Pick Hall 213. No nameplate on the wooden door along the dark concrete hallway. I knocked. And waited. I could hear low level conversation going on behind the door and the rustling of papers. I knocked again. I could hear footsteps approach the door.
“Can I help you?” asked the head of a graduate student peering out the door opened only a crack.
“I’m looking for Marvin Zonis. Is this his office?”
“Yes. Do you have an appointment?” The crack in the door did not widen.
“Do I need one? Isn’t this when he has office hours? How do I make an appointment?” I fumbled for words. As a new student at The University of Chicago, a naïve young white girl from Wisconsin, I let myself be intimidated. Behind this door was someone hard at work on questions that mattered in the real world. I wanted to be part of that; so I kept showing up at office hours in the fall of 1980 until my persistence paid off with a graduate research assistantship working with Marvin Zonis.
The following September, it would be my blond head that popped out that door when new students knocked. Inside that office, bookshelves lined three walls and the fourth wall of windows looked out onto the Quad, the lush green campus of Hyde Park. Persian rugs on the floor, lamps on the desk and filing cabinet, plants everywhere; this is where I began thinking about the impact of local culture on larger political and economic forces and vice versa. Marvin and his research assistants spread out newspapers, government documents, notes, and ideas across a large wooden seminar table. The conversations held inside Pick 213 changed forever my understanding of how the world works.
Starting with the Iranian revolution and the overthrow of the Shah, Marvin Zonis has been a trusted voice of reason in the analysis of political stability, regime change and U.S. foreign policy. Zonis appeared almost every night for several years in the early 1980s on a television news special called, “America Held Hostage,” that became “Nightline.” His message: political stability and economic growth are usually determined at the local level. Despite all the theories of modernization, westernization and globalization, Marvin Zonis compiled thirty years of real life case studies where local institutions, local leadership and local circumstances affect outside forces of change rather than are affected by them.
Risk Rules: How Local Politics Threaten the Global Economy by Marvin Zonis, Dan Lefkovitz, Sam Wilkin and Joseph Yackley (Agate Publishing) was just released on April 1st, 2011. This new book demonstrates how the recent overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt, uprisings in Tunis and Yemen, the global recession triggered by the U.S. credit crisis in 2008 and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, are results of the failure to understand the political economies of different countries and cultures. Somebody should lend a copy of Risk Rules to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Risk Rules is “[A] must-read for all the architects of American policy, those who seek to replace them, and all Americans who will have to deal with the consequences of their policies,” according to Ted Koppel. Zonis has provided consulting services to companies, policymakers, investors, voters, and others whose lives and finances are affected by distant world events. This book sets forth fifteen main principles of how countries work. The powerful, intuitive, and practical framework for understanding international development on the ground is an intellectual achievement of merit. Marvin Zonis, professor emeritus of international political economy at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business is the author of The Eastern European Opportunity and Majestic Failure: The Fall of the Shah. He and his coauthors published an earlier version of this model for risk assessment based on understanding local culture in Kimche Matters (Agate 2005). This new book provides evidence of the model’s utility for understanding contemporary events and those looming on tomorrow’s horizon.