It is the great story of our age: how economic and political power is shifting from the old developed world to the new "emerging" one. Last year saw two milestones on the way to completing that transfer. China, as had been widely predicted, passed Japan to become the world's second largest economy, second only to the United States. What had not been predicted was also that Brazil would pass France and the UK to become the world's fifth largest.
Perhaps inevitably, institutional change has lagged behind economic change. Global governance, such as it is, is still in the hands of a clutch of institutions founded after the Second World War – the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and so on. True, the Group of Twenty is taking an increasingly important role in pulling together global economic policy, taking over from the Group of Seven, which was made up of the seven largest economies of a generation ago. But the G20 is an ad hoc group, an opportunity for heads of government to meet, but with no central secretariat or headquarters.
It is in these established institutions that Mark Malloch-Brown has spent most of his career: working for the UN in various roles including deputy secretary-general, then the World Bank, and eventually as a junior minister in Gordon Brown's government. This book is essentially the story of that time as an international civil servant, with its frustrations and periodic achievements.
It gives glimpses of the detail of this international world: how Bono was a more practical influence at the G8 summit at Gleneagles than the blustering Bob Geldof; the pettiness and plain unfairness of the attacks on Kofi Annan when he was head of the UN; how the bodyguards of Muammar Gaddafi would scatter the other delegates in a room to make a path for his entrance. It makes some keen observations about the policy successes and failures of these years, including the disaster of the Second Gulf War. And the book also sketches some ways in which global governance might move forward.
All this is helpful to anyone who wants to understand how political power interacts with economic interest. But politics remains national, while the economy becomes ever more global. The tension between the two cannot be resolved by international civil servants, however thoughtful and decent. All they can do is point out that national self-interest requires countries to be team players. Whether the next generation of political leaders will get that message is another matter.