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How the American dream went global: interview with Fareed Zakaria

Even as America’s middle class plateaus, says author and CNN host Fareed Zakaria, emerging nations are celebrating a confident new class of consumers.

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Q. Will one of these emerging countries become the next superpower?
I struggled with what to call the book. I called it “The Post-American World” because I really don’t think that we’re moving to a Chinese world or an Indian world.

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It’s easier to define what we’re moving away from. We’re moving away from this period [that’s] rare in human history, where a single power has so dominated on every level of power. Certainly that was true of Rome, and you could argue for a brief period it was true of Britain. The United States has had a military, political, economic, cultural dominance over the last 20 or 30 years. Now we’re moving to an era of greater multipolarity, a genuinely global system where every part of the global system has countries that are rich and vibrant and participating.

Q. What does this mean for the average American?
A. It’s going to be a challenge for the average American worker. The technological revolution at home makes it much easier for computers to do our work. The globalization revolution abroad makes it easier for low-wage Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and Vietnamese to do our work. The trillion-dollar question is: How do American workers adapt to this new age of globalization?

The problem is our political system. There’s no way to make these adaptations without Americans agreeing on a series of reforms. Right now Washington cannot agree on what time of day it is, let alone significant reform.

Q. Have less contentious political ideologies helped the rising countries to flourish as they have?
A. When you’re failing, there’s a very powerful incentive to put ideology aside and just do what seems to work. All these countries have succeeded with very simple pragmatism. The most ruthlessly pragmatic country, the Communist Party of China, has become a quasi-capitalist regime. How much more nonideological can you get when you switch from Communism to capitalism, just because it seems to produce growth?

We have no such pragmatism in the United States. To a certain extent it’s a product of success. We’ve always been able to get by on the diamond that was the American economy. That won’t work this time. We’re in a new age, and the competition is simply too fierce. It’s too genuinely global, and the technological forces are too powerful.

Nora Dunne is a Monitor contributor.

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