Business Books in Brief

THE DEATH OF COMPETITION: LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY IN THE AGE OF BUSINESS ECOSYSTEMS, by James Moore (HarperBusiness, 297 pp., $25). Title a book "The Death of Competition" and people sit up and take notice. Competition dying? As any manager knows, it's on the rise, not on the wane. Author James Moore acknowledges this, but he argues that our notions of competition are dangerously outmoded.

In today's environment, Moore says, company A no longer faces off merely against companies B and C. Instead, it exists in a complex system of suppliers and customers, competitors and regulators that works much like a natural ecosystem. And, like nature, new species in the form of emerging competitors and technologies are continually trying to invade one's business turf. The only defense, Moore argues, is to invest in one's ecosystem as well as one's company, using cooperative as well as competitive strategies. If successful, the company thrives along with its ecosystem and the whole "co-evolves" to keep pace with change.

The metaphor is a useful way to make sense of some of the most important trends in the business world today. Why is Microsoft dominant? It leads an ecosystem of hundreds of companies making hardware and software for desktop computers. Why is AT&T breaking up? To focus its various parts on separate ecosystems that don't always work together.

This book doesn't lay out the strategic answers for readers. But it succeeds in broadening the horizons in which they examine the questions. "The Death of Competition" gives us a philosophical rationale for the networking and partnering now taking place around the globe. Highly recommended.

-- Laurent Belsie

THE GOOD SOCIETY: THE HUMANE AGENDA, by John Kenneth Galbraith (Houghton Mifflin, 143 pp., $21.95). In this small book, Galbraith shows himself to be an an idealist and an old-fashioned, incurable liberal. That's refreshing in a time when so much of politics and economic analysis deals with trimming back the welfare state and government regulation, and making companies lean and mean. At the start, Galbraith sets his goal as defining the "good and achievable society," not the perfect utopian society. Unsurprisingly, this veteran economics professor's ideas of what is pragmatic clash constantly with the views of, say, the conservative research fellows at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

For example, he writes: "Privatization ... is not any better as a controlling guide to public action than is socialism. In both cases the primary service of the doctrine is in providing escape from thought ... decision must be made on the social and economic merits of the particular case."

On inflation, Galbraith worries about the Federal Reserve's decision to keep unemployment relatively high in order to restrain prices. A moderate rate of inflation is "inevitable," he says, if unemployment is to be kept low. He calls for indexing (for inflation) the minimum wage, pensions, the wages of teachers and civil servants, and the basic safety net, presumably including welfare. Many economists nowadays would regard his views as unrealistic.

On the rich, Galbraith writes: "Much income and wealth comes with slight or no social justification, little or no economic service on the part of the recipient. Inheritance is an obvious case. So also the endowments, accidents and perversions of the financial world." He's also a critic of fancy executive salaries.

The book also looks at the government deficit, migration, the environment, and the planet's poor. It's a useful refresher course on the logic behind the liberal viewpoint. -- David R. Francis

THE BAMBOO NETWORK: HOW EXPATRIATE CHINESE ENTREPRENEURS ARE CREATING A NEW ECONOMIC SUPERPOWER IN ASIA, by Murray Weidenbaum and Samuel Hughes (Free Press, 255 pp., $24). This book has elements that could make for a bestselling, Hollywood-bound novel: Rags-to-riches Chinese billionaires whose family businesses sprawl throughout Southeast Asia; American capitalists pushing into Asia with Western notions of shareholder value and intellectual property; the world's remaining communist superpower struggling to balance economic dynamism with political control over its 1 billion people.

But don't wait for a movie version of "The Bamboo Network." After all, it's by two US-based economists, not Michael Crichton. Still, Weidenbaum and Hughes have quite a story to tell: The role ethnic Chinese businesses are playing in China's rapid growth.

Expatriate Chinese - many of whom fled China as Communists came to power in 1949 - have been pouring money back into their homeland and to nearby nations. Five hundred of these firms, based in nations from Taiwan to Malaysia, together have assets of more than $500 billion. Typically the corporate bosses are publicity-shy and take firm control of the business. Their informal, often intuitive decisionmaking style is foreign to Western-style managers.

In the future, Weidenbaum and Hughes conclude, the pan-Asian bamboo network will continue its prominence. They liken it to the Hanseatic League in Europe's late Middle Ages, which was not a formal body but a close-knit network of economically powerful merchants. The authors don't see China going wholly down the capitalist path, however. China will likely "experience a shifting combination of economic openness, socialist ideology, and increasing local independence." -- Mark Trumbull

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