The rise of the rest

If you haven’t yet done so, The Rise of the Rest in Newsweek is worth reading. Here’s an excerpt (hat tip to Richard Florida):

American parochialism is particularly evident in foreign policy. Economically, as other countries grow, for the most part the pie expands and everyone wins. But geopolitics is a struggle for influence: as other nations become more active internationally, they will seek greater freedom of action. This necessarily means that America’s unimpeded influence will decline. But if the world that’s being created has more power centers, nearly all are invested in order, stability and progress. Rather than narrowly obsessing about our own short-term interests and interest groups, our chief priority should be to bring these rising forces into the global system, to integrate them so that they in turn broaden and deepen global economic, political, and cultural ties. If China, India, Russia, Brazil all feel that they have a stake in the existing global order, there will be less danger of war, depression, panics, and breakdowns. There will be lots of problems, crisis, and tensions, but they will occur against a backdrop of systemic stability. This benefits them but also us. It’s the ultimate win-win.

To bring others into this world, the United States needs to make its own commitment to the system clear. So far, America has been able to have it both ways. It is the global rule-maker but doesn’t always play by the rules. And forget about standards created by others. Only three countries in the world don’t use the metric system—Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States. For America to continue to lead the world, we will have to first join it.

Americans—particularly the American government—have not really understood the rise of the rest. This is one of the most thrilling stories in history. Billions of people are escaping from abject poverty. The world will be enriched and ennobled as they become consumers, producers, inventors, thinkers, dreamers, and doers. This is all happening because of American ideas and actions. For 60 years, the United States has pushed countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. American diplomats, businessmen, and intellectuals have urged people in distant lands to be unafraid of change, to join the advanced world, to learn the secrets of our success. Yet just as they are beginning to do so, we are losing faith in such ideas. We have become suspicious of trade, openness, immigration, and investment because now it’s not Americans going abroad but foreigners coming to America. Just as the world is opening up, we are closing down.

Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don’t want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.

I love those last two paragraphs!

13 Responses to “The rise of the rest”

  1. Yes, we are a country in decline. We have sold or moved all our manufacturing to China. They hold loans over us due to trade imbalances. They have 1/4 of the world’s population, and an army that will kick our A** someday. This topic is disturbing, but we are in our final play.

    We cannot even control an area the size of Texas (Iraq), how do we think we could every challenge China. Yes we globalized the world….at our expense!

  2. I’m inclined as an Australian living in China to think that – America’s historical mission of Globalising (spelt with an s) the world is a bit of a romantisation of some fairly exploitive behaviour over the last 50 years.

    I also think that there is this allusion perpetuated in American media that the US actually has some real control/influence in the situation. If China and Saudi Arabia called in their loans to you – the sub-prime fiasco would look like a daily dip in the Dow Jones.

    It is interesting that the article evokes stability through interdependent trade and construction – the state most likely to react badly in the next 10 years is not amongst the axis of evil – it is the US! Talk about US military capacities just acerbates issue.

    The only army the US should be mobilising is the wealth of untapped talent degenerating in schools or those costing more in prison than to educate them at university. It is what all developing nations are doing.

    The Newsweek article while possible going as far as its readership could stomach is still ‘shutting the gate after the horse has bolted’. I think it is giving the illusion that there is still time. I hope, as in Australia, that with a change of government a new positive initiative can now start in America, after the conservative backlash of the late 90s and naughties.

    The analogy with education is very interesting – America has for many years been the broadcaster/lecturer/producer of content telling the rest of the world how to do it – what America ‘knew’ was its power. Now what it has to share is its future.

    I do believe the next decade will define the next 200 years. We are at a cross road; science and technology has given us the knowledge and the means to understand our baser instincts and hopefully circumvent them to evolve to something greater. This is a challenge for not just the US, but all of us.

    No US-bashing intended and I realise I am preaching to the choir with the readership of the edublogsphere. Still the Ausies will see you all in the pool in Beijing – sharksuits or not you are going down!

  3. “This is all happening because of American ideas and actions.”


  4. Not at all.

    Colonialism, neo-colonialism – all western powers and the individuals who elect them, all emerging power who attempt to copy their behaviours – are part of the problem. I am responsible you are responsible and someone in Beijing will be if the MOD of consumption does not change.

    Altruism is innate in humans but it may only stretch to about 25 individuals (the pre-agrarian tribal size). How do we go beyond our naked ape who wants to gather resources for the winter? How do we maintain a sense of the cause and effect around the world because of the choices we make in our shopping basket?

    How do we re-distribute our excess when there is so much need? Should I give to Sichuan or Burma, when people are still homeless because of Katrina? Should I just let those who control the media direct my attention, to serve current foreign policy?

    We are making this up as we go – but what most evolved people feel is an unnerving sense that ‘we can not go on like this’.

    Do I blame America – no I blame the Romans, or the Greeks, maybe the Abyssinians? Or any point when humans moved from agrarian to urban. Do I want to go backwards? No, I want to evolve, I want to be wise and I need everyones help?

    If we can be globally altruistic, beyond our biological predisposition and build trust, social collateral, understanding, collective responsibility – it sounds crazy but it just might work!

    Short of sporting competitiveness (which I just can not help myself, I’m an Aussie)I do not want my post to be divisive, we all need each other if it is going to change.

  5. I agree with Gilbert somewhat that Fareed overstates the U.S. influence case a bit (I love Fareed’s stuff btw – and most the article was good) and also simplifies it to a degree that I am not sure is warranted.

    That a global economic web would somehow prevent future conflicts I think it is bit of a stretch. What happens when all the upwardly mobile countries all do reach some state of equality? Are they just going to divvy up the scare resources equally? Is the UN going to be like the global food/oil/gold/etc. arbiter making sure that Uruguay gets the same even share per population as India, the U.S., and the Congo? What happens when you take capitalistic competition to a global scale? If we are all equal partners, who is in charge to regulate that? Unregulated capitalism is a pretty scary thing on that scale. Isn’t it just as likely that global competition will spurn global conflict as it is that it will spurn global prosperity?

    I just think that everyone is intent right now on getting to this globalized state … but what happens when we get there? How do you maintain something like that? Before we just push headlong toward this outcome, we need to think about it some more and there needs to be high-level conversations about what’s going to happen when we have truly global competition and billions and billions of people in competition for the same resource.

    I think a ton of good things are possible and I do think we need to open the U.S. up to more international influence, but I am concerned the stability and maintenance structures are not in place right now for this kind of thing.

  6. Hayden: I think you miss the point of the article. It isn’t that the United States is in decline, it’s just that everyone else is catching up.

    We’re using this article in both my Modern World History and Government classes. It’s an excellent exercise in comp. government and comp. economics.

  7. I’ve heard a similar argument before when looking at global test scores. We get all nervous and scared that the Finns are better at Math. Why be scared? Why not say, “Great for the Finns!”

    The book “Empire of Debt” has some great commentary on the U.S. situation. As our empire crumbles (yes i think you can describe our influence as an empire) the standard of living of those in the colonies increases as the colonists are deposed. So be it.

    I’m not looking forward to it but Americans probably have been living beyond our means for a number of years. Our debt and spending habits are atrocious. Sooner or later the debts come do and we have to pay the piper.

    As a former commodity trader for a living I’ve reopened my accounts and have been shorting the dollar and dow while selling puts on Gold. No reason we all have to go broke.

  8. As a math person, I find this piece very interesting:

    —A few years ago the National Science Foundation put out a scary and much-discussed statistic. In 2004, the group said, 950,000 engineers graduated from China and India, while only 70,000 graduated from the United States. But those numbers are wildly off the mark. If you exclude the car mechanics and repairmen—who are all counted as engineers in Chinese and Indian statistics—the numbers look quite different. Per capita, it turns out, the United States trains more engineers than either of the Asian giants.

    But America’s hidden secret is that most of these engineers are immigrants. Foreign students and immigrants account for almost 50 percent of all science researchers in the country. In 2006 they received 40 percent of all PhDs. By 2010, 75 percent of all science PhDs in this country will be awarded to foreign students. When these graduates settle in the country, they create economic opportunity. Half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have one founder who is an immigrant or first generation American. The potential for a new burst of American productivity depends not on our education system or R&D spending, but on our immigration policies. If these people are allowed and encouraged to stay, then innovation will happen here. If they leave, they’ll take it with them.—

    Sorry for the big cut and paste, but I felt it all needed to be part of the post. We have been scared to believe that everyone has more engineers/math/science than the US. Well, it seems that we have them, no matter where they come from. According to the article, we produce more “engineers,” and the world’s engineers come to the USA.

    Not near as scary as what we have been lead to believe. So we need to ask ourselves… Is this not what the United States is all about? People immigrating here for opportunity for themselves and their families? It seems consistent to our history as a country and what makes the USA the USA.

  9. Erik you are spot on – but is that ‘Brand US’ any more?

    The article is entitled the ‘Rise of the Rest’ the fact the rest are rising and that no matter what country you are from, to go home is more attractive than ever before.

    Once upon a time people went to the US because it had all the employment, the market and the freedoms. It doesn’t anymore. I might go ‘state side’ to train, network and do business – but now if I do not like it culturally I do not have to stay to make a living.

    My warning – do not be enticed by the Ellis Island Syndrome! You can keep attract the weak and down trodden and it suited the needs of an industrial society to maintain a largely unqualified (relative – some of them were doctors and engineers) workforce to keep labour cheap.

    The big change is ‘choice’?

    Once upon a time there was no choice; America was it. Now there is a choice.

    America was the country of choice for along time – but I think you would be reckless to believe that the fact that you are ‘America’ will be enough to attract and retain future talent. Remember also that as affluences increase your competitors will be throwing good money after bad and cultural guilt to retain their best and brightest.

    I think as always the new members of our nations will be the mot vibrant, optimistic and creative. But it will take more than seeing through dodge statistics from China to make the difference here.

  10. Gilbert, this is exactly why I like this blog.

    The US model: Ellis Island. It is now a syndrome? Wow…

    I agree with you regarding people are more likely to go “home” in this era. However, I refuse to believe that “America” doesn’t have a draw to attract people. Maybe that is because I don’t live in Hong Kong, but I fundamentally have a difficult time wrapping my mind around that argument.

    Obviously, I participate in this blog because I am motivated to understand changes and want to continue to be exposed to more opinions and thoughts.

    We get hammered in the schools regarding the future shortage of engineers in the US. If immigrants make up many of our engineering students, should we be concerned about keeping our own residents as well? Will US residents follow their peers to the new “Ellis Island” someplace else? Do more opportunities lie in another land?

  11. Erik

    Living in HK affords me this realisation; America has not become less attractive, but that new economies are become equally as attractive. That is the ‘rise of the rest’ and any values or activities based around a concept of the US’s unchallenged supremacy should be questioned. The hope that there will always be a skilled work force attracted to America to fill up capacity shortfall is one concept I think that should be challenged?

    My ‘syndroming’ of Ellis Island was to highlight nostalgia for a set of values that in a globalised more stable world will become irrelevant. Immigration occurs across a spectrum; refugees at one end, forced from their nation because of crisis and skilled workers at the other end, looking to leverage in a more developed economy. The two are not mutually exclusive and often the first wave of refugees are the more skilled and mobile members of the nation in crisis. This has been the nature of immigration that has served the Ellis Island syndrome well.

    Two things in the future will change that the first is perhaps optimistic and second is already occurring. Firstly as economies become more interdependent they will be less likely to go into sustained crisis as GDP rises. The resulting stability will mean fewer refugees; skilled or unskilled.

    Secondly as other economies rise, skilled individuals will have less desire to leave and more economies to choose from if the do go. As standards of living move towards equality, immigrants will become more expatriates, making lifestyle choices balancing off income, living conditions and the type of work in their proposed new country. So the engineer you attract to the US may stay for the project, but may not add value to your economy in the way the Ellis Islanders did. More like a consultant then an employee.

    You may be given the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free providing the do not already have freedom. You will not however be given or retain the skilled, the innovative and the entrepreneurial without competing at a global level. America will continue to be the destination of choice for many, but it can no longer sit there and wait for them to come.

    In terms of education; if the new immigrants are more like expatriates/consultants, not adding as much value to the economy as in the past, wouldn’t it be cheaper to educate your population to fill these capacities locally? Equally wouldn’t it be amazing to educate a new generation of Americans to compete globally and return revenue and expertise to the US?

  12. I usually like Fareed Zakaria’s column (he, by the way, is the author of the Newsweek article you quoted), but I think he got carried away with himself. “Billions of people are escaping from abject poverty”? I don’t think so. One billion people without access to clean water. Two million deaths each year by diarrhea. More than 50% of women in South Asia are illiterate.

    Mr. Zakaria has probably made the common error of assuming that everyone is average. Yes, amazing changes are happening everywhere. But these changes are happening in concentrated areas, and the gaps between the creative, mobile, globalized class and the rest are not shrinking. The “rise of the rest” is really more the “rise of the rest who are most like us”.

    Mr. Zakaria should have remembered his Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients from econ class: measurements of the distribution of wealth within countries. For example, here in Turkey the per capita GDP is around 9400 USD (in the US it’s about 46,000). But how many people here do you think can afford gasoline at more than 11.00 dollars per gallon?

    The truth is, no matter what country you pick, there are very few who live at that average GDP; a very small number live far above it, and the great majority live far below it (how many US families have income equal to that magic 46K per family member?).

    I’m glad some of the comments here brought this back to education. Most people still do not prepare themselves or their children for a drastically changed world. One example: I am constantly hearing well off, well educated Americans saying they wish they knew a foreign language, but I know only a handful that ever did anything about it. Sure change is hard and the future can be scary, but I think we could still be doing a lot more with what we already have (including our smarts and creativity), before we need to worry about what “they” will take away.

  13. “New immigrants are more like expatriates/consultants”

    That statement says a lot. Shall we call this the new Ellis Island Syndrome or the “Accenture” Syndrome?

    “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to educate your population to fill these capacities locally? Equally wouldn’t it be amazing to educate a new generation of Americans to compete globally and return revenue and expertise to the US?”

    The answer has to be YES. Is this not why we all read and participate in this blog? Gilbert, thanks for your perspective, your jottings have provided me some insightful reflection.

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