This past Tuesday, Kishore Mahbubani came to talk at Yale. He was the Singaporean permanent representative in the UN Security Council and currently he is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
Mr. Mahbubani is extremely forward thinking and has written articles and books about the idea that the West in in decline while Asia is rising. I found his speech fascinating. Here were his main points:
- Historical eras change rapidly. Power and dominance can decline in the blink of an eye. For example, he has lived through the fall of the British colonial empire, the Cold War era, and the rise of America.
- Western dominance has actually been an anomaly in history. Before the year 1820, for thousands of years, the two largest economies in the world were China and India. The last two hundred years of Western rise has been a historical aberration.
- The coming era will signify the end of western triumphalism. America reached its peak in the 80's and 90's - now we have to manage our decline. What is happening today in Asia is analogous to the Industrial Revolution in Europe - but look at the scale. In Europe, living standards increased by 50% in one lifetime. However, in Asia today, living standards are jumping by 10,000% during one lifetime.
- Why is the change occurring now? Asia is adopting what Mahbubani calls the "7 Pillars of Western Wisdom": free market economics, mastery of science and technology, culture of pragmatism, meritocracy, culture of peace, rule of law, and spread of education. These factors build upon each other to create te massive rise and development of Asia.
The challenge today is to find a way to reshape the global order without conflict. For example, right now global institutions are very western-dominated. The IMF and the World bank have requirements that the leaders must be European or American. France and the U.K. are permanent members of the UN Security Council though they are no longer major players on the world stage.
What about democracy? Mr. Mahbubani also warns us to "be careful what you wish for." Right now everyone wants democracy to spread all over the world. However, there are 5.8 billion other individuals out there. If they all got a say, the world may not be as friendly to Americans as it now is. For example, he claims that a completely democratic China would be an extremely nationalistic China, and that right now the Communist Party is carefully controlling its population and keeping it stable. Democracy will come later when the country itself is ready for it. He provides the example of the U.S. - we took 200 hundred years to reach full democracy.
These are all fascinating ideas that really bring us a new perspective. What do you think of the rise of Asia? Is it inevitable? Will it be bad news for the U.S.?
The image is courtesy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.