Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wait is Longer for a Post-Statistics World

29. The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria

First, to boost the scores on my quotas, I am counting this as a 2009 book. No, hear me out. The edition I read had a very long forward written in 2009 that significantly affected the views and relevance of the book. In the wake of the recession, Zakaria has an even stronger argument for the "rise of the rest" and the problems with American overconsumption. Besides, the hardback first edition came out for the first time in late 2008 anyway. So there.

I am attracted to Zakaria's idea of a world working toward economic globalization and more questioning and competition in global politics. I certainly think it's an accurate observation that this is the direction of the future. Actually, I would think it naive for anyone to believe otherwise. But how does Zakaria back this up? With lots and lots of statistics. Now, obviously he needs hard facts to support him, but not only was most of the information probably obsolete when it was published (as Zakaria admits), but I think he could have done a better job of picking and choosing the most relevant ones and building stronger arguments around those. I don't need to know how much the construction of every Chinese city cost. I appreciate his debunking of stats on Chinese and Indian engineering grads (stats include technical schools and students trained as plumbers and mechanics), as it shows how tempered he means his argument to be.

Zakaria is not saying that China will take over the world tomorrow, he's just saying we should form closer ties with the Chinese now, because they are already cultivating local influence and hold most of the world's (i.e. the U.S.'s) economic assets. But most of China is still underdeveloped, underpaid, and experiencing low quality of life.

I was very interested in what he had to say about India. Zakaria makes a few references to his own upbringing there. The world's largest democracy is leaning ever closer to the United States and the West in culture and economic practice. Yet again, he spouted too many statistics. I want personal interviews with Indians; how do they feel? where do they see their country among the powers of the world?

In addition to chapters on China ("The Challenger") and India ("The Ally"), Zakaria discusses the rise of American power (and the analogous rise to British power centuries before and subsequent fall) and American attitudes and behaviors politically, economically, and, to a lesser degree, socially. He has harsh criticism for American politics and the detriments of partisanship. I tend to think both the Republican and Democratic parties have outlived their usefulness, except for the relative stability of their infrastructure.

In the last chapter, Zakaria gets around to the most valuable part of the book. He gives a set of guidelines for how America can improve its image and political efficiency. If Washington is taking notes, I think we'd certainly be better off. Of course, no pundit or journalist should get carte blanche, but we need smart minds working together to create a system that works, not only for the United States, but for the rest of the world too.

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