Friday, October 17, 2008

The Post-American World – book by Fareed Zakaria

This is the second non-fiction book I finished reading the fastest in recent years. The first one was Tom Friedman´s The World is Flat.

The current implosion of the American capitalism , which was dominating the world for well over a century, provided the backdrop for understanding the analysis and conclusions of the author.

Zakaria has concluded that the US dominance of the world is set to decline politically, economically and culturally. This is followed by the Ascent of the Rest ( emerging powers such as China and India). He has illustrated this with tennis. The number of American players in the US Open was 78 in 1982 but came down to just 28 in 2007. His reason; ¨everyone has started playing the game now¨. He extends the illustration with the financial game. In 2005 twenty four of the 25 largest IPOs happened in countries other than USA. He has pointed out that many of the tallest, biggest, best and other superlative things are coming up outside USA.

He has diagnosed that although USA has a strong society, it is handicapped with a weak state. The American political system has got itself in a quagmire with its partisan petty wars and has been captured by special interests, money and sensational media and ideological attack groups. This has been compounded by arrogance, carelessness and lazyness. It does not have what it takes to address the fundamental problems such as health care. He points out that USA is one of the only three countries ( Myanmar and Liberia, the other two illustrious deviants ) in the world which do not follow the Metric system. The Americans left it for the rest of the World to understand USA and adopt to them. Continuation of this attitude will only accelerate the decline of USA, he concludes.

Zakaria has brilliantly summarized the problem in another American way. They used to say that what was good for GM was good for USA. Nothing seems to be going good for GM now. It has lost its supremacy to Toyota and is in a losing struggle to survive. The lesson for USA is so obvious.

He has offered some constructive suggestions for the US policy makers.

- The US should learn from the decline of its predecessor, the British Empire and should recognize the new reality and adopt a collaborative approach to tackling global issues, as the British did so gracefully.
- The US cannot solve all the problems of the world. They should prioritise and take on only those of their vital interests. Legitimacy should guide US policies.
- Follow the Bismarckian strategy of engaging the other powers and have better relations with all of them than they have with each other.
- Learn from the American MultiNational Coroporations such as IBM and GE who have successfully adopted new business models to take advantage of the new emerging markets and the globalisation.They have formed joint ventures in many countries, giving up the managerial Imperialism of their past.
- Prepare to deal with asymmetric threats arising from terrorism, drug cartel etc through innovative range of instruments.

Zakaria has brought out the folly of creation of Africom. He has explained this with a quote from Mark Twain ¨To the man who has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail¨. Brilliant !! He has commented that the US administration, while trying to scare its enemies has terrorized the rest of the world. He says that the the American policy makers are consumed by fear, paranoia, anxiety about foreign trade, foreign companies and foreigners. Contrast this with the hope, confidence and optimism of the Indians and Chinese, who want to take advantage of globalisation to conquer the world.

Zakaria has argued that USA has many strengths, unlike UK which could do nothing to arrest its decline especially the economic one. These are: economic strength, solid tradition of innovation and renewal with an educational system which nurtures these spirits and rejuvenation of the society with the energy and spirit of the immigrants.

He has brought out one of the the contrasts between the west and the east. While Christianity and Islam , believing in their inherited superiority seek to convert the non-believers, the Hindu Indians and the Confucian Chinese believe in the goodness of other faiths and do not seek to change them.

Zakaria has not pretended to be a prophet with any new revelations or new theories. He has analysed the issues in simple and clear ways understandable for readers with plain commonsense. He has advocated new ways of measuring prosperity, savings etc since the old methods of GDP and others have become inadequate for the complexity of the new realities.

The only weakness he has openly displayed is his passion for USA. Hmm.. what can I say ? …with my own passion for Latin America.

Zakaria is an Indian who went to USA for studies in 1982 and rose to become the Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs magazine and now as International Editor of Newsweek. He has concluded that to thrive in this new and challenging era and to to succeed amid the rise of the rest, USA needs to fulfil only one test. It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country as it was for him in 1982.

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