Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > Fareed Zakaria Contemplates “The Rise of Everybody Else” in the Wake of “Ahistorical” American Political and Economic Domination

Fareed Zakaria Contemplates “The Rise of Everybody Else” in the Wake of “Ahistorical” American Political and Economic Domination

June 1, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • After a global wave of liberalization, democratization, and the spread of free markets led by the U.S. in the 1990s, the world is returning to populism and conflict.
  • Geopolitics has shifted the global landscape. In the 1990s, economics trumped politics. Now, the shift is to the opposite, where personal politics shape economies.
  • China and developing countries are rising to shape the geopolitical landscape after the U.S. disinvested in public infrastructure and focused on tax cuts.

Recent world events and economic shifts are “not a story about the decline of America, but about the rise of everybody else,” said author and analyst Fareed Zakaria in a keynote speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Thursday, June 1. The “ahistorical” cultural, economic, and political wave that began in the 1990s and lasted until the financial crisis of 2008 was, he said, “a world that was built on a holiday from history.”

Recent internecine conflict and the decline of democracies around the world, Zakaria argued, may appear dramatically different from the perspective of recent history but are simply the normal state when one single economic and political superpower gives way to more, smaller global powers. Conflicts like the war in Ukraine, tensions with China and in the Middle East, and a retreat from globalization “were all subsumed in the 1990s because every road led to Washington.”

When asked by interviewer Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officerof the Detroit Regional Chamber, what the U.S. had done wrong in the last 30 or so years, Zakaria said: “The fundamental trendline that was put in place from the 1980s on has been a massive disinvestment in the public sources of our strength and a series of incentives for the private sector. To put it in very blunt terms, we underfunded infrastructure, education, and communities, and we overdid it with tax cuts. What you see is the America that we know: private affluence and public squalor.”

Baruah and Zakaria discussed the democratic process and how the rule of law is at least as essential as free elections. “A government that can control itself” is the true proof of a liberal democracy, said Zakaria. “It’s not just the democratic element. It’s the constitutional element, the rule of law.”

When asked how much of China’s rise is due to America’s decline, Zakaria noted that China has industrialized at an astonishing rate. Moreover, one of the most seismic events in world history, the 2008 crisis, shattered American economic complacency, led to populism, and shed light on the world views of China and other nations, he said.

Still, said Zakaria, he has faith in the American power of ingenuity. Taking in more immigrants by far than any other country in the world keeps America “young and vibrant,” he said, and so long as Americans “get serious about fixing American democracy,” Zakaria is confident that “we’ve got the best hand of any country in the world.”

The Mackinac Policy Conference session was sponsored by PNC Bank.