Review (de la Dehesa 2007)

Image of the cover of What Do We Know About Globalisation?: Issues of Poverty and Income Distribution

What Do We Know About Globalisation?: Issues of Poverty and Income Distribution

Guillermo de la Dehesa

Blackwell: Oxford (2007), 370 pages, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1-4051-3669-3 £22.99.

Reviewed by Kim Ward, Department of Geography, University of Exeter (15 July 2009)

“What do we know about Globalisation?” de la Dehesa asks in the title of his new book.  Well, quite a lot one would think if, like de la Dehesa, you count Chairman of the Centre for Economic Research, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs Europe and Director of the Santander Banking Group as just a few of your many titles. Indeed, as the breadth of this book illustrates, de la Dehesa does know a lot about economic globalisation, demonstrated by the extensive literary and statistical sources drawn upon throughout. He guides the reader closely through these exhaustive sets of statistics with precision and clarity, allowing the reader to engage with what might otherwise prove to be an overwhelming quantity of information. Globalisation, the author argues firmly throughout, is reducing levels of poverty and inequality across the globe. This is not a controversial view among economists but is one which does not sit well with critics of globalisation.  Critics argue that, at best, the integration of developing countries into the global capitalist market does little to alleviate poverty and inequalities, and at worst exasperates these problems. The author does stop occasionally to admit that some difficulties exist with the current globalisation process, specifically in regard to poverty and inequality – which he discusses in a particularly defensive conclusion.  Despite these brief acknowledgments though, he continuously pushes on to convince the reader that  a process of ‘better globalisation’ (p1) is the solution to this problematic situation, a process which he discusses with rigour in the second half of the book.

The book begins with two chapters that offer a summary of research on technological progress in relation to economic prosperity, poverty and inequality. Here de la Dehesa presents technological progress as a key factor in the advancement of economic prosperity and the reduction of poverty and inequality if, as argued in Chapter 2, technological diffusion to developing countries is assisted to occur more rapidly. Chapters 3 and 4 provide two more review sections. The first considers influences over economic growth rates and includes a section on Geography which discusses what Sachs (2001) has termed “tropical underdevelopment”, drawing on a variety of key papers to put forward a rounded explanation for such a predicament. The fourth chapter takes a statistical approach to ‘the social’ and outlines endogenous factors affecting economic growth i.e. healthcare, education, institutions.

Globalisation sits as a subtle subtext throughout the first four chapters as de la Dehesa lays out a foundation upon which he builds his pro-globalisation arguments in the second half of the book. None of this information is particularly original to the globalisation debate but it does set out a clear review of current research from which the reader can draw if they so wish. The next two chapters (5-6), discuss the global distribution of income, including detailed sections explaining economic measures of poverty and inequality, followed by a broader discussion examining each measure in relation to globalisation. The author ends Chapter 6 by advancing his argument that “more globalisation is needed to try to improve the dismal growth rate situation of some of the poorest countries and regions” (p156). Such approaches to ‘more globalisation’ become the firm focus for the remainder of the book.

The following chapters (7-11) persuade the reader why a better process of globalisation is the solution to greater equality. Chapter 7 argues that the liberalization of trade barriers between developed and developing countries, generating open access to developed markets, could raise incomes and growth rates in the poorest of countries and facilitate a transition towards a greater global equality. Chapter 8 argues in favour of foreign direct investment supported by a range of key research publications, picked to support and advance the authors own agenda. Chapters 9 reasons with the literature, concluding that despite “international financial market shortcomings, private capital flows to developing countries continue to be extremely important to them” (p232). The author continues to argue (Chapter 10) for enhanced financial assistance, this time in the form of development aid, to put developing countries on an equal footing with the rest of the world in terms of poverty and growth. The penultimate chapter discusses the role of international migration and its position within the globalisation debate, arguing in favour of migration to help alleviate poverty and inequality. This chapter gives particular attention to empirical research, drawn from an assortment of United Nation (UN) sources to summarize population trends and trends in migration before arguing for a deeper globalisation of the process. Here, and throughout the book, de la Dehesa puts forward a passionate argument as to why ‘better globalisation’ should take place without giving too much detail about how this could be achieved.

De la Dehesa extensively discusses economic impacts and the solutions offered by the process of globalisation to the problems of poverty and inequality. However, more often than not, he fails to acquaint these discussions with the key political/institutional frameworks acting as barriers to such a process. In economic terms, many of the arguments put forward are well known by economists and researchers working across the field. However a parallel discussion of the political difficulties of achieving such objectives (something de la Dehesa is positioned to do given his various roles) would provide the reader with a greater contextual understanding of the globalisation process and add insight to the political rationales of economic globalisation in relation to poverty and inequality.

That said, de la Dehesa has unquestionably put together an extensive and coherent book, presenting key literature and arguing for a ‘better’ process of global economic development as the remedy for poverty and inequality. Readers can draw from its exhaustive bibliography to inform their own research and for this reason the book is a beneficial purchase for a library or individual seeking an in-depth economic resource concerning the pro-globalisation argument.  Most of the arguments will not be new to economists, but it is a useful and structured book, crammed with recent statistics, literature, research and arguments which would be useful to both researchers and students.


Sachs, J (2001) “Tropical Underdevelopment”, NBER Working Paper 8119, February.

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