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The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World's Most Successful Political Idea Hardcover – May 24, 2017
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Praise for Rivals: 'Remarkable for the clarity of its economic and historical analysis and the cogency of his arguments * Financial Times * Elegantly written and strong on economic analysis * Saturday Telegraph * Praise for Good Italy, Bad Italy: '[A] lucid and thoughtful book - it is written in a graceful style that is stronger for its careful - even delicate - illumination of personal and national failure than simply offering a wilderness of denunciations. * Financial Times * --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Bill Emmott was the editor-in-chief of the Economist from 1993 to 2006, and is now a writer and consultant on international affairs. He is a regular contributor to the Financial Times, La Stampa and Nikkei Business. He is the author of several books, including 20:21 Vision: 20th-Century Lessons for the 21st Century (2003), Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan will Shape our Next Decade (2008) and Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future (2012). --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The editor for most of that time was none other than the author of what is my favorite book of 2017 so far, and comfortably the best book I’ve read from the ones that try to explain the recent resurgence of populism / nationalism / nativism / whatever you choose to call it.
In short, Bill Emmott’s “Fate of the West” is a masterpiece.
Let’s get some gripes out of the way: much like the Economist, you need all your faculties to read it; you get nothing from skimming it. It could be shorter. And by mentioning Donald Trump so frequently, the author is un-necessarily dating a book that has all the makings of a future classic.
Here’s where it hits the bullseye: Emmott defines “Western” values (as openness and democracy,) he explains why they took hold (because they promote prosperity and fairness at the same time,) he’s is brave enough to admit that their main vulnerability (openness) happens to coincide with a defining strength, he recognizes that they are (not for the first time) on the defensive because they have of late been failing to deliver on both their traditional benefits (prosperity and equality/fairness,) he looks for and identifies several answers as to why that is the case (starting from Mansur Olson’s repertoire, but not only: longevity is not a bane and cannot be helped, for example, but we need to learn how to deal with it) and he recommends eight (count’em) remedies that can help address today’s malaise.
That he started his career as a Japan jockey, experiencing first-hand the original instance of decline in a country that had espoused the “Western” system (or had it externally imposed on it, at any rate,) that he subsequently became an expert on (pretty much stagnant) Italy, that he hails from Great Britain and that he came of age as a journalist when Sweden was dealing with the collapse of its banking system (much better than we ever did) allows him to supplement his incisive analysis of the main arena of this debate, the US, with tremendous chapters on Brexit, Italy, Japan and “the Houdinis” of Sweden and Switzerland.
Leaving all that aside, the book is a total pleasure to read. I consider myself an expert on a lot of the material covered here, and I just kept learning and learning. (It had never occurred to me, for instance that what we consider to be the “German” way of running industry, whereby the union and the local government all sit on the board of corporations, alongside representatives of the local state bank, was put in place by the victorious Americans, to make sure the central state has many obstacles to clear if it ever attempts to take industry over the way its dictator had done in the thirties) I don’t 100% agree everything the author has to say, (for example, I find that Germany could go on a total spending spree and would still fail to move the needle on European growth, all while ramping up its debt) but it was a total privilege to read this book.
The analysis is at the same time careful and decisive: you’re left in no doubt that the new enemies we face today are the new monopolists who wield market power and use it to avoid tax and to drive the political process, the politically exclusive (in the words of Acemoglu) regimes such as Russia and China that refuse to play by the rules (“Barbarians at the Gate,” the author calls them in a chapter he dedicates to them and… ISIS) the generation of permanent-contract job holders who have in countries such as Italy, Japan and Greece formed a political bloc which denies their offspring access to the labor market, but also those who want to de-fund the state, thereby increasing the gap in education (and the willingness to take risk, due to a precarious existence) between the rich and the poor.
I say the book is wordy, but it covers a lot of ground and it never shouts from the rooftops. This is sober analysis.
Just so I have them written somewhere (and look away now if this will spoil the book for you) here are the eight recommendations Bill Emmott makes for those of us who want to restore “Western” society to its former glory:
1. Openness is all, but not everything has to be open, all the time
2. Equality is all, but it isn’t all about money
3. Education, at all levels and ages, is the single most vital support for equality as well as being a country’s most vital economic and social resource
4. Equality between the young and old is as important as between social classes or ethnic groups
5. The rule of law is a non-negotiable guarantor of equality and source of confidence among citizens and between nations
6. Freedom of speech is a vital bridge between openness and equality, not a trade-off between them
7. A boring consistency is a fine goal for economic growth
8. Fostering the international rule of law and international collaboration is essential
And there you have it! If anything, the book is even better than the recommendations. It’s a solid bet for “best book of 2017”
The author doesn't understand what Western values are or what Western Civilization is. He uses names like Oswald Spengler and Karl Popper, but he doesn't leave an impression that he understands their works or their ideas. He simply uses them in an opportunistic way often based on word associations. Popper is useful because the author re-casts liberalism as openness. Spengler is useful simply because of the title of his book.
In the end, his ideas are lightweight and ill-defined. Look behind them and it boils down to:
1) More Immigration
2) More free trade deals
3) More wars like Iraq
4) Reducing the amount of money spent on useless old people so as to make more money available for spending on welfare. The idea being that spending money on old people (who can't work) is a waste of social resources better spent on programs like refugee resettlement and education.
Of course the author spins it. Cutting benefits to the aged is about "equality". But in reality, like all of the policies he proposes, its all about making the economy more "efficient" in a social darwinist sort of way. Money spent on the old is wasted. Money spent on the young is an investment.
post-1945 Liberalism died of its own contradictions. Liberalism ceased to represent the working classes and became a movement centered around a well-off elite whose politics was centered on their own narrow self-interests.