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 The New Asian Hemisphere by Kishore Mahbubani


Notes by Ben Casnocha. Much of this contains direct quotes from the book.


They called it the Industrial Revolution because for the first time in all of human history standards of living in a human life span -- changes of perhaps 50%. At current growth rates in Asia standards of living may rise 100 fold, 10,000 percent within a human life span. The rise of Asia and all that follows will be the dominant story in history books written 300 years from now, with the Cold War and rise of Islam as secondary stories. - Larry Summers


The rise of Asia will be good for the world. China's modernization has already reduced the number of Chinese living in absolute poverty from six hundred million to two hundred million. The "March to Modernity" is happening in China and India (who are emulating Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore) and, at some point, the Islamic world of Western Asia, too.


It was the West (US and Europe) that triggered the Asian March to Modernity, so it should be cheering this positive new direction of world history. Instead, leading Western minds are filled with dread and foreboding. Why? Mahubani attemps to explain why.


For previous three centuries, the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America were objects of world history. Decisions that drove history were made in D.C., Paris, Berlin, London. Misnamed World War I and World War II were carrierd out w/o consulting majority of world's population. Today, the 5.6 billion people who live outside the Western universe (of 900 million) will no longer accept decisions made on their behalf in Western capitals.


Asians want to replicate, not dominate, the West. The universilization of the Western dream should represent a moment of triumph for the West. Yet Western leaders keep talking about how "dangerous" the world has become.


Although the West wants to export democracy, it also wants to maintain power over the world. The West uses its international institutions, military power, and economic resources to run the world in a way that will maintain Western predominance and promote Western political and economic values. Hence the discussion is not about how the West should adapt to a rising East; but rather how the West can maintain dominance.


Three scenarios for what's next:

  1. March to Modernity
  2. Retreat into Fortresses
  3. Western Triumpahlsim


March to Modernity

"Modernity" has connotions of cultural or artistic strains. Here he's using the word more simply: it means basic modern living standards. One litmus test is existence of a flush toilet. Only 15-20 percent of the world population has access to a flush toilet.  Nearly 42% of humanity is without toilets. The rise of millions to have access to toilets, for example, is a remarkable and empowering thing.


When many Western observers look to China they cannot see past the lack of democratic political system. What they miss is the mass democratization of the human spirit. Hundreds of millions of Chinese who thought they were destined for endless poverty now bleieve that they can improve their lives through their own efforts.


The reduction of poverty will lead to a more peaceful world, more ethical universe.


The scale of the number of people lifted out of poverty, access to cell phone, to flush toilet, etc is staggering. In a space of two decades some billion to billion and a half people will have been connected to the modern world.


Retreat into Fortresses

Most visible example is trade protectionism. EU protectionism deprives developing countries of nearly $700 billion in export income a year. US is also bad. Millions of poor West African cotton farmers suffer because 25,000 rich American cotton farmers get billions in subsidies.


A good example of European countries protecting its own interests and not thinking of the larger whole lies in the EU and languages. The "united" EU must speak to itself in 23 different languages, which means hundreds of millions of dollars each year are spent for interpreting and translation services. A full day meeting in European parliment costs $170,000 if all languages are in use; whereas if only English, French, and German were used the cost would fall to $12,000. The European discourse is dominated by competitive populism, internally as well as toward the world.


Given a choice of promoting larger global interests (Which would eventually also benefit the West by creating a more stable and peaceful world) and protecting short-term and narrow sectoral interests, the West has increasingly shown a dismal record of dumping the world in favor of small but powerful lobbies.


A retreat into fortess mentality also exists in how European governments view international institutions. A redistriciton of power favoring the Pacific Rim means European countries will lose power, and as such, clinging to their veto votes, they are resisting changes to institutions which lack significant Asian representation.


Western Triumphalism

The West emerges, a la James Baker and Francis Fukuyama, as triumphant, the liberal system of the West wins out. This assumes the free market democractic system is best for all the developing world. In Russia, Balkans, and elsewhere this experiment in the post-Cold War era failed. Amy Chua of Yale Law has pointed out how democractization can release long-suppressed hatred against a prosperous ethnic minority: ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, attacks on Chinese minority in Indonesia, and Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda.  The combined pursuit of free markets and democratization has repeatedly catalyzed ethnic conflict in highly predicatable ways.


Why Is Asia Rising?

They recognize the importance of these seven pillars, much of it learned from the West:

  • Free market economics (China's failure in Greap Leap Forward taught this)
  • Science and technology (India and IIT and Silicon Valley success of its immigrants)
  • Meritocracy
    • The simplest way of understanding the virtues of meritocracy is to ask this question: why is Brazil a soccer superpower and an economic middle power? The answer is that when it looks for soccer talent, it searches for it in all sectors of the population, from the upper classes to the slums. A boy from the slums is not discriminated against if he has soccer talent. But in the economic field, Brazil looks for talent in a far smaller base of the population, primarily from the upper and middle classes.
  • Pragmatism (apply best practices from anywhere in the world)
  • Culture of Peace (violence down)
  • Rule of Law
  • Education


Why is the West Not Celebrating?

The rise of Asia will result in no absolute losses: most Western states will remain among the most affluent and well-endowed states. However, there will be relative losses. The relative material superiority the material West has enjoyed for centuries will gradually diminish.


There will also be relative losses in power. Raises a real dilemma for Western states: Should they be guided by their material interests and cling on to this power, or should they be guided by their values and begin to cede and share power?


Institutions like IMF and World Bank and UN Security Council dominated by the west. The great paradox is that this undemocratic world order is sustained by the world's most democratic nation-states, the Western nations. At home they would never allow a minority of the population to make mandatory decisions over the majority. Globally, this is exactly what the West does. The 900 million people who live in Western countries elect govt's that in turn control a world order determining the fate of the remaining 5.6 billion people on the planet.


G-8 meetings are most glaring example. Western leaders gather, issue pretentious pronouncements on every global challenge, and media covers it as if all world leaders have spoken. Hard to find one positive thing the G-8 has achieved.


Fundamentally, there is a near-universal refusal by most Western minds to acknowledge that the west dominates and controls the world in order to serve Western interests. They cannot conceive that a better world could emerge without Western supremacy.


Conception of China Freedom


Many in the West do not understand the realities of China. A profound revival of China's civilization is occuring. Many in the West cannot even conceive of this because in their mind an "unfree" society like China cannot possibly be progressing. The Western mind has a rigid, one-dimensional, and ideological understanding of the term "freedom."


In the eyes of the West, freedom (a word often written with a capital F) is seen as an absolute virtue. It has to be complete for it to be effective; to speak of any people being "half free" is as ludicrous as saying someone is "half pregnant." The idea that freedom can be relative and can indeed take many forms is alien. But for the Chinese, in real terms -- if the ycompare their lives today with tehir lives a few decades ago -- they have achieved much greater freedom.


The notion of "human fredom" can have many layers. The fundamental layer of human freedom is freedom from want. A human being who cannot feed himself or his family cannot possibly be free. Famine is more damaging to human freedom than a politically closed society. To tell people who are struggling to stay alive that they are "Free" because a distant despotic ruler has been removed will appear meaningless to them. In terms of their daily lives, "freedom" will come with liberation from the fight for survival. In this sense, the Chinese people have never enjoyed greater human freedom....As a result of China's rapid growth over the last three decades, the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen from 600 million people to slighly more than 200 milion people.


Then follows freedom of security. The only way to enjoy freedom is to stay alive. This is why many people of Iraq find it hard to believe that they are now enjoying greater freedom than they did under Saddam. Now they can't feel safe walking the streets of Baghdad; under Saddam's oppressive regime, they still felt safe. By contrast, citizens of Beijing have never enjoyed as much personal security as they do now. Beijing people don't want to go to Baghdad. Where is there greater human freedom?


Then freedom to choose employment. Millions have migrated to cities in China and found new, higher paying work. Yet Western media portrays these new workers as terrible conditions. Nike factories, for example, were villified as paying extremely low wages to produce their shoes. Yet for these young girls the "miserly low wages" were higher than what they earned in villages, and working in air-conditioned rooms was more comfortable than tillling soil in the sun.


Millions of Chinese are traveling w/n China and abroad, for the first time.


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