A Journalist's Archive

The Post-American World
Fareed Zakaria
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          "Made in the U.S.A." Now there's a label you don't see around much anymore!  China sells about $18 billion worth of goods to Wal-Mart each year. Make a call to a customer service department and it is often routed to India. Soaring energy costs, the falling dollar, and a tight credit market certainly seem to point to the waning of America's economic power. Is the American dream dead?

          Author Fareed Zakaria says, "No," but suddenly-surging populations in economic power centers throughout the world want their own version of the dream. His goal in "The Post-American World" is to alleviate fears about America's place in the new world economy. "This is a book not about the decline of America but rather the rise of everyone else."

          Zakaria is another American success story. In the 1980's, he left India as an 18 year old student. Now he is the editor of Newsweek International. He credits his success to an open, vibrant society that rewards hard work and determination. However, America's obsession with terrorism, homeland security, and fear of being overrun by hordes of immigrants is compromising the qualities that made it great.

          His experience as an editor shines through in this book. Zakaria packed tons of information into 259 pages, creating a volume of work every American interested in international politics and economics should read. He delivers a concise world history, covering "three tectonic power shifts" occurring over the last 500 years. Western nations began developing in the 15th Century, producing the modern world as we know it. Advances in agriculture, industry, science and technology allowed European nations to politically dominate much of the world. By the end of the 19th Century, "the United States became the most powerful nation since imperial Rome." Now a third power shift is occurring; Zakaria calls it "the rise of the rest."

          "The Post-American World" covers political changes, and the role demographics, language, culture and religion play as wealth and innovation move to India, China, Brazil and other nations, producing a truly global economy. While telling their success stories, Zakaria also illuminates future problems these emerging capitalist societies will face. Then in an odd twist of fate Zakaria insists the latest power shift took place because America was so successful at exporting its principles and culture.

          "Culture follows power," Zakaria said. So it's no wonder China devised its current economic policies based on the American model. European Union meetings in Brussels, consisting of representatives from 25 nation and hundreds of interpreters, conduct business in English. And India's technical revolution that is responsible for moving "more Indians out of poverty in the last decade than in the preceding fifty years," was fueled by the higher education 75 percent of India's technical graduates received in the U.S. during the 1980's. But while emerging economies adopted parts of the American culture, they merely blended it with their own customs and beliefs.

          American companies understand doing business in a foreign nation requires making concessions to the local culture and creating partnerships with foreign industries, but the American government hasn't learned that lesson. "The real test for the United States is political - and it rests not just with America at large but with Washington in particular," Zakaria writes. He pulls no punches in his criticism of our leaders, calling American politicians "arrogant" in their interactions with foreign governments. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is a good example of this arrogance. It says any country that developed nuclear weapons before 1968 "is a legitimate nuclear-weapon state, and any country that developed them later is an outlaw." It seems absurd to foreign leaders to have a nation with thousands of nuclear warheads "telling countries that a few more nuclear warheads are dangerous and immoral."

          Today, the tallest skyscrapers in the world are located in Taipei and Dubai. "The world's richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly-traded corporation is Chinese." Even the world's biggest movie industry is Bollywood - not Hollywood. Zakaria's endless examples may not help to alleviate Americans fears at first, but read on because American ingenuity still counts.

          Zakaria said, "American companies excel at turning ideas into marketable and lucrative products, and the United States is currently ranked as the most competitive economy in the world by the World Economic Forum." The research and development dollars invested in nanotechnology and biotechnology should help America maintain its competitive edge for decades to come.

          But readers may be shocked at Zakaria's next assertion, "America's best industry is higher education. Eight of the top ten universities in the world are in the United States... Other education systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think." I don't fully agree with Zakaria on this point; American creativity, curiosity, and ambition are cultural attributes that can be stifled by "higher education." Ask any computer geek, who has more experience or knowledge than his professor. Cutting edge science is found in industries more than at universities. However, the thousands of foreign students enrolling in American universities each year may agree with Zakaria.

          Given America's strengths, why is the economy heading in a downward spiral? Zakaria said, "It is a consequence of specific government policies." As emerging nations  embrace free trade and lower their corporate tax rate to encourage entrepreneurs, the United States imposes trade sanctions on countries that do not follow our policies, and our corporate tax rate has gone from the lowest in the world to the second highest.        He also chastises the American media for its part in promoting sensational broadcasts that do nothing more than instill fear in the American public. "Every weather disturbance is 'the storm of the century.' Every bomb that explodes is BREAKING NEWS. America has become a nation consumed by anxiety, worried about rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations."

          Zakaria concludes with a six-step plan designed to help America stay powerful in a changing world. Read "The Post-American World," and see if you agree with his strategies. You might also want to send a copy to your favorite politician. "The Post-American World" is a thoughtful study designed to make Americans start thinking globally.

          The United States already globalized the world. But if government policies can't adjust to that globalization, we may find ourselves living in a "Forget about America" world.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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