Tag Archives: Fareed Zakaria

Is America on the Decline? Can it Rise Again? — Insight and counsel from James Fallows of The Atlantic

We are in the midst of a lot of soul searching right now.  As a nation, we are worried that we have lost our way.

It turns out that this practice is a very American one, so it is no surprise that it is happening again.

The book that I have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis that deals most directly with this issue is The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria.  I have blogged a number of times about this book.  (For example, here).

James Fallows

In the latest issue of the Atlantic, James Fallows has a substantial, substantive, terrific article entitled: How America Can Rise Again. An award-winning author, Fallows also has lived abroad more than once, most recently in China.  So, he has an international perspective to bring to this question, and he begins the article with this:

Since coming back to the United States after three years away in China, I have been asking experts around the country whether America is finally going to hell. The question is partly a joke. One look at the comforts and abundance of American life—even during a recession, even with all the people who are suffering or left out—can make it seem silly to ask about anything except the secrets of the country’s success. Here is the sort of thing you notice anew after being in India or China, the two rising powers of the day: there is still so much nature, and so much space, available for each person on American soil. Room on the streets and sidewalks, big lawns around the houses, trees to walk under, wildflowers at the edge of town—yes, despite the sprawl and overbuilding. A few days after moving from our apartment in Beijing, I awoke to find a mother deer and two fawns in the front yard of our house in Washington, barely three miles from the White House. I know that deer are a modern pest, but the contrast with blighted urban China, in which even pigeons are scarce, was difficult to ignore.

He echoes a number of the concerns raised in Zakaria’s book, and provides a well-documented list of examples of the American acceptance of the validity of the Jeremiad“the bracing “jeremiad” tradition of harsh warnings that reveal a faith that America can be better than it is.”

One point made by Zakaria that Fallows reinforces is this:  the Post-American World is not a signal that America is in decline, but that the rest of the world is rising.  Here’s an excerpt from Fallows:

One kind of “decline” is inevitable and therefore not worth worrying about. China has about four times as many people as America does. Someday its economy will be larger than ours. Fine! A generation ago, its people produced, on average, about one-sixteenth as much as Americans did; now they produce about onesixth. That change is a huge achievement for China—and a plus rather than a minus for everyone else, because a business-minded China is more benign than a miserable or rebellious one. When the Chinese produce one-quarter as much as Americans per capita, as will happen barring catastrophe, their economy will become the world’s largest. This will be good for them but will not mean “falling behind” for us. We know that for more than a century, the consciousness of decline has been a blight on British politics, though it has inspired some memorable, melancholy literature. There is no reason for America to feel depressed about the natural emergence of China, India, and others as world powers.

I read this on the same day that we learned that the automobile market in China has now surpassed that in the United States.  The growth of the economies of some of the world’s most populous countries is simply inevitable in a modern era.

Though the article points out a lot of problems (among them, our infrastructure is truly crumbling…), the Fallows article is actually encouraging, emphasizing a great belief in our future, because America is a place where the future can be built, changed, rebuilt, re-envisioned, over and over again.

But he does have a hefty warning of just what could be deeply wrong that can threaten our future.  I’ll let you read the article.  It provides quite a question to ponder.

This is one of the best essays I have read in quite some time!

Is America Losing Its Mojo? – Fareed Zakaria on the threat to our “Innovation Advantage”

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria

I’ve written many times on this blog, including earlier this morning, on the need to constantly innovate.  And I’ve written a few posts on the excellent book by Fareed Zakaria, The Post American World.

Well, you might want to check out this new article in Newsweek by Zakaria.  He raises the disturbing question, Is America Losing Its Mojo?:  Innovation is as American as baseball and apple pie. But some traditions can’t be trademarked.

Here’s a key quote:
Could it be that American achievements reflect the past more than predicting the future? It’s important to remember that many of the metrics that place the United States so far ahead are actually lagging indicators. Nobel Prizes tend to be given to scientists in their 70s, toward the end of their productive lives. What’s happening among scientists in their 30s? Who’s making the discoveries today that will receive Nobel Prizes four decades from now?

He ends the article with these words:
We kicked all the real problems we face down the road, hoping that someone else would solve them. This too has become part of American culture, a culture that desperately needs to change if we are to preserve American innovation and rekindle the real American Dream.

Innovation and the American Dream go together.  Let’s hope we can change enough to reclaim our advantage in innovation.

Is America Really in Decline?

Is America really in decline?

This question seems to be popping up with more frequency.  The latest comes from Rick Newman from U.S. News & World Report.  In an article entitled Nine Signs of America in Decline, he begins this way:
The sky isn’t falling, exactly. America isn’t on a fast track to irrelevance. Even in a state of total neglect, we could probably shamble along as a disheveled superpower for a few more decades.
But all empires end, and the warning signs of American decline seem to be blinking more consistently.

The article is filled with links (for those who want to really dive deeply into this discouraging scenario), including “4 problems that could sink America:  we don’t like to work, nobody wants to sacrifice, and we’re uninformed.”

Spiegel International trains its sights on our middle class in an article entitled: America’s Middle Class Has Become Globalization’s Loser by Gabor Steingart.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States is still a superpower. But it’s a superpower facing competition from beyond its borders as well as internal difficulties. Its lower and middle classes are turning out to be the losers of globalization.

This article is one of a series of excerpts from the new book “World War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity” by Spiegel editor Gabor Steingart.

There have been many warning signs through the years.
David Halberstam’s book, The Reckoning, warned about softness in America compared to a more energetic work ethic, born of hunger, in countries on the ascendancy.

Technology has taken so many, many jobs away from those with education that stops before a college degree.  And Fareed Zakaria wrote The Post-American World, in which he argued that it’s not so much America in decline as it is that the rest of the world is rising.  Here’s an excerpt:

This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else.  It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood…

Look around.  The tallest building in the world in now in Taipei, and it will soon be overtaken by one being built in Dubai.  The world’s richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese.  The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is under construction in India, and its largest factories are all in China.  London is becoming the leading financial center, and the United Arab Emirates is home to the most richly endowed investment fund.  Once quintessentially American icons have been appropriated by foreigners.  The world’s largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore.  Its number one casino is not in Las Vegas but in Macao, which has also overtaken Vegas in annual gambling revenues.  The biggest movie industry, in terms of both movies made and tickets sold, is Bollywood, not Hollywood.  Even shopping, America’s greatest sporting activity, has gone global.  Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States:  the world’s biggest is in Beijing.  Such lists are arbitrary, but it is striking that only ten years ago, American was at the top in many, if not most, of these categories.

Let me be so bold as to offer a couple of my own observations.

1)  We’re developed, the others are developing.

Developing is more exciting, and more “profitable,” than “developed.”  Growth rates are higher, excitement is higher, and developing spurs ever more growth rates while developing.

The signs are all around us.  Mary Kay, McDonald’s…, company after company is finding more growth across the world than they can find in America.  America is “grown.”  The rest of the world is “growing.”  We built our Interstate Highway System long ago.  The growth that brought our country was massive.  Other countries are now building their highway systems (I use this literally and figuratively), and their growth will be massive.  Developing is exciting – developed is stable.  And, ironically, stable is not as exciting as developing.

2)  The jobless recovery could become a permanent high-percentage jobless economy.

This is truly worrisome.  There is plenty being written about this. The problem is simple:  what we used to call “blue collar jobs” have disappeared in huge numbers.  For example, it used to take hundreds of strong “men” to unload a ship at a port – not it takes a dozen people at a computer terminal with robotic technology loading and unloading containers.  These hundreds of men have nowhere else to go to find the work they were qualified/trained to do.  Education is critical, and America is not growing in our educational excellence.  Many warn that we are falling behind.

Here’s a line from the Spiegel book excerpt:
The new jobs were created elsewhere, which had to have an effect on family income in the United States.

If we do not re-train our work force, and innovate our ways into brand new jobs yet unseen, this will grow from being a big problem to a huge, huge problem.

Solutions?

Thomas Freidman wrote, in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, that in many places in other parts of the world there are too many Americans – too many wanting to modernize, with modern appliances, modern technology, with cars and affluence.

In other words, they are developing – we are developed.

I think the solution will lie in the American ability to be bold, daring, innovative – to be American.  We have to out-America the rest of the world.  I think we will, but our work is cut out for us.

The President’s Summer Reading List – Hot, Flat, and Crowded makes the cut

Slate.com has an article by John Dickerson on the president’s summer reading list.    It includes a great trip back through time, reminding us that John Kennedy liked Ian Fleming, (here’s a witty line from the article.  President Obama is unlikely to choose Fleming, because “in the heat of this year’s health care debate, the president doesn’t dare read anything by anyone who once wrote a book called Dr. No.”), President George W. Bush read The Stranger by Camus, and President  Bill Clinton read everything!  (On one visit to a Martha’s Vineyard book store, President Clinton “walked the aisles pointing to books, saying, “Read that, read that, read that,” according to Susan Mercier, the manager”).

Here’s the reading list for President Obama (from the article):

• The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington, D.C.;
• Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York’s Lower East Side;
• Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution;
• John Adams by David McCullough;
• Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.

Notice that the list includes Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, though, Dickerson writes, “I bet Obama doesn’t finish the Friedman. There’s no book on his list more like his evening briefing books.”

This is the second book that I have presented at the First Friday book Synopsis that has been on a reading list of Mr. Obama.  Last summer, in the midst of the campaign, he was reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World.  (Here’s a photo of then candidate Obama with a copy The Post-American World).

Both books are worth reading.  Here’s a key quote from each:

From Hot, Flat, and Crowded:

Green is the new red, white, and blue because it is a strategy that can help to ease global warming, biodiversity loss, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and energy supply shortages – and make America stronger at the same time.  We solve our own problems by helping the world solve its problems.  We help the world solve its problems by solving our own problems.
If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetrated on the United States of America.  Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon:  If you make it to the Olympics, you have a better chance of winning because you’ve developed every muscle.  If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life.  And as with the triathlon, you don’t just improve one muscle or skill, but many, which become mutually reinforcing and improve the health of your whole system.  (p. 173).

From The Post-American World:

This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else.  It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood…  Though we talk about a new era, the world seems to be one with which we are familiar.  But in fact, it is very different.  (p. 1).
Look around.  The tallest building in the world in now in Taipei, and it will soon be overtaken by one being built in Dubai.  The world’s richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese.  The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is under construction in India, and its largest factories are all in China.  London is becoming the leading financial center, and the United Arab Emirates is home to the most richly endowed investment fund.  Once quintessentially American icons have been appropriated by foreigners.  The world’s largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore.  Its number one casino is not in Las Vegas but in Macao, which has also overtaken Vegas in annual gambling revenues.  The biggest movie industry, in terms of both movies made and tickets sold, is Bollywood, not Hollywood.  Even shopping, America’s greatest sporting activity, has gone global.  Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States:  the world’s biggest is in Beijing.  Such lists are arbitrary, but it is striking that only ten years ago, American was at the top in many, if not most, of these categories. (pp. 2-3).

What’s on your reading list?

On America’s Greatness — for the 4th of July, from Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World

Business books celebrate our freedom, and business leaders are full participants in the American experiment.   But one author in particular brings a unique perspective.  Fareed Zakaria arrived in this country at age 18.  He has written about freedom in his book The Future of Freedom:  Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.  But it is his closing passage from his best-selling book The Post-American World that is worthy of our attention on this 4th of July weekend.  It speaks of difficulty, yet of hope and promise.  Here it is in its entirety:

In the fall of 1982, I arrived here as an eighteen-year-old student from India, eight thousand miles away.  America was in rough shape.  That December, unemployment hit 10.8 percent, higher than at any point since World War II.  Interest rates hovered around 15 percent.  Vietnam, Watergate, the energy crisis, and the Iranian hostage crisis had all battered American confidence.  Images of helicopters on the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, of Nixon resigning, of long lines at gas stations, and of the hostages blindfolded were all fresh in people’s minds.  The Soviet Union was on a roll, expanding its influence far beyond its border, from Afghanistan to Angola to Central America.  That June, Israel invaded Lebanon, making a volatile situation in the Middle East even more tense.

Yet America was a strikingly open and expansive country.  Reagan embodied it.  Despite record-low approval ratings at the time, he exuded optimism from the center of the storm.  In the face of Moscow’s rising power, he confidently spoke of a mortal crisis in the Soviet system and predicted that it would end up on “the ash heap of history.”  Across the political aisle stood Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, the hearty Irish-American Speaker of the House, who personified the generosity and tolerance of old-school liberalism.  Everywhere I went, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming.   It was a feeling I had never felt before, a country wide open to the world, to the future, and to anyone who loved it.  To a young visitor, it seemed to offer unlimited generosity and promise.

For America to thrive in this new and challenging era, for it to succeed amid the rise of the rest, it need fulfill only one test.  It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago.

Happy 4th of July!

{I have read, but have not presented a synopsis of, The Future of Freedom.  To purchase my synopsis of The Post-American World, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.

Fareed Zakaria’s Post American World on the Business Week Summer Reading List

Business Week just published one of those wonderful “Books to Read this Summer” pieces, entitled:  Beach Blanket Ambitions — or Come Back from the Beach a Bit Savvier.  (I take the paper version of Busienss Week, and read the article in the magazine.  You can read the article on-line here).

Here is a paragraph about one of my favorite books from the last 12 months:  “Fareed Zakaria’s best seller from ’08, The Post-American World (Norton, $15.95), remains chillingly relevant. Timed, perhaps, to broaden the conversation prior to the last Presidential election, the book lays out how badly the U.S. has been playing a geopolitical hand he calls “the best of any country in history.” In painting a portrait of the growing prowess and stature of China and India, as well as the rapid progress of many African nations, Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, also makes it clear the U.S. is not yet a lost cause. Its strengths include a maligned but still unparalleled education system and the cross-border bonds built by American multinationals.”

I presented my synopsis of this book at the July, 2008 First Friday Book Synospis, and here it is a year later, still recommended as an important book to read.  I fully agree.  I remember that as I was reading it, then Candidate Obama was caught in a photo with a copy in his hand.  (“So now we know what Barack Obama is reading these days: Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World.” This is, in its way, the most stylish book ad I’ve seen in a while. Looks like Obama is on Page, I dunno, 116..”  — You can see the photo with Obama carrying the book in the New York Times “Paper Cuts:  A Blog about Books” here).

And here are a couple of key quotes from the book:  “This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else.  It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood…  Though we talk about a new era, the world seems to be one with which we are familiar.  But in fact, it is very different.”  (p. 1).  And — “The world is moving from anger to indifference, from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.”  (p. 36).

I think this is one of the more important books I have read in the last few years.  A few years ago, I presented a review of The Future of Freedom:  Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria for a Saturday at the Melrose program for the World Affairs Council in Dallas.  That too was an important book to read, and it provided critical background to help me understand such issues as the current post-election crisis in Iran.  I think Fareed Zakaria’s writings are worth our time.

—————

The rest of the books on the Business Week recommended list do not quite fit the needs we have for book selections for the First Friday Book Synopsis.  (That’s a subtle way of saying I have not read these other books).  But here is the list, compiled and recommended by Barry Maggs, and I wish I had time to read each of these books.  They sound truly interesting.  Mr. Maggs edits the Jack and Suzy Welch column, The WelchWay, and he also handles book reviews for the Business Views section of the magazine.  I suspect that one of more of these titles might interest readers of this blog.  Here is his list with a few brief comments by Mr. Maggs.  (Read the article here).

Felix Dennis. Surprisingly, How to Get Rich: One of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets (Portfolio, $16), by the man who made a mint with lad magazine Maxim,

Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World (Norton, $15.95),

Next on the menu, alphabet soup. In Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (Simon & Schuster, $16), investigative reporter Tim Shorrock turns his sights on the 16 agencies—from the CIA to the NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency)—that report to the ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence).

The fraught and at times fraudulent world of fine wine is the setting for The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Three Rivers Press, $14.95). Author Benjamin Wallace delivers a delicious account of how wine con man (and rock band manager) Hardy Rodenstock relieved Malcolm Forbes of $156,000 in exchange for a bottle of Château Lafite.

Richard H. Thaler, the grand old man of behavioral economics, and Cass R. Sunstein, President Barack Obama’s regulations czar, teamed up to write Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Penguin, $16). The idea that humans make choices irrationally shouldn’t come as a surprise…

Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas (Hyperion, $15.99) examines the risk-taking and the outrageous egos of three inventive and diverse players in the gambling world – by author Christina Binkley.

In the acclaimed A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (Grove Press $16.95), William J. Bernstein roams freely through history to nail down long-distance trade’s 7,000-year evolution, as well as its costs and many benefits.

Have you picked out your summer volumes yet?

(To purchase my synopsis of The Post American Worldall by Malcolm Gladwell, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).