Americans are fascinated with bigness. We believe we should have the best and the biggest of everything. Only ten years ago, the United States was at the top of the world’s biggest lists in most categories. That is the thing of the past according to Mr. Fareed Zakaria the author of a book entitled; The Post-American World. Consider the following facts; “The tallest building in the world is in Taipei, The world’s richest man is Mexican. Largest publicly-traded company is Chinese. The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, (the) leading refinery is under construction in India, and (the) largest factories are in China. The biggest movie industry in terms of both movies made and tickets sold is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States; the world’s biggest is in Beijing” according to Mr. Zakaria.
The fastest growing countries in recent years have been non-American and non-western: China, Russia, and India. China has been the fastest growing country for the past many years. If the US and the Chinese economy continue to grow at their current rate, US will no longer be the biggest economic power in the world by the year 2018, using the total GDP as a criterion, China is. Given such astonishing developments, the key question is: How will the power structure of the world, both economically and politically, look like in the future? This is the theme of this book
He presents an intriguing assessment of the latest developments in global economy and their likely impact on the United States. One of the interesting points he talks about is that the political events have been happening so frequently in the world that they are becoming sort of routine and economically less significant. The stock markets, for instance, are becoming sort of neutral with regard to these events. In other words, even though, the financial markets are spooked by political events, they are reacting rather to economic information more vigorously. Because of the massive popularity of consumerism around the globe, the economic power, not the political events, is becoming more of a decisive force in dominating the global market. He is arguing, rightfully, that the economic power is shifting away from the U.S. and in favor of heavily populated countries, China and India at the forefront. Even though, Mr. Zakaria explains, the rise of China and India is bound to happen, it is does not necessarily entail the elimination of America as a superpower. It is mainly a shift in the players on the global economic arena - from one superpower, to a few powers playing on a more evenly leveled field.
It can be surmised from his analysis that even though technology has been the key to the rising superpower up to now, under the new world paradigm, technology alone cannot guarantee a full-bodied economic development, technology supplemented by a well-proficient labor force is the key. It seems that the US is currently is suffering from this acute problem, a shortage of high quality man power. Its labor force is less than one fourth of that of China. On balance, the traditional, as well as services, sectors are the backbone of economic viability and they are highly labor intensive.
He is suggesting that the emphasis is also shifting from per capita to total, Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The highest ranking countries in terms of per capita GDP are the small, low population, countries in Europe with no economic power. He considers this as a historical mystery. China, on the other hand, is considered less developed based on its per capita income, however, it is destined to become the world’s other economic superpower. Booming countries, like China, can exert a powerful influence on the global economy through their exports and their international investments. In addition, the political and military power depends on total economic capability not on per capita income. Besides even with the increasing economic interconnectedness, it is still the domestic market that provides the basic source of support for domestic industries by absorbing their products.
Since 1991, following the fall of the Berlin wall, and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the United States has gained the monopoly power in global market and has successfully maintained this position for several decades, what the author calls a unipolar power structure. That is now changing to a multipolar system, as he suggests, a kind of oligopoly structure in which a few countries will engage in give-and-take rivalry, and enjoy a substantial controlling power both economically and politically. The power is diffusing and is shifting, this time, away from US as we are approaching an era of post-American domination.
Globalization has created its own opportunities as well as challenges. The author believes that despite all the positive and negative developments in global economy and the politics, the US will remain the dominant superpower and the growth of the rests does not necessarily mean the demise of its empire. It is rather at the expense of Japan and the Europe that are facing what he calls “slow demographically determined decline”. Mr. Zakaria admits America has been in plenty of panics before about China’s worrying success, and today acts as a reminder that America can prevail. This is his important point, although America still faces an ever-growing global market.
Despite what some politicians want us to believe, the world is not a dangerous place; Mr. Zakaria tries to assure us. The threat of Islamic fundamentalism is not as colossal as we think, “Within that universe (Islamic world) are Shiites and Sunnis, Persians and Arabs, Southeast Asians and Middle Easterners, and, importantly moderates and radicals. Just as the diversity within the communist world ultimately made it less threatening, so do the many variety of Islam undermine its ability to coalesce into a single, monolithic foe.” He believes the relative calm is due to economic prosperity “Across the world economics is trumping politics”. The expansion of global economy is best evidenced by increasing economic ties among nations and persistent surge in international trade. The key players in new global economy are the giant countries on the move: China, India, and Brazil at the top.
In this book, Mr. Zakaria tries to tackle critical issues such as: “why non-western countries stand still while the west moves forward? Why the United States has succeeded to globalize other countries but has failed to globalize itself?” He tries to answer these and many similar questions from historical perspective by detailed examination of economic growth in China and India in recent years – chapters 4 and 5, by comparing east and west and identifying the differences that can shed some light on this issue. He maintains that the cultural institutions including religion will continue to play a role in shaping economic progress in other countries. The non-western countries have always been eager to learn about the west and imitate their progress because people want to side with the winner not with the losers. However, that doesn’t mean they should undermine their own cultural and social values. To succeed economically, they had to borrow from and utilize western technology and managerial style without chipping away from their own institutional settings. Many did not thrive in the long term simply because they just wanted to imitate the west because they thought that imitating the successful bring them success: Kamal Ataturk in Turkey, Reza Shah in Iran and Jawaharlal Nehru in India. As such, the new world order has promoted new nationalism. Ironically, frustrated with outright acceptance of the American and western economic and political system, countries are paying less attention to the west, in general and the US in particular, and focusing on themselves. In other words, growth of other countries does not follow the western style completely.
“in the next few decades, three of the world biggest economies will be non-western (Japan, China, and India). And the fourth, the United States, will be increasingly shaped by its growing non-European population” implying that the west, in general, and the US in particular are loosing their cultural dominance. The future world may be modern but not necessarily western. However, he wonders, how the world will be like without the dominance of western culture. In the past, westernization, he believes, was not limited to technology and consumerism, every aspects of society, from government institutions to women dressing were influenced by western culture. His idea about women’s clothing might be especially of particular relevance to us. “Women’s clothing is a powerful indicator of a society’s comfort with modernity. Not surprisingly Muslim world has the biggest problems with its women-wearing western style cloths. It is also the region where women remain the farthest behind by any objective yardstick-literacy, education, participating in work force. The veil and chador may be perfectly acceptable choices of dress, but they coincide with an outlook that rejects the modern word in other ways as well”
The author has made successfully what I think is a pivotal point. In modern word, the policy of force and coercion are doomed to failure. It is the appeal of the culture and pioneering ideas that work not the use of “hard power”. In chapter six, he explains how the British Empire spread through the world in nineteenth century mainly through its culture and how an expensive war, Boer War, led its demise, and, how the same scenario is being repeated after the US war with Iraq. “The United States has been overextended and distracted, its army stressed, its image sullied” “The familiar theme of imperial decline is playing itself out one more time. History is happening again”
Chinese expansion, on the contrary, has been generally facilitated by the use of “soft power”, as a winning strategy. Considering the triumphant of China and its ensuing economic as well as cultural influence in the world, one of the basic messages of his book is that “a nation’s path to greatness lies in its economic progress and that militarism, empire, and aggression lead to a dead end”. While Great Briton was still keeping its position as military superpower, the author explains, its economy was deteriorating mainly because the high costs of war that drained its budget and forced it to enormous debt. Financial concerns then dictated its strategies resulted in “irreversible economic deterioration”
Presently, the US is not only suffering from one of worst resilient economic slowdown in its history, it has also lost its respect around the world. Nonetheless, the US economy is dynamic, it is fundamentally well endowed, and it can remain dominant as long as its government is willing to deal with the threats prudently and take advantage of the opportunities provided promptly. One of the key advantages the US has compared to Europe, he believes, is its diversely talented population. Thanks to its prudent immigration policy, welcoming and generous, coupled with its capital-rich economy, more than $50,000 worth of capital per each worker. “European societies do not seem able to take in and assimilate people from storage especially from rural and backward regions in the world of Islam.” “America, on the other hand, is creating the first universal nation, made up of all colors, races, and creeds, living and working together in considerable harmony”. At the conclusion of the last chapter, the author puts forward a set of guidelines that he believes will operate in the new world.
The reoccurring theme of this book is that whether the ongoing power shift is beneficial to America and what it should do to fare best under the mew reoriented power structure. The author is not hesitant to blame President Bush for his failure to pay due attention to diplomacy and the diminution of the goodwill asset accumulated throughout many years of prudent diplomacy by his predecessor, Mr. Bill Clinton. Conversely, the “hostility aroused by the Bush Administration” reinforced the weakening of American global supremacy. “For several years the Bush administration boasted of its disdain for treaties, multilateral organizations, international public opinion and anything that suggested a conciliatory approach to world politics” even with the obvious failure of its confrontational approach, the bush administration has been arrogantly reluctant to change its attitude on many vital issues including Iran’s nuclear power issue and take on a more conciliatory approach based on mutual respect. Mr. Zakaria believes that “If you (the US) threaten a country with regime change, it only makes more urgent that government’s desire for nuclear weapons, which is an insurance policy in the world of international politics”. “The task of today is to construct a new approach for a new era, one that responds to a global system in which power is far more diffuse than ever before and in which everyone feels empowered”
In conclusion, reading The Post-American World enables us to judge more accurately if all the hype about China’s take-over is well-grounded. Although, there is no doubt about many powerful contributions by the United States to the world, such as education, democracy, humanitarian assistance, and science, America has been more criticized for its fault s in recent years. Nonetheless, it is the most welcoming nation for From a political stand point, I think, it’s a really hard time to show patronage to a country that repeatedly insults other countries, acts before thinking, and defies the public opinions. It is true that America does have an important role to play in the global stage due to its economic and its financial success; however, this privilege doesn’t give America the freedom to direct the world as it wants. The ongoing “rise of the rest” will probably be good for America; however, it needs to be reminded of manners and the limits of its interference.
It will be interesting to see how America adapts to its role being challenged in the world. I doubt America will take to it nicely given its supreme dominance over the last century. However, hopefully, with a new, cultured, empathetic president (Mr. Obama), America’s image as a war-monger will change to more of a peace-keeper and use the diplomacy and the gestures the Chinese have developed and used so successfully, referred to as “soft power” by Mr. Zakaria.
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