By Ink Alone: The Post-American World: Reading a book late can be profound
by Matt Stevens
Fareed Zakaria, the brilliant Indian-American political commentator who currently is based out of NYC, published this slim book in May 2008 discussing the rise of the rest of the world, and specifically not the fall of the United States. His argument is quite simple: as the rest of the world gains in power economically, it will also gain in political and social might. Relatively, the expression of US power abroad will become less. However, Zakaria makes the case that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
WW Norton, May 5, 2008
The premise of Zakaria’s book is quite simply: the rest of the world is growing and will soon catch up to the US economically. Specifically, the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are leading the charge and will soon have as much economic weight at the United States and Europe. His argument isn’t that this is bad, but it may in fact help the US regain legitimacy in the international spectrum as the US helps these countries adopt international standards and become apart of the world-system.
More importantly, he emphasizes that the wealth of the United States, if it properly integrates these rising powers and the rest of the growing world in the world-system, will grow as it will have greater access to consumers of its products and will better spread its social structures.
In Zakaria’s discussion of the rise of the West, he dedicates two chapters to the most powerful rising countries: The Challenger (China) and The Ally (India). The chapter on China discusses the growth of China and its progression towards a market economy (it is still not a capitalist society, not when the state owns almost 50% of GDP). He rightly points out, and I think brilliantly, that the US’s constant preaching on human rights in China is hurting US relations because the two cultures are so different. The Protestant style of the US, or preaching and evangelizing, is so contrary to the Sino ethic that the two countries need to work to overcome these differences. The US, when it does write its yearly State Department Report on those nations with Human Rights abuses, needs to acknowledge that cultural differences do factor into diplomacy and work on how to fix those abuses.
The chapter on India is simply brilliant. As some of you may know, By Ink Alone is currently stationed in southwest India for work. This chapter is the single best explanation of the difficulties and growth and vast differences that exist within India and without India. It is almost worth purchasing the book simply for that chapter. If you are an outsider, looking to learn about India, either culturally or from a business or international relations perspective, Zakaria’s chapter on India is a great 20 minute read and will get you ready for India.
My first complaint about the book is that I read it seven months late, after the collapse of the financial markets and the onset of the Great Depression: Redux. The developing nations are going to be worse off than the United States and the EU. India’s GDP growth will go below 5% this year (note, I’m the only person predicting this, including everyone in India) and China’s is probably going to be somewhere between 5-6%. Considering they’ve been over 8% for the past four years in India, and 10 years in China, this is dangerous. The rest of the world (South Africa, Russia, Brazil, the rest of the Asian Tigers) will be significantly worse off. The Middle East is collapsing due to the fall in the oil price. The Rise of the Rest is currently on hold.
This doesn’t necessarily negate Zakaria’s arguments, but it certainly means that they won’t happen as quickly as thought. US GDP is going to go down by more than 2% in 2009. But Russia’s and much of the rest of the developing world’s could collapse to catastrophic levels.
My other beef is that simply this book, while really short, is too long. Its not really a book. Its a longish article that should have appeared in Foreign Affairs. The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington’s best known book, first was an article, as Francis Fukuyama‘s End of History. My argument is that there isn’t enough substance here to warrant a full book. I want more case studies: where is the rise of Korea (unification anyone?) the rebirth of Japan, Russia and its Casino Economy, Brazil and the world’s new energy empire? Zakaria doesn’t explore these to the depth I want.
Overall, it is a great book, an excellent, if quick read, and that India chapter is almost worth the price of admission.
Four Melons out of Five!