These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories. ~Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria urges us to take up a “globalised” attitude or mentality.  None of this is really a question of competitiveness, productivity or prosperity.  It seems to be an appeal to a weird mix of self-importance (I want to have the biggest Ferris wheel!) and, apparently, an obsession with trivia.  Yes, I suppose Taipei 101 is the tallest building in the world right now.  We Chicago residents sure are jealous!  As I learned while I was over there, the building loses a great deal of money because there are not enough firms that want to put their offices in it.  It is the tallest white elephant on earth.  One of the reasons for this is that the multinationals would rather do business directly in China, but like so many of the genuinely silly examples Zakaria gives Taipei 101 is a symbol of precisely the sort of symbolic gestures of power and wealth that many countries indulge in to compensate for their relative weaknesses in these areas.  Perhaps my view is not very representative–I am probably one of the few who think that having Bollywood surpass its counterpart in California is probably a great step up in many respects.

Zakaria isn’t making a declinist argument exactly.  In fact, for most of the excerpt, it isn’t entirely clear what argument he is making, except to say, “Other people are getting richer, and the world isn’t as violent as you may think.”  But unless you’re an alarmist or a jingo, you don’t think that the world is all that violent.  Zakaria hits the right, calm note when talking about international affairs:

If this is 1938, as some neoconservatives tell us, then Iran is Romania, not Germany.

And we all know what those Romanians did, don’t we?  Oh, right, they were occupied by Germany–pretty scary! 

Zakaria has very properly mocked McCain’s mad foreign policy vision before and does so again, much along the same lines that I did in a recent column for TAC, and offers a voice of reason when discussing all of the allegedly unprecedented threats to our very existence that supposedly dwarf the dangers from the Soviet nuclear arsenal and the Wehrmacht put together.  Zakaria gets a bit carried away when he calls Russia “the most aggressive and revanchist great power today,” since this suggests that they are somehow more aggressive and more revanchist than, um, we are, which seems debatable, but even here he is making the sober point that Russia hasn’t actually engaged in aggression or revanchism that “we” might normally associate with rising powers.  In other words, by his own description, the most aggressive great power isn’t aggressive, which means that Washington’s obsession with provoking such a power for no good reason makes no sense as a matter of defending Europe or U.S. interests.   

Michael takes Zakaria to task very roughly for part of this excerpt from Zakaria’s book, and I agree with him that Zakaria’s remarks about the metric system are a bit obnoxious and also ridiculous in their way.  “American, globalise thyself,” he tells us, but it’s never clear exactly why we should.  Zakaria talks airily about “joining the world,” but we joined the world a long, long time ago–isolationism is a mythical beast.  Of course, Zakaria cannot leave well enough alone after what was mostly a sensible set of observations, so he goes into globalist sermon mode:

We have become suspicious of trade, openness, immigration, and investment because now it’s not Americans going abroad but foreigners coming to America. Just as the world is opening up, we are closing down.

I am inherently suspicious of people who talk about “openness,” because this is the sort of rhetorical bludgeon that is used to push policies that do not, in fact, serve the national interest.  To be against “openness” sounds bad, because it suggests that you must want to live in solitary confinement in a dungeon with no doors.  Why, you just might be against “the open society,” which is certainly very bad, even though few societies more effectively condition and police the thinking of their members than the “open” ones.  Part of that conditioning is the deployment of this rhetoric that valorises “openness.” 

The arguments for the status quo in de-industrialisation free trade and importing wage slaves immigration are so remarkably weak politically, morally and economically when it comes to serving the interests of American citizens that there will always be a guilt-trip saved up at the end of any article or chapter that describes globalisation.  In place of argument, there is the insinuation, “You must not like foreigners–what is wrong with you?”  In fact, very few people argue that we should cease giving H-1B visas to educated and skilled immigrants, many of whom already speak the language and are well-suited to fairly rapid assimilation.  However, the overwhelming majority of mass immigration comes from the influx of poor, unskilled workers, and it is this that has undesirable economic effects and constitutes a massive demographic change in many parts of the country that most Americans want to see brought under control, if not halted all together.   

That is a real problem, which Zakaria absolutely fails to address (at least in this excerpt), except to dismiss opposition to it as evidence that we are “closing down.”  Indeed, if “the rest” are doing so magnificently, why does there continue to be a flood of labour into developed countries?  Lost in the paean to globalisation is the recognition that population growth in parts of the world is outstripping the means to feed people (exacerbated by rising food prices worldwide) and also outstripping the means to employ them, or that the mass urbanisation in Africa and Asia has created huge numbers of unemployed migrants who have abandoned their villages for opportunities in the cities that fail to materialise.  The dislocations of globalisation, which trouble and worry us, can be quite devastating to the peoples in the rest of the world, which is usually why the most vehement anti-globalisation forces are on the left, which view these dislocations as the result of Western exploitation and which tend to portray globalisation as disproportionately good for us at the expense of other people.  Yet the most powerful argument against these policies (which are first and foremost in the interests of multinationals, and not necessarily in the interests of of any of the nations involved) would be one that recognises the damage and upheaval globalisation causes foreign economies at the same time that it strips us of our manufacturing and inundates us with cheap labour.  Again, the benefits and costs of globalisation are distributed very unevenly, and those who bear most of the costs are told that this is all for the good–not their good, mind you, but a general, vague good that they are supposed to support.  When they act very rationally in their own interests to challenge this arrangement, they are then mocked for their, oh, I don’t know, “antipathy to people who are not like them” and berated for being against “openness.”  At the very least, if globalists really think that their policies are the best way forward they are going to need to find more persuasive arguments and find them fast. 

One of the reasons there has been such a sharp backlash against neoliberalism in Latin America is that the benefits of neoliberal fiscal and trade policies–the very ones Zakaria praises–were very unevenly distributed, and when it came time for the lending institutions to support a country in Argentina that had wholeheartedly embraced these policies they instead permitted the Argentine economy to be wrecked and its middle class to be nearly wiped out financially.  One wonders if the people of Argentina would recognise the prosperity Zakaria describes.  This has, of course, discredited the forces aligned with those policies and driven them from power in country after country.  Bolivia is slowly tearing itself apart in part because the backlash against neoliberalism was so severe that it has sparked a counter-reaction in the wealthier, eastern provinces, which are now proclaiming autonomy from La Paz.  Globalisation is heightening ethnic tensions within states, and we can expect that it will increase them between states in the future.  On the whole, the world is fairly peaceful, but the very policies that Zakaria champions seem likely to make sure that this is a temporary situation.