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More than 10 years ago, before 9/11, Goldman Sachs was predicting that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) would make the world economy’s top ten—but not until 2040. Skip a decade and the Chinese economy already has the number two spot all to itself, Brazil is number seven, India 10, and even Russia is creeping closer. In purchasing power parity, or PPP, things look even better. There, China is in second place, India is now fourth, Russia sixth, and Brazil seventh.
No wonder Jim O’Neill, who coined the neologism BRIC and is now chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, has been stressing that “the world is no longer dependent on the leadership of the U.S. and Europe.” After all, since 2007, China’s economy has grown by 45%, the American economy by less than 1%—figures startling enough to make anyone take back their predictions. American anxiety and puzzlement reached new heights when the latest International Monetary Fund projections indicated that, at least by certain measurements, the Chinese economy would overtake the U.S. by 2016. (Until recently, Goldman Sachs was pointing towards 2050 for that first-place exchange.) Within the next 30 years, the top five will, according to Goldman Sachs, likely be China, the U.S., India, Brazil, and Mexico. Western Europe? Bye-bye!
A System Stripped to Its Essence
Increasing numbers of experts agree that Asia is now leading the way for the world, even as it lays bare glaring gaps in the West’s narrative of civilization. Yet to talk about “the decline of the West” is a dangerous proposition. A key historical reference is Oswald Spengler’s 1918 essay with that title. Spengler, a man of his times, thought that humanity functioned through unique cultural systems, and that Western ideas would not be pertinent for, or transferable to, other regions of the planet. (Tell that howler to the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square.)
Spengler, of course, captured the Western-dominated zeitgeist of another century. He saw cultures as living and dying organisms, each with a unique soul. The East or Orient was “magical,” while the West was “Faustian.” A reactionary misanthrope, he was convinced that the West had already reached the supreme status available to a democratic civilization—and so was destined to experience the “decline” of his title.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like an avant-la-lettre Huntingtonesque “clash of civilizations,” you can be excused, because that’s exactly what it was.
Speaking of civilizational clashes, did anyone notice that “maybe” in a recent TIME cover story picking up on Spenglerian themes and headlined “The Decline and Fall of Europe (and Maybe the West)”? In our post-Spenglerian moment, the “West” is surely the United States, and how could that magazine get it so wrong? Maybe? After all, a Europe now in deep financial crisis will be “in decline” as long as it remains inextricably intertwined with and continues to defer to “the West”—that is, Washington—even as it witnesses the simultaneous economic ascent of what’s sometimes derisively referred to as “the South.”