Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), 292pp.
For roughly 300 years two global empires have wielded unilateral influence and control over much of the world — first Great Britain, and now the United States. But the sun did set on the British Empire, and its successor superpower, says Fareed Zakaria, would do well to learn from history. History "happened" to Britain, and he wonders, "will history happen to America as well? Is it already happening?" While Britain failed economically, it succeeded politically, whereas America faces the opposite challenge; it will maintain its economic clout but must find its place in a changing geo-political landscape.
Zakaria writes "not about the decline of America" but rather, as he repeats throughout his book, "the rise of the rest." Globalization has lifted many boats in many places the last twenty years, creating a diffuse and decentralized economic dynamism throughout much of the world. In 2005, for example, twenty-four of the twenty-five largest IPOs in the world took place outside of America. Three of the world's biggest economies are non-western — China, India and Japan. Taipei boasts the tallest building in the world, but Dubai will soon claim that title. We hear lots about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, but twenty-two of the twenty-five wealthiest people in the world are not Americans. Brazil has become energy independent, and the UAE can claim "the most richly endowed investment fund." Africa might be the lone exception, but not for long if China continues its vigorous investments and agreements in that resource-rich continent. And it now seems clear that a nation can, despite important disruptions and convulsions, become modern without becoming western; never mind that many places want to become more like the west.
China and India, of course, are the prime examples of new found economic power, and Zakaria devotes a chapter to each of them. China's economy has grown 9% every year since Deng Xiaoping green-lighted economic capitalism (if not political liberalism). The economy has doubled every eight years in that time. Today they export more in a single day than they did in all of 1978. They've lifted 400 million people out of poverty. India boasts similar examples even though it started ten years later; Bollywood beats Hollywood in terms of movies made and tickets sold.
And America? It's far and away still the lone superpower, and that won't change soon. In economics, technology, science, and even education it remains the envy of the world. India, Zakaria reminds us, graduates about 50 PhDs a year in computer science; the United States graduates about 1,000. Militarily, the United States spends more than the rest of the world combined. What's crippling America, Zakaria says, is a politics which has become highly dysfunctional and little more than theater. We've become insular and isolated in an economically decentralized world, "clueless about the world we're supposed to be running." Even worse, while we're still the sole superpower, we've lost our legitimacy. In his final twenty-five pages Zakaria offers six guidelines whereby America can become the world's honest broker of the universal ideals that it espouses. But this requires a new spirit of "consultation, cooperation, and even compromise," and the jury is out whether we're willing or able to assume such a new role in a world that, because of the "rise of the rest," is already post-American.