Too small to fail: why small nations outperform larger ones and how they are reshaping the world by R. James Breiding

Too small to fail: why small nations outperform larger ones and how they are reshaping the world by R. James Breiding

Too small to fail: why small nations outperform larger ones and how they are reshaping the world by R. James Breiding

by ken-mckellar , May 3, 2020

Book Reviews

Our favorite contributor Ken McKellar has graced us with a great review as most cities of the world are locked down. The period beyond the global pandemic seems uncertain and blurry. Yet it is filled with opportunities to start anew, to revisit values, and to reinvent priorities. Keep reading; it is the best way to benefit from the confinement. You will get out better informed. 

Do not forget to grab your copy of the book! You may also read another review from Ken for the same book on Amazon.

I have known James for over 30 years. We first met as work colleagues in Switzerland, one of the countries which he has identified in his book as “too small to fail”. An American by birth who subsequently became a Swiss citizen, James has lived in Zurich ever since. He has become a leading writer on Swiss affairs with unparalleled access to the top of Swiss government and business.

His first book “Swiss Made” has been translated into many different languages and examines why Switzerland has been so successful despite its small size and landlocked geographical location. The success of this book has led him to explore whether other small, successful countries might share characteristics similar to those of Switzerland, and to examine each of these countries’ characteristics in more detail.

He selects eight countries for further analysis: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. His analysis is comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and fascinating. Much of the analysis comes across as self-evident common sense when you read it, but the way James presents it is compelling and well written. His writing is scholarly (he is a Harvard Fellow) but not dry; it is fluent (he is a regular contributor to the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal) but not glib.

But the real relevance of Too Small To Fail is its relevance to the extraordinary times in which we now live. The book was published several months before the outbreak of the current global pandemic. But it contains valuable lessons and advice which those who govern much larger countries would do well to heed and implement when we all return to the new normality.

When the book was in preparation, a wave of separatism was sweeping across Europe from Catalonia to Scotland. There is a danger of misinterpreting Too Small to Fail as an apology for breaking up unwieldy, large countries into nimbler, smaller ones. Although James is thought-provoking around these possibilities, he never advocates separatism. In any event, those who advocate separatism often ignore the true social and economic consequences of separation; the arguments for separatism are often politically-motivated.

I will leave the last word to James, observing a value that is particularly close to my own heart:
“But new evidence shows that citizens of smaller nations place less value on money for its own sake than their counterparts do in larger nations, which strengthens societies and economies on the whole.”

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