I have been studying Zero-Sum World by Gideon Rachman that just came out. It gave me the same feeling as Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World did during the spring of 2008: could it really be this bad? Then came the Lehman Brothers fall fifteenth of September. Rachman speculates today in The Financial Times if Germany is about to opt out from the Euro which would be an equal explosion. The problem is that Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, suggested the same thing last time the European debt crisis was up in the spring so now there are at least two people vouching for this possibility.
The book centers on the relationship between Asia and the West. Will the rise of Asia, and especially that of China, be peaceful? One would hope so but stress tests like the Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize turns out negative. Perhaps the Cheonan and today's bombardment of the South Korean island Yeonpyeong by North Korean artillery, by an ally to China of questionable sovereignty, can be counted as another negative.
A third negative is found in Zero-Sum World where Rachman discusses the Asian view on the West in general and Europe in particular. Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean diplomat and academic, is an optimist on Asia and the world but he thinks Europeans suffer from a "dangerous and distasteful form of cultural arrogance". After all, the peaceful rise of Asia where hundreds of million people are empowered is a result of the fruits of European culture as well as hard work and ingenuity of Asians.
Therefore it would be bad if Mahbubani, who was supposed to speak for Asians in general, in actuality does this. Because it would of course be easier if the Europeans and the Americans would get credit for the scientific revolution. The growth is anemic, but improving, in Europe but there should be no problem for us to stay online in the future. Growth is good, but it is not the only thing that matters. If the world is unlucky the West might be the only place where basic science actually can prosper. Time will tell. The Chinese are making the fastest computer as of last month, although partly on American processors, so technology competition is of course real.
There is also a discussion about whether or not liberal democracies develop from liberal economics. Francis Fukuyama, the man that coined the phrase that liberal democracy represents the end of history does not seem to think so. This has, however, been the mantra for investing heavily in China. Mahbubani does not think democracy is important for Asia although his Indian background makes him bullish on India. He claims, however, that Asians are afraid of the chaos that democracy induces which we in the West thinks is in actuality the key to progress. In an interconnected world this difference will become a friction point.
What troubles me is the seemingly mistake people make between the size of Asia's economy versus the per capita result that it generates. It is large, and this generates power, but when it comes to how a well functioning society is supposed to be constructed I believe West is far ahead with individuality and democracy. As I said, time will tell if the quality of scientific pursuit per capital will be the same in authoritarian systems with good economy. It certainly did not work very well in the less prosperous ones of Stalin and Mao.
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