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.
on April 30, 2008
A lot of books have been appearing recently about the rise of China and India, the decline of the United States, and so forth. This is the one to read, and the one that will last.
Zakaria's last book was about "The Future of Freedom," a study of liberalism and democracy. This new one--which is even better, I think--is about the shape of the emerging international system. It's called "The Post-American World," but a better title would have been the one he gives his first chapter, "The Rise of the Rest." That's because Zakaria's central thesis is that the world is changing, but the change is largely for the better and caused by the benign development of other power centers, not some collapse or decline of the United States. The biggest challenge for America, he argues, is not terrorism or nuclear proliferation or a rising China, but rather our own ability to adapt successfully to the new environment. He favors confidence and openness rather than insecurity and barriers, and makes a convincing case.
The book has chapters on each of the major international players, and they're really well done: amazingly, he manages to paint a full portrait of, say, China or India that is intelligent, succinct, subtle, and comprehensive all at once. If you want to get a flavor of what the book has to offer, there's an article based on it in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, and there should be another one coming out in Newsweek too, apparently. The man might be a superachieving bigshot, but he sure can write--each page is lively and interesting.
So forget the angry neocons, the wild-eyed optimists, the gloom-and-doom pessimists, and the glib amateurs who don't really know anything. Read this instead, and get insight into what's actually going in the world and what should be done about it. Plus, there's just a ton of fun little nuggets you'll be itching to drop in every conversation you have about anything related.
on May 14, 2008
Fareed Zakaria writes that three great global power shifts have occurred in the last 500 years: the first was the rise of the West with its advances in science, technology, and commerce; the second was the rise of the US, to superpower status after World War II and to hyperpower status after the Cold War; and the third - the one we are currently experiencing - is the "rise of the rest." The global dominance that the US has enjoyed is rapidly coming to an end, not because of its own missteps - there were many - but because of the extraordinary economic growth in countries such as China, India, Russia, and Brazil. Except for a few pockets of poverty, globalization has been largely successful.
The Post-American World points to the need for America to adopt new ways of doing business with the world, one that is based on "consultation, cooperation, and even compromise" as opposed to go-it-alone unilateralism. American success in the 21st century will depend on how these newly ascendant powers will be integrated into existing institutions such as the G8, the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. Even though some of these countries do not meet Western liberal democratic standards they should not be shut out as Robert Kagan suggested in The Return of History and the End of Dreams.
Integrating autocracies such as China, Russia, and the Central Asian republics in the international liberal order will be one of the greatest challenges in international relations in the years ahead. After all, autocracies have been very successful, producing 7-10% annual growth rates. They produce great investment opportunities for foreigners. And their foreign policy of non-interference with the sovereignty of other countries has made them welcome almost everywhere. This purely pragmatic approach, although successful in economics, has many shortcomings in the political realm. Zakaria believes that although they have been successful and even popular, it is important for Western democracies to have solidarity to prevent further backsliding.
Economic growth is only one of the components that keep autocracies in power, another is nationalism. One need only look at the popularity of Putin when he defies the West or China's reaction everytime they feel slighted by foreigners. Nationalism will rise as economic fortunes rise. Zakaria, who is always reasonable and optimistic in his views, believes that nations will be reasonable too. He believes that the newly ascendant powers will not be aggressive militarily if they are embedded in the current system. China, for example, does not need to invade neighboring countries when it can buy whatever it needs. For the time being this is working, but what happens "the rest" become much more powerful and resources become even more scarce? Will the the international order hold or will nationalist impulses rule the day? Zakaria is optimistic, but he still believes that the US will have an indispensible roll in keeping this system in place.
on August 31, 2009
I arrived in the city pictured on the cover of this book -- Hong Kong -- two years after Zakaria came to the United States. Watching Asia change, year after year -- I spoke at several churches in Hong Kong this summer, and the skyscrapers of Central spread out before the window of my hotel room are now the most impressive on earth -- Zakaria puts into words, and hard statistics, realities that I have been pondering for many years now.
In 1984, I remember watching people in a small town outside Hong Kong snapping together little pieces of plastic to make Christmas toys. It's hard to imagine seeing that sort of poverty there today. Education, hard work, the export of technology, and free enterprise have brought increasing prosperity to countries around the world, as Zakaria shows. He does a wonderful job of melding stats, telling facts, quotes from statesmen, to present a case for a reality that Americans need to get used to: there will be no "second American century." The United States will be one of several great powers within a few short years.
I don't much agree with Zakaria's politics. He's a moderate democrat, I'm a conservative Republican. To me, the greatest American blunder is not anything George Bush did overseas, but the suicidal binge spending the Bush, and especially Obama, administrations have engaged in. But nothing we can do could have stopped the laws of mathematics anyway, and as free trade and the spread of techonology evens out per capita production, "we must decrease (relatively) and they must increase."
I think if anything, Zakaria underestimates the extent of that change. Within a few years, China will be the world's richest superpower in GDP. (As I predicted 25 years ago.) Our vast borrowing from the Chinese has probably excelerated the transition. With 4-5 times our population, in a generation we will be roughly to China what the UK is to us, and India will surpass the US as well.
Zakaria is right to look at the last time such a transition occurred, from the UK, to put this in context, but wrong in some of the conclusions he draws. It is unreasonable to blame the moralizing of British evangelicals for weakening British power, for example. Was Britain weaker because it banned the slave trade and began to educate Indians instead of merely exploit them? Such policies were largely responsible for the "soft power" Zakaria admires, and did not cause Britain's relative decline.
What Zakaria says on page 109 about East Asian religious beliefs is also misleading, IMO. (See David Aikman's Jesus in Beijing for a more reasonable discussion, or my True Son of Heaven.) Strangely, Zakaria expresses surprise that 72% of Chinese deny that one must believe in God to be moral. Doesn't he know that young Chinese have been educated by communists, who are atheists, for the past 60 years? What's remarkable is that it's only 72 % -- the real story is the renewel of and spread of religion in China, including Christianity -- and what Zakaria says about Confucianism is mostly nonsense. (The Chinese don't even call it that -- they call it the "teaching of the scholars," so Zakaria's point about Confucius not believing in God is moot -- besides, Confucius did believe in God, and the writers of the Classics he edited, and that were the basis for "Confucianism," really are rather theistic -- I've been pouring over them for the past few months.)
But Zakaria gets the big picture mostly right. He demonstrates that we are in a transition phase, entering not into a world in which America is irrelevant, but in which America is just one great power of many. On the off chance that the greatest of those new powers behaves itself (one can dream), perhaps we Americans can go back to minding our own business again pretty soon. (And start paying back all that massive debt our foolish politians have accumulated.)
a fascinating book about international relations and the strengths and weaknesses of the USA in interacting with the evolving world. Fundamentally, is American on a decline? Should we be afraid? How do our actions compare to those of previous great empires such as England? What motivates China and India? How will the world economy shift?
These and many other questions are posed and discussed in the book. It is an excellent, well thought, well presented read that gives much perspective on the role of America and how that is changing with the collapse of the American economy, the post-Bush era foreign policy, and the growing strength of emerging markets such as China, Brazil and Russia.
I won't share with you the book's conclusions, but if you are interested in politics, policies, or are a business leader of some sort, this book is a highly valuable read.
I suspect that with this masterful study of foreign policy and geopolitics, Fareed Zakaria has deftly managed to offend the fringes of both sides.
Some examples of the conservative Zakaria you will find within this text: He is an unrelenting supporter of free and open markets; he lionizes Margaret Thatcher above all politicians; and he condemns socialism at every turn. He agrees that Medicare is on track to wreck the federal budget; while he admits that reform was needed, in a footnote he comes down against President Obama's health care reform bill; and, without reserve, suggests in one subchapter that an Osama bin Laden video communique from 2007 could have been written by a professor at Berkeley (his point in this final example is that anti-American sects around the globe often co-opt the rhetoric of the American left, so that even their anti-Americanism is in large part Americanized).
Inversely Zakaria is a fierce opponent of the Bush (read: Cheney) Doctrine; he condemns GOP racial/ethnic fear mongering from the likes of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Lou Dobbs, and Rudy Giuliani; in a wonderful subchapter concerning the strengths of the American university system he disparages the conservative predilection for villanizing universities; he criticizes the gun-toting Republican want to shoot first, ask questions later; and perhaps most importantly, he maintains that immigration and diversity offer America's greatest hopes of finding its footing amid the "rise of the rest."
Fareed Zakaria is, quite simply, a stripe of the most commiserable endangered species of our era: the moderate.
As such, he is never easy to predict. As strongly as Zakaria rebukes the the second Bush Administration's disastrous policies that stripped the United States of its legitimacy as a superpower and sullied our international reputation, he praises George H. W. Bush and James Baker for their studied, collaborative approach to foreign policy in the post-Soviet years. He calls out Republicans for their nasty rhetoric against Muslim-Americans and immigrants in one paragraph, while in the very next he smacks down Democrats for their attacks on free trade and tax rates.
As a result Zakaria produces a diverse and ideologically disparate team of heroes. His geopolitical Justice League would consist of the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, and Manmohan Singh. Demagogues and those who inhibit free and open markets play the villains: George W. Bush, Indira Ghandi, Mao.
Zakaria's message is simple enough. For all our fears regarding the economy, the real threat to America is its toxic political environment. In the end he encourages the return of the America he first encountered as an immigrant student in 1982 - a time when Ronald Reagan thundered against socialism while projecting optimism amid 10% unemployment and 15% interest rates, and when Tip O'Neill sat across the aisle as an honorable philosophical rival and partner. One might express the desired formula in more contemporary terms as: fewer Sarah Palins, more Lisa Murkowskis.
Given our current gridlock, the toxicity of Congress, and the grandstanding of Boehner and Obama alike, it seems we have a distressing ways to go. But I will at least try to remember, as Zakaria suggests, that we have faced worse and overcome far greater. And that perhaps, with a concerted effort geared toward invigoration and reinvention, the world doesn't have to be so bleak after all.
on August 9, 2013
I saw an article claiming that Obama was reading the book because it is Muslim propaganda. That couldn't be further from the truth. This is an excellent read, written by a very intelligent man. I wish more people would take a moment and just read small exerts from this book. Mr. Zakaria could teach nearly every voter in the US a few things. The book is almost completely free of political opinion, and personal preference. It presents facts, from other scholars, economists, and world leaders. This is how a book of this type should be written. Fact is enforced by fact. Not opinion verified through conjecture.
on June 10, 2011
Fareed Zakaria has emerged in recent years as one of America's best minds with respect to foreign policy and international relations. His recent book, The Post-American World, touches on several issues near and dear to our own research. The gloomy title aside (this book got quite a bit of notoriety when then-candidate Barrack Obama was seen reading it during his campaign), Zakaria is actually rather optimistic about the economic prospects of the United States. He does discuss the role of demographics in America's position in the world, which is a good start.
As this book has already been reviewed by countless others, we will steer clear of the sections most often reviewed, which are generally foreign policy related and compare the United States today with the British Empire last century. We'll start instead with Mr. Zakaria's commentary on the US health and pension system, which echoes our own work on the subject:
"Consider the automobile industry. For a century after 1894, most of the cars manufactured in North America were made in Michigan. Since 2004, Michigan has been replaced by Ontario, Canada. The reason is simple: healthcare. In America, car manufacturers have to pay $6,500 in medical and insurance costs for every worker. If they move a plant to Canada, which has a government-run health care system, the cost to the manufacturer is around $800 per worker. In 2006, General Motors paid $5.2 billion in medical and insurance bills for active and retired workers. That adds $1,500 to the cost of every GM car sold. For Toyota, which has fewer American retirees and many more foreign workers, that cost is $186 per car. This is not necessarily an advertisement for the Canadian health care system, but it does make clear that the costs of the American healthcare system have risen to a point that there is a significant competitive disadvantage to hiring American workers."
Zakaria also makes the point that tying healthcare to employment tends to tie people to their jobs and lesson their ability to leave lest they lose their health insurance. It also tends to make them fear free trade and globalization. The result is that the American economy is less dynamic and productive that it would have been under a more fluid labor market.
Moving on, Zakaria also refers to demographics as America's "secret weapon," at least vis-à-vis Europe and East Asia:
"All in all, Europe presents the best short-term challenge to the United States in the economic realm. But Europe has one crucial disadvantage. Or, to put more accurately, the United States has one crucial advantage over Europe and most of the developed world. The United States is demographically vibrant. Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, estimates that the U.S. population will increase by 65 million by 2030, while Europe's will remain 'virtually stagnant.' Europe, Eberstadt notes, 'will by that time have twice as many seniors as older than 65 than children under 15, with drastic implications for future aging. (Fewer children now means fewer workers later.) In the United States, by contrast, children will continue to outnumber the elderly.... Some of these demographic problems could be ameliorated if older Europeans chose to work more, but so far they do not, and trends like these rarely reverse.'"
This goes to show that, with demographics, it's all relative. The United States does indeed have a better long-term demographic prognosis than Europe or East Asia. But that doesn't mean that the prognosis is good. "Less bad" doesn't mean good.
Furthermore, Zakaria falls into the same trap as most economists that have approached this issue. He focuses on demographics as it applies to workers. The Sizemore Investment Letter focuses instead on the demographic characteristics of consumers. As Japan has proven for nearly two decades, a country can still produce with an aging workforce, but it ceases to consume at the same pace. And in an economy dominated by consumer spending, this is a problem.
The Post-American World is full of other interesting points that deserve more space than we can offer here. We highly recommend this book for your summer reading. History buff will also like some of Zakaria's prior works, including From Wealth to Power
on July 10, 2011
Every American, including our elected officials, should read this book. Written by the editor of Newsweek International, this is a sensible, thought-provoking and surprisingly optimistic book.
I like the fact that Zakaria has has carefully researched his topic; looked at history, charts, graphs, and studies from many countries to rebut many of America's gloom & doom fears, and offers practical wisdom and insight from his long career as an observer of the world.
Zakaria's basic premise is that America is not failing; the rest of the world is improving. Across the world, the poor are being better incorporated into the global economy. To my way of thinking, that old saw about a rising tide that floats all boats applies here and is a positive step forward.
One of the best things about this book is that Zakaria has a clear-eyed view of how the sociology, traditional culture, and the history of a country impact the way nations view themselves and each other.
In a section entitled "The Eagle and the Cow." Zakaria writes about modern India and its relationship with the United States in a thoughtful and positive way.
I like this book. Zakaria is not afraid to poke holes in boogey-man notions that have been frightening Americans for the past decade. He backs up his claims with solid facts, figures, interviews with world leaders, and plain old common sense--while at the same, offering practical thoughts and ideas to help steer the ship through changing tides.
There is no room for self-satisfaction, but Zakaria helps illuminate our path to the future.
on August 8, 2015
I started reading this book because a post on Facebook showing a photo of President Obama holding the book was critical of him, assuming that he was suggesting the "unAmerican idea" that America could be anything less than the best in the world in all things. I asked the conservative Republican who had shared this post if she had read the book or just did not like what the cover said. I am currently reading the book and find it well written, thoughtful, and realistic. Of course I watch Fareed every Sunday on GPS after attending church, so I already have a positive opinion about Fareed's writing. The book is good and I am glad to know that President Obama takes the time to read, even on vacation. Seems to me that if you are going to have to make economic decisions, then you should know as much about the subject as you can.