July 11, 2008


The truth about our post-American world: Fareed Zakaria’s twists and turns in his hot new political book mirror the deep disarray running through the Washington Beltway. (Sean Collins, June 2008, the spiked review of books)

Zakaria believes the news of terrorism and Iraq dominates the headlines because we are fearful. He writes of a ‘cottage industry of scaremongering’ that has flourished in the US and the West generally since 9/11. He also blames the media technology that spreads news – especially violent images – around the world immediately. Unfortunately, Zakaria cannot explain the focus on terror and Americans’ sense of vulnerability; he does not make an effort to explore this issue in any depth (1).

Instead, he moves on to his central point: that a focus on conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere has meant we have missed the real story – the economic rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and other emerging markets. These countries now account for more than half of the world’s economic growth since 1990, and represent over 40 per cent of the world economy (measured at purchasing power parity). In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew at a rate of four per cent or more, including more than 30 countries in Africa.

Zakaria is right to highlight that recent global economic growth is a remarkable development. However, he does not stop at simply noting this important trend; he goes on to claim that this is the third of ‘three tectonic power shifts’ over the past 500 years. According to Zakaria, the first was the rise of the Western world, from the fifteenth century to the late eighteenth century; the second was the rise of the US, from the late nineteenth century until about 1990; and the third is the ‘rise of the rest’ over the past two decades. But formulations such as these (like the ‘internet revolution’ or Thomas Friedman’s ‘flat world’) are just gimmicks. Zakaria does not really undertake a systematic historical analysis, and two decades is far too short to determine an era’s place in history.

Zakaria points out that economic prosperity has brought real benefits. For example, in China alone growth has lifted more than 400 million people out of poverty. But he is quick to point out that this growth is also problematic. One expression is how increased demand from China and India has increased oil prices generally. This price rise has also filled the coffers of America’s oil-state foes, such as Iran and Venezuela. But, as Zakaria notes, ‘the most acute problem of plenty is the impact of global growth on natural resources and the environment’. He cites water shortages and climate change, among other issues.

In viewing growth as problematic and potentially destructive, Zakaria raises a common theme of our time. Rather than celebrate the benefits of growth, such as a reduction in poverty, Zakaria and others emphasise the downsides that accompany development. This gloomy outlook reveals more about the commentator than the reality on the ground.

...if forcing the End of History on a billion Indians and a billion Chinese is so important, why isn't forcing it on a billion Muslims?
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Posted by Orrin Judd at July 11, 2008 5:02 PM

There are three types of people:

Those who want to do the right thing

Those who want to do the right thing but don't yet take credit for the right thing having been done by others

Those who don't want to do the right thing at all

Most Americans are the first, Zakaria types are the second and the paleocons the third.

Posted by: Benny at July 11, 2008 6:08 PM
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