Friday, February 05, 2010

BOOKS: The Post-American World

I came across this book in an unusual way. I received an email from someone who regularly sends me the worst right-wingnut scare rumors, and this particular email was all panty-twisted over a photo of President Obama holding a book which, upon closer look had the title "The Post-American World", and it was written by a Muslim! "See," the email howled with horror, "look what Obama is reading! He really is part of a secret Muslim cabal intent on destroying America!" Being appropriately sceptical of such emails, I looked a bit closer and made out the partly-obscured name of the Muslim-terrorist author of this evil tome: Fareed Zakaria, international editor for Newsweek, and a widely respected expert on foreign policy. I immediately added the title to my list of books to read. So glad I did.

His provocative title, it turns out, is not about the fall of America, so muc as it is about the "rise of the rest". The book is a shrewd analysis of how America's role as the world's sole superpower is inevitably going to be soon eclipsed by China and India, and what that will and won't mean. I'd never read Zakaria before, but I found him to be tremendously insightful, as well as very knowledgeable. The book is eye-opening in its quantification and qualification of the rise of China and India (as well as other countries), but at the same time it is reassuring in its assessment that the surpassing of the US economy need not be the catastrophe many may fear. In fact, he cites Roosevelt's dictum that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Our worst possible policy choices in reaction to the rise of the rest of the world would be ones based on a fearful retrenchment into protectionism and isolation. Our best possible policy choices continue to embrace open trade and immigration, key drivers that have advanced America and can continue to do so. He compares and contrasts the present US situation not to Rome (as is so often done), but to the British Empire in its decline, which given where Britain is today was obviously not the end of the world. He offers some interesting observations about military might versus the soft power of legitimacy and being a center of ideas and innovation. And he had some interesting insights into econometrics, noting that our current measures of savings and consumption are based on an industrial economy. For example, spending on research and development, or a college education, gets measured as consumption, when it's really more of an investment, especially an in information economy.

I came away from this book feeling more realistic and also more optimistic about the future for America. And also very glad that our President is reading books like this one.

No comments: