The central thesis of How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly–and the Stark Choices Ahead, Dambiso Moyo’s latest offering, may come as an interesting theoretical shock to some people, may seem inevitable to others, and may be rejected outright by others. Her argument is that the West as we know it, particularly the United States, is fated to lose the economic “battle” with China and the other major emergent economies, and sooner rather than later the roles of “the West” and “the Rest” as they currently are, will be reversed.
The Rest are constituted of mainly China, India, Brazil and Russia (or BRIC), and all other emerging economies that are not Western European or America, and it is this Rest that Dambisa predicts will overtake the West for economic and political hegemony and world domination. She principally uses economic as well as some minor philosophical reasoning’s to support her case – and in my opinion, it is a compelling one.
The central thrust of her argument is that the West has squandered its advantages – economic, political, social etc – mainly in the last 50 or so years, and that the Rest have been busy capitalizing on these Western “errors”. The main mistake that was made seems to have been the American notion of the American Dream – namely, home ownership for all, and unfettered consumerism. This principle, which started with Roosevelt in 1933, of encouraging and facilitating every American to own their own home, and which was exported to all Western democracies, is the figurative root of all economic evil. Simplistically, her reason seems to be that it is because houses are a non-contributing investment in terms of a countries GDP, which means the West have essentially and continuously misallocated their fantastic wealth to an enormous degree, while the Rest have been assiduously playing catch-up and actively fueling the West’s capricious appetite and consumerist greed, in order to “hook” the West on the Rest’s debt, and sow the seeds of the West’s eventual demise. Think about it – its word, yo.
Seriously though, and without going into much, if any detail, she makes the case that the West (especially America) has been evolving from a manufacturing based society to a services provider society, e.g. that the US has 48 lawyers for every engineer, and this is an example of how the trend in the West is for careers that don’t actually contribute anything tangible to society, or are in essence useful. The Rest, in comparison, are the opposite, with science-based and engineering graduates being churned out at massive rates, thereby having a positive impact in terms of creating products/infrastructure/goods within the Rest’s economies, and exporting same to the needy West, while simultaneously lending the West the money to buy these goods with. There’s many other areas identified which all point to the West throwing their lead away, rather than being beaten as such. Its a real eye-opener, no doubt about it, and to my mind it is quite clear that if things continue as they are, the West will undoubtedly be eclipsed by the giants of the Rest – sooner rather than later.
The book itself is very well written, with complex economic arguments simplified (maybe overly so) via ABC-style examples and anecdotes. She is non-judgmental throughout, very impartial, and this book is real food for thought. There is a wealth (excuse the pun) of amazing facts and statistics, particularly memorable for example is that China, India and Brazil are NOT permanent members of the G8 – which is amazing really, considering what the G8 is meant to represent. Also genuinely jaw-dropping were the statistics regarding the education-level of whites and non-whites in American schools (grade school through to University level), and the blatant and obvious double standards that schools in deprived and well-off areas have. This and other examples all go to highlight the inequities of so-called equal and democratic Western societies. Truly frightening, and worth reading this book for this information alone.
Finally, Dambisa offers solutions for the West, the most reasonable of which appears to me to be America adapting an ultra-protectionist model. But it begs the question – why offer solutions at all? Its not as if there’s something inherently wrong with America and “the West” playing second fiddle to the financial might of the BRIC, is there?
The kings is dead – long live the king!