Today We Learn About: The Post-American World

In Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World the reader is given an insight into the growing global economy in which countries like China and India are gaining ground on the current world superpower, The United States of America. Also given are detailed examples of where the United States has gone wrong, and what improvements can be made in order to better adapt to the changing global power structure. The United States has slowly become a country that focuses on the worst of the world around it, leaving the nation unprepared to actually deal with the problems that arise in a changing landscape. (Zakaria 27) This is a landscape that is marked by the resurgence and return to greatness of two of the pre-industrial worlds great powers, China and India. China’s dictatorship has taken an active role in transforming that nation over the past thirty years, while in India the democratically run government has also seen considerable growth during this time period. In the meantime, the America that once influenced and set the global standard has been slipping away much the same way Britain did at the time of the Boer War. (173) Zakaria makes a case for America returning to this prior policy of “world building” through various means rather than the nations current trend toward bully tactics. All in all, Zakaria’s main points and ideas are well received and interesting. With that said, some of the information certainly leads the reader towards larger questions that, while somewhat addressed in the book, could definitely use some further thought.

Zakaria states “..focusing on the gloom has also left us unprepared for many of the largest problems we face: which are the product not of failure but of success.” (27) He goes on explain that global growth has a tremendous impact on natural resources and the environment. As gloomy as the American outlook might be with its current economic woes and fighting abroad, it is hard to say that this is causing the American people to ignore certain aspects of our countries growth more so than any other factor might. We are a nation that is easily distracted, and looking to benefit from the here and now. It is likely that relatively few closely follow politics, let alone sit and ponder the future of our nation in the growing global economy. Further, Zakaria explains that global growth has a tremendous impact on natural resources and the environment. (30) Is this not an obvious point? Zakaria acts throughout The Post-American World, as if global growth is possible without a tremendous impact on natural resources and the environment. On these points Zakaria fails to realize that again, most Americans are largely unconcerned with the future of the global economy or the impact it may or may not have. With that said, there are certainly those who are very much aware of these facts. These are the individuals who are active in preserving the environment, or our natural resources. Is Zakaria speaking to these individuals? If so, he is preaching to the choir. If not, he fails to mention alternatives so that we may become involved in changing global policy.

A major topic throughout The Post-American World is the growth of China on the global stage. Zakaria explains that China is rising in the eastern world, has a quick growing economy, and a strong workforce. The Chinese government is taking steps to ensure that their economy continues to grow by having an open trade and investment policy, along with low cost manufacturing. (91) The rate of growth in China is astonishing, and the quickness with which they improve their infrastructure is only possible because the regime does not need to worry about what voters might think. Even bearing in mind that China has lifted four hundred million people out of poverty in the last thirty years, there are still those who refuse to recognize China as a blossoming global power. (89) This standpoint is irresponsible. In the United States, there is currently a massive movement towards a public health care option. We are trying to get health insurance for every man, woman, and child. Meanwhile, China has been able to pull a sum of individuals out of poverty that is almost one hundred million more people than we have in our entire country. This is no feat to ignore, but one to use as a measuring stick. If the United States is the beacon of democracy in the world, than we should begin working together towards common interests and goals in a more refined and organized manner. Zakaria points out that public works projects are finished in a matter of weeks, and this is because of the lack of red tape within the government. In no way is socialism or communism being advocated in this instance, but if the United States wishes to stay on the forefront of global politics, perhaps we should take a lesson from the Chinese and put some more work into implementing projects that help our people.

The latter third of Zakaria’s book focuses on the United States’ current position in the world, and how we reached this point. He takes a fairly critical stance, but also offers up some very insightful suggestions. Along the way, Zakaria draws a very interesting parallel between the current-day United States, and 19th century Britain. The British rose to power in the 17th and 18th centuries, but was later devastated by very specific events that parallel some of the mistakes the United States has made over the last ten years. The British wasted an enormous amount of money on the Boer War in 1867, and the United States did the same in Iraq. The two countries also made similar political and economic mistakes (173, 177) Though there is much to compare with the Britain of the past, America sets itself apart today as a world leader in almost all categories suggesting that our slide has not been nearly as severe as that of the British Empire. There is one category of leadership that is most compelling. Higher Education is America’s best industry, and this is sighted as a reason for the United States continued reign in the global landscape. (190) Unlike many other nations, our schools encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and individual expression. Oddballs and risk-takers are our captains of industry, and much of the entrepreneurial success that our citizens have enjoyed is a product of this attitude. This differs greatly from countries like China and India, where the main measure of a childs intelligence is a test score. Zakaria’s observation on this aspect of American schooling is quite on-point, but in complete contrast with the “No Child Left Behind” initiative. The current policy has a major focus on test scores as a measure of academic readiness and success. This appears to be in direct contrast with the evidence that Zakaria provides in The Post-American World. Are we to believe that Zakaria has it wrong? With such a convincing argument behind him, it is hard to imagine this to be the case.

Throughout The Post-American World, Zakaria makes a case for America’s position in the world. In order to do so, it is important to speak frankly and be honest about the nations recent dealings. America has become the most important nation in the world, and should take steps to stay in that position. In the past this position has been maintained by assuming the role of world builder (under Truman), but recently we have taken advantage of our position and become seen by the world as a nation of bullies. (216-219) We believe strongly in competition, but do not wish to compete with other nations for world standing. We ignore the fact that other nations are bound to rise. Instead of helping nations reach a point where they can compete for the betterment of their nation and the world, we keep their status in check for as long as possible. (219) America has further squandered its global good standing by fighting a massively unpopular war in Iraq. (226) All too often, we have seen the executive branch of this nation ignore the needs and desires of the rest of the globe. It should be realized that there is a fine line between global crusader and bully, between cooperation and appeasement. It is time that our administration recognizes this fact, and starts to take steps towards a more accepting attitude. That is, accept the worlds criticism, point of view, and desires. Only when our nations mind is truly open can we hope to further our position on this world.

It has been said that most people have one of two mindsets. They either have a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset.1 This same theory can be applied to the nations of the world. Throughout The Post-American World Zakaria, while supportive of the United States, indirectly makes the case that our nation has a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is characterized by a stagnant world view, discomfort with changing paradigms, and a desire for all important aspects of ones life to stay same. There is no gain in intelligence, power, athleticism, or world standing. We, or nations, are born with a “limiter” of sorts. Without saying so specifically, Zakaria makes the case that America needs to move towards a growth mindset where it is OK to try new approaches and even fail, as long as we try again and attempt to improve upon our prior results. Whether our government and society can make this shift towards a growth mindset remains to be seen, however there have been recent attempts by our current administration to do just that. The closing of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is a prime example. A shift from the classic play book, a motion towards listening, evaluating, and reacting if necessary. This is the shift that Zakaria is looking for throughout The Post-American World, and it is a message that is unlikely to fall upon deaf ears. Anyone who reads this book is sure to walk away with a greater understanding of the way the world economy operates, and the steps that the United States needs to take in order to maintain its position as world leader.

1Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Published by: Random House

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