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Where We Are Today and Where We Go From Here
on April 28, 2008
Mr. Zakaria has written a short primer (250+ pages of text) about where the world is today and the role he sees the United States playing in the future. His assessment, for the most part, is fair, balanced and nonpartisan. And though the title of his treatise--The Post-American World--sounds pessimistic, in reality Mr. Zakaria sees the glass half full.
The principal weakness of the book is a product of its brevity: the author paints in broad strokes, providing a sweeping assessment of the dynamic changes that have unfolded on the world scene over the past twenty-five years. This invariably results in some over-generalizations and assessments that are not sufficiently nuanced. For example, in responding to concerns about China's growing power and influence, he quotes several Chinese officials who repeatedly reassure the listener that, notwithstanding its recent advances, China still lags behind the United States in so many areas; consequently, it poses no real threat to America or its neighbors. Instead of taking these sentiments at face value, Mr. Zakaria should remember, as Margaret Macmillan astutely noted in her recent book, "Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World," that the Chinese are the past masters at using self-effacement to lure their adversaries into a state of complacency.
The greatest strengths of the book are explaining to the reader how much the world has changed over the past 25 years (did you know that China now exports more goods and services in a single day than it did in all of 1978?), while illuminating the course corrections the United States needs to make so that it can continue to influence the evolution of globalization. I was surprised to discover that the simple truths taught by Adam Smith have lifted more people above the poverty line in the last 25 years (400 million in China alone) than all the government assistance programs of all the countries in the world since the beginning of time. But I was dismayed to learn that the polices of free trade, liberal immigration, technological change and open government that are the source of this global revolution are no longer warmly received in the United States. Mr. Zakaria notes that in 2007 the Pew Global Attitudes Survey polled citizens in 47 countries for purposes of measuring the extent to which they have positive views about free trade and open markets. Guess where the U.S. came in? Dead last. Mr. Zakaria observes that in the five years the survey has been done, no country has seen as great a drop-off as the United States. It's as if, he says, that for the past sixty years we have extolled the virtues of free markets, immigration, technological change, competition, and democracy, and now that the rest of the world has finally decided to take our advice, "we are becoming suspicious of the very things we have long celebrated." (p. 48).
If you want to look in the mirror and see the warts and disappointments, along with the beauty and promise, of America, read this book. You and our country will be better for it.