Mahbubani, Kishore. The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. Reprint edition. PublicAffairs, 2009.

The author of the New Asian Hemisphere, Kishore Mahbubani, is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Mahbubani spent decades in Singapore’s diplomatic service, including  in New York as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He served twice as the President of the United Nations Security Council.

In The New Asian Hemisphere, Mahbubani asks whether Western democracies have been hijacked by processes of competitive populism and structural short-termism that prevent their addressing long-term challenges from a broader global perspective. I suspect that today there are a lot of Americans of all political stripes who would answer that question in the affirmative.‎

 

Mahbubani also describes how, for most of the previous three centuries, the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America were objects of world history. The decisions that drove history were made in a few Western capitals. He also describes how, for a long time but no longer, it was commonplace for Asians to believe that their lives ‎were determined by fate. “Whatever would happen happened.” This Asian belief in the inevitability of destiny has gradually receded in favor of a belief that hard work does affect how you and the people you care about will live–that one can improve one’s life through one’s own efforts.[1] Mahbubani claims that this change in outlook has materially contributed to Asia’s incredible economic growth.‎

 

Is the opposite belief now taking hold in America? Americans have been buffeted by forces they feel are outside of their control. Are such feelings responsible for many Americans dropping out of the labor force or becoming addicted to‎ opioids?

 

Americans of all economic classes remain dramatically better off than most people living in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But, is the direction and rate of change in people’s lives actually more important than their absolute level of comfort, once they have security, food and shelter?[2] And, if so, how should this influence public policy in America? ‎

 

I believe that Liberal Republican politics should recognize both the importance of policies that facilitate economic growth and the need for such growth to be widely shared. Only then can Americans recover the optimism that has historically characterized our country.[3]


[1] There is a famous scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia about the belief in fate versus individual effort controlling one’s destinyLawrence (Peter O’Toole) goes back into a supposedly uncrossable desert to rescue his assistant, whom Lawrence discovers had fallen off his camel during an all night ride somewhere in the vast desert. Lawrence’s colleague, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), says that Lawrence will die if he goes back into the desert to try to rescue his assistant, telling Lawrence that “it is written” that his assistant would meet his fate that night in the desert. Lawrence goes anyway and miraculously returns with his assistant. Upon returning, and before even taking a drink of water, he tells Sherif Ali, “Nothing is written.” ‎Are we headed towards a world where Asians will need to be telling Americans that “nothing is written”? (Lawrence of Arabia is a fabulous movie, well worth watching or rewatching if you saw it long ago. And while you are at it, watch Dr. Zhivago too‎, also a grand epic made by David Lean, and also starring Omar Sharif.)

[2] “A good government is expected not only to carry on and maintain standards. It is expected to raise them. And it is ultimately in the sphere of economics that results must be achieved. More jobs must be created; more prosperity diffused amongst more people.” Lee Kuan Yew, quoted in Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights.

[3] For a further discussion of the importance of economic growth from a liberal perspective, see Benjamin Friedman’s The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.