Fareed Zakaria is one of the most thoughtful foreign policy analysists of our day and his new book, The Post-American World, is a must-read for anyone interested in globalization—or the Presidential election for that matter. I know Fareed from the Council on Foreign Relations and his great columns in Newsweek and this book is as important at Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat.
Why? In our discussions about innovation and design thinking, we all talk about social networks, collaborative innovation, consumer cultures, demassing, partnerships, etc. It is a conversation about the new diffusion of power in our society and the rise of many new sources of authority, opportunity and creativity. The hierarchical, centralized model of organization and power is being replaced by a more defused, networked model. In my line of work, I’ve gone from the Voice of Authority as head of the editorial
page to the Curator of Conversations online, on my blog and in the magazine, Inside Innovation.
What Fareed does in his new book is show this diffusion of power and authority is taking place around the world, as the US declines and "the rise of the rest," as he puts it, occurs. He argues that the era of the US as "hegemon," the center of of an economic/political/social/cultural system, is over. (I love the word "hegemon).
When the US was the overwhelming power, everyone else had to learn American culture. The big change in the 21st century is now the US has to learn everyone else's culture. It needs to share power, build coalitions, create legitimacy, in order to lead and prosper. It has to stop being the Voice of Authority and learn to Curate a Global Conversation--or many of them.
This shift is pretty much what corporations are doing today, as their profits shift to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America--and the myriad of new cultures being formed on the web every day. They are hiring an army of social scientists to understand the thousands of village cultures and languages around the world and the tens of thousands of new social networks and their cultures created every day online. Then they try to join in those cultures and conversations, often asking permission, in order to sell their products and services.
Fareed takes this to the political/global level.
The one point that I disagree with him is on the strength of the US economy. He argues that the US faces a political problem as the rest rises but its economy remains very strong. That strength depends on innovation and it isn't clear to me whether or not, as a society, the US can maintain a lead in innovation. The US dollar, a proxy for economic power, has already been pushed out of its role as sole numeraire for the global economy. The euro is now challenging the dollar for that role.
But we'll see. The US was said to be a declining power back in the 70's when OPEC slammed it. Then in the 80s, when Japan challenged it.
Read The Post-American World and let me know what you think.