Still thriving: why the West remains robust

Contrary to popular belief, there is every reason to believe that the West will dominate the 21st century

There is a growing feeling amongst the larger Asian countries that the West is passé. The news coming out of there, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, is of declining populations, big layoffs and economic meltdowns in several countries of the European Union (EU), Italy being the latest. So much of bad news over an extended period gives the impression that the rise of the West has finally halted; that the West is now in cowering retreat. The Western media has contributed to perpetuating this fiction, which is faithfully regurgitated by its Asian counterparts. Anything about the decline of the West is good copy.

Of course, by the West we don’t just mean the EU but also other parts of Europe such as the Scandinavian countries, all of North America and almost all of Australasia, many now home to millions of non-white, non-Christians. One tends to forget that the most populous of the Western countries, the U.S., has a growing population and remains the most productive and innovative in the world, as well as militarily the most powerful. The West continues to have most of the finest educational and research facilities, and takes in the most brilliant and creative minds from the rest of the world. Regardless of an unpredictable U.S. President, the rich West hangs together, with a combined GDP several times than that of the rest of the world. The West has no problem it cannot overcome, simply because it also collectively commands formidable military might of a kind that has enabled it to intervene wherever and whenever it chooses. Not to be ignored are the massive financial resources that it has accumulated. Take Norway, for instance. With far fewer inhabitants than Bengaluru, that small Nordic country has a sovereign pension fund of $1 trillion, the outcome of a kind of prudence and foresight that ought to have left countries like Venezuela, Nigeria and Congo enormously wealthy, if only those who ran them had the integrity and wisdom to value public good over their own. The robust legal and administrative systems in the West, the kind of social security as well as democracy its people enjoy, the accountability insisted upon, along with quick retribution of wrongdoing makes life there so much more secure and predictable.

And so, much as the world looks on the West as a spent force, there is every reason to believe that it will dominate the 21st century, as it has the two before that. The rest of the world badly needs a revolution in governance and public accountability to overcome seemingly insurmountable environmental, social and economic challenges. Some green shoots are evident in growing public activism in India, sporadic protests in China, and the easing-out of a dictator in Zimbabwe. These suggest that such a revolution may unexpectedly come about.

The writer is visiting faculty, Centre for Contemporary Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

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