The Post-American World


Fareed Zakaria (born in 1964) is a young, aggressive journalist – most active and "hot" in the world today.  Besides being an editor of Newsweek International Edition he runs his own web site.

In 2008 Zakaria published a book titled "Post-American World".  The book is very interesting – with rich, inspiring contents.  Apparently Zakaria has wonderful lucidity, exceptionally good writing ability, great vision and broad views.  This is without doubt one of the books that I would like to recommend to all – especially to young people.

The book consists of following contents (The English translation of the titles in Japanese edition are given within the parenthesis for your reference);

1. The Rise of the Rest (The Rise of "All Nations Except America")
2. The Cup Runneth Over (Power is Shifting in a Global Scale)
3. A Non-Western World? (A New World Where "Non-Western" and "Western" World Mix)
4. The Challenger (China Heads Toward "Asymmetrical Superpower")
5. The Ally (India – A Nation Burdened with Destiny of Democracy)
6. American Power (Will America Keep on Falling?)
7. American Purpose (Can America Globalize Herself?)

The book not only introduces a view of the world that holds America and China as the center of policy and economy but naturally, as Zakaria was born and brought up in India until age of 18, also takes into account the medium-long perspective and challenges of India that makes this book even more interesting, offering a slightly different point of view compared to other books under this kind of a theme.

"The Post-American World" is a world where America ceases to be the only superpower and "The Rise of the Rest" takes place.  In that respect, China and India will have exceptionally strong impact in the world because of their large population although their tremendous growth will inevitably be accompanied by countless challenges.  His insight here is quite something.

Zakaria studied at distinguished schools in Dubai, continued education at Yale University, earned his PhD in Politics at Harvard.  At an astonishingly young age of 27, he was appointed to the chief editor of Foreign Affairs (a publication of Council of Foreign Affairs), and from 2000 to date is working for Newsweek.

His view of America as a "Big Island Country" matches with my view; I also talk about it in lectures and other occasions.  In the last part of chapter 2 Zakaria writes (p.47-48);

"American politicians constantly and promiscuously demand, label, sanction, and condemn whole countries for myriad failings.  Over the last fifteen years, the United States has placed sanctions on half the world’s population.  We are the only country in the world to issue annual report cards on every other country’s behavior.  Washington, D.C., has become a bubble, smug and out of touch with the world outside."

"The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey (Pew Research Center; one of the nonpartisan think tank of America = footnote) showed a remarkable increase worldwide in positive views about free trade, marets, and democracy.  Large majorities in countries from China and Germany to Bangladesh and Nigeria said that growing trade ties between countries were good.  Of the forty-seven countries polled, however, the one that came in dead last in terms of support for free trade was the United States.  In the five years the survey has been done, no country has seen as great a drop-off as the United States."

"Or take a look at the attitudes toward foreign companies.  When asked whether they had a positive impact, a surprisingly large number of people in countries like Brazil, Nigeria, India, and Bangladesh said yes.  Those countries have typically been suspicious of Western multinationals.  (South Asia’s unease has some basis;  after all, it was initially colonized by a multinational corporation, the British East India Company.)  And yet, 73 percent in India, 75 percent in Bangladesh, 70 percent in Brazil, and 82 percent in Nigeria now have positive views of these companies.  The figure for America, in contrast, is 45 percent, which places us in the bottom five.  We want the world to accept American companies with open arms, but when they come here ? that’s a different matter."

"Attitudes on immigration represent an even larger reversal.  On an issue where the United States has been the model for the world, the country has regressed toward an angry defensive couch.  Where we once wanted to pioneer every new technology, we now look at innovation fearfully, wondering how it will change things."

"The irony is that the rise of the rest is a consequence of American ideas and actions.  For sixty years, American politicians and diplomats have traveled around the world pushing countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology.  We have urged peoples in distant lands to take up the challenge of competing in the global economy, freeing up their currencies, and developing new industries.  We counseled them to be unafraid of change and learn the secrets of our success.  And it worked: the natives have gotten good at capitalism."

"But now we are becoming suspicious of the very things we have long celebrated ? free markets, trade, immigration, and technological change.  And all this is happening when the tide is going our way.  Just as the world is opening up, America is closing down."

"Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, the United States succeeded in its great and historic mission ? it globalized the world.  But along the way, they might write, it forgot to globalize itself."

Footnote: Recently the Center supported a research related to international arguments on whaling and I participated in some of its meetings.  This April, the Center produced "A Roadmap for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change" in collaboration with Asia Society.

Zakaria also points out that the best industry of America is "University Education". 
His early education was in "Asian" method ・・・in which the premium is placed on memorization and constant testing・・・I recall memorizing vast quantities of material, regurgitating it for exams, and then promptly forgetting it."

"When I went to college in the United States, I encountered a different world.  While the American system is to lax on rigor and memorization… is much better at developing the critical faculties of the mind, which is what you need to succeed in life.  Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think." (p.193)

"Tharman Shanmugaratnam, until recently Singapore’s minister of education, explains the difference between his country’s system and America’s.  "We both have meritocracies," Shanmugaratnam says.  "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy.  We know how to train people to take exams.  You know how to use people’s talents to the fullest.  Both are important, but there are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well – like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition.  Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority・・・." (p.193,194)

I think this argument is persuasive since America’s higher education contributed much to Dr. Zakaria’s success in becoming a world class opinion leader at such an surprisingly young age.  Compare this with Japanese higher education and think very hard, please.

Zakaria says, however, that "America remains by far the most attractive destination for students・・・All these advantages will not be erased easily, because the structure of European and Japanese universitiesp―mostly state-run bureaucracies―is unlikely to change."  He also points out that "・・・while China and India are opening new institutions, it is not that easy to create a world-class university out of whole cloth in a few decades." (p.191)