The Asian world

We live in interesting times. The world system is slowly shifting back to the historical norm. That norm being that most people and economic production would occur in Asia.

The book When Asia Was the World chronicles period the between after the fall of the Roman Empirea and on the cusp of the European Age of Discovery. It prefigures a world of interconnections which don’t necessarily loop back to the West. It is strange on Facebook seeing my cousins on Bangladesh joining the international economy, but that economy not necessarily having the United States at its center and fulcrum. We are still the biggest player…but we are not necessarily an indispensable player.

A story in The New York Times brings this to mind, IBM Now Has More Employees in India Than in the U.S.:

Today, the company employs 130,000 people in India — about one-third of its total work force, and more than in any other country. Their work spans the entire gamut of IBM’s businesses, from managing the computing needs of global giants like AT&T and Shell to performing cutting-edge research in fields like visual search, artificial intelligence and computer vision for self-driving cars. One team is even working with the producers of Sesame Street to teach vocabulary to kindergartners in Atlanta.

This is as much a social story as it is a matter of economics. A new global class is organically developing along the scaffolds provided by international corporations. This class, dare I say caste, is beginning to supersede the importance of the Tribes which Joel Kotkin wrote about in the early 1990s.

And no matter what Thomas Friedman and Francis Fukuyama tried to tell us, I’m not quite sure that the global cosmopolitan culture will reflect the mores and preoccupations of the Western post-materialist elite. To be entirely frank I’m not totally sure that this is a bad thing, either.

We can look at economic projections all we want. But the protean and unpredictable nature of cultural changes is really where the action is going to happen in the next few decades, as Islamic revivalism begins to fade and burn itself out.


7 thoughts on “The Asian world

  1. China’s One Belt One Road project and Russia’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization operate in parallel along with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and other organizations. They are slowly but surely integrating the Eurasian landmass exclusive of Western and Central Europe. Pakistan and India are full members of SCO, and Iran is a partial member. Turkey is likely to join. Together OBOR/SCO comprise one-half of the world’s population and one-fourth of its GDP. China and Russia bring high tech capabilities to the group. It might be noted that China and Russia are the only countries that can put men into low Earth orbit. The US rents space on the Soyuz. It also uses Russian rocket motors to launch its spy satellites.

    Eventually there will be high speed rail connections from Shanghai to Lisbon. Parts are already in operation. China and Russia have offered high speed rail connections to both North and South Korea, partly as a bribe to the North to quit its nuclear deterrent.

    Currently it take about two weeks to mover cargo from China to Europe by rail, rather than two to three months by the usual sea route. If global warming does open up the norther route across Siberia, at least seasonally, that will provide a shorter sea route than the current southern one.

    These developments are often discussed in terms of US/Russian and US/Chinese competition, but they are a natural development and serve to greatly enhance the economies of all of Asia. I am too old to see the eventual denouement, but you will.

  2. The US’s ability to remain at the fulcrum of the international economy hinges on its ability to continue attracting the best and brightest in the world from their home countries. Brain drain is a powerful tool.

  3. The US’s ability to remain at the fulcrum of the international economy hinges on its ability to continue attracting the best and brightest in the world from their home countries.

    That’s helpful, but cognitively elite immigration is not sine qua non. What the U.S. does need is to cultivate, educate, and harness domestic talent. When the country has viable and productive lower middle and lower classes that are not dependent upon the public largesse, it will have the surplus resources “to remain at the fulcrum of the international economy.”

  4. I wish I could agree. However:

    1. There are several studies on educational efficacy on the economy, etc. that have led me to my conclusion. You may see something I didn’t, though. For reference, see:

    a. Does Education Matter for Economic Growth? (2012) –

    b. Economic growth in developing countries: The role of human capital (2013) –

    c. Douglas Detterman’s talk covering the literature on effectiveness of school on outcomes –

    d. Yulia Kovas’ talk on the same –

    e. 100 years of data on predictors of job performance (2016) See Table 1, pg. 65.

    f. Least related, but Paul Sackett & Nathan Kuncel’s talk on how home SES predicts educational outcomes, among other things –

    2. There are only so many cognitive elite in the world, just like any other limited resource.

    3. As automation increases, that resource becomes more important to economic growth. See The Future of Employment (2013) – The appendix at the end is especially interesting.

    4. If some percent of our domestic cognitive elite go underutilized as a result of importing cognitive elite here, the net hit to the global economy won’t be the same as the hit to each nation’s economies. Some will gain, others will lose.

    5. Some of the policies that attract foreign talent also enable top domestic talent to start businesses more quickly and profitably. Think corporate income tax rates, regulations impacting small businesses, etc.

  5. Are cognitive elite fungible robots? They are not. They will seek to enslave and destroy one another

    We must have a place at the table

  6. That norm being that most people and economic production would occur in Asia.

    Obviously this is to be expected. The Chinese, in particular, are at least as capable, cognitively speaking, as Westerners, and there are more of them. Throw India, South-east Asia, and the two other east Asian countries into the mix (Japan, Korea) and you have like 3 billion people striving for better living. Even if the cognitive abilities of the South-east and South Asians are somewhat less than the Chinese, there are still enough of them who can make a difference.

    Why the hell would anyone NOT expect a shift of most economic activity to Asia over the next few decades?


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