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Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety Paperback – 4 Feb 2012


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Amazon.com: 15 reviews
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Essential Reading for the 21st Century 31 Jan. 2011
By D.Sampson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Rachman divides the last thirty years into three eras; the Age of Transformation (1978 - 1991), the Age of Optimism (1991 - 2008), and the Age of Anxiety (2008 - present), and in his account of each he captures the practical, philosophical and psychological changes that have brought us to where we are today: An age where new global powers are competing for primacy and positioning themselves to fill the void created by the contraction of US cultural influence and economic strength.

Leaving the perceived shift in power aside for a moment, what is more worrying for the West is that, in addition to the competition between these ascendant nations, there is a strengthening bond between authoritarian regimes like Russia and Iran on economic issues, a disturbing development that impinges on the spread of democracy and may even result in armed conflict.

The Zero-Sum Future of the book's title is a reference to the increasing likelihood that international relations in the coming years will be a zero-sum game; one where one country's gain is another's loss, resulting in a net-zero result overall. Rachman encourages our elected leaders to act now against such an outcome, and to focus on areas of common interest and cooperation in the hope that a better tomorrow will emerge from the uncertainty and anxiety of today. It is an urgent case, superbly made, and perilously ignored.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Shallow history of the last thirty years, coupled with a weak forecast of what is to come in the near future 25 May 2011
By Jackal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The book identifies historical events during the last thirty years that "count", according to the author. The focus is global and not the US as the book's subtitle states. Writing recent history is difficult and even more so in a globalised world. It is far too easy to be influenced by one's own particular experience. Furthermore, many archives are not yet open so a lot of relevant information is not available. And finally, there are competing narratives about what has happened, especially so since it is still in the interest of the actors to try to influence how history will be written. If you didn't live through the era, you'll gain a lot of facts from reading this book, but I would definitely recommend that you read work from a historian instead.

The solution to the what-to-read problem is clear; you need to read several works from different authors. Their authors should be journalists, academics, and participant actors. All three perspectives fill a role. In this book, Gideon gives one journalist's account. As such the book is heavy on description and very weak on analysis. The author is in his mid forties and does not (yet) have the gravitas of a more seasoned journalist. If you lived through the last couple of decades a lot in this book is familiar and can be seen as a refresher and probably also a reminder of certain aspects that you never paid attention to at the time. I often read Gideon's column in the Financial Times and most of the chapters in this book reads like extended columns. I am also quite surprised by the extreme shallowness and basic nature of most of the text. While I do like his columns, I would really have liked to see a much stronger narrative in his book. Gideon's current narrative is that in the 80s we had transition and in the 90s and 00s we had progress. Working for Financial Times probably means that you want to present a very conventional narrative to facilitate access to information sources both right and left in the future.

The final two chapters deal with the future and here Gideon is speculating. I do not put much faith in this speculation since it really is just speculation. He doesn't base his conclusions on any kind of historical regularity. According to Gideon, the age of progress ended in 2008. In my view, it is just far too close in time to proclaim a new era called the zero-sum era.

The book is technically well written, but I do not recommend it. In fact, I will be reading the author's columns in the Financial Times less frequently after having read 75% of this book. However, you can do much worse when stuck in an airport and having this book is available from the bookseller.

Thinking more about the future I would actually recommend Ian Bremmer's books (start with The Fat Tail : The Power of Political Knowledge in an Uncertain World (with a New Preface)) instead of this book. Bremmer's books doesn't give a historical systematic overview, but they have many interesting examples, and are much stronger trying to interpret and look into the future. I would also recommend George Friedman's The Next Decade: Where We've Been . . . and Where We're Going.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Excellent but Superficial 9 Jun. 2011
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was expecting so much more from this book, it is almost a three in relation to disappointment, but assuredly a solid four as far as it goes. This is a very good review of politics at the top personality level, but devoid of any discussion at all of corruption, government ineptitude, and so on. The index stinks, mostly a name index, but that sums the book up--names, not root cause and effect.

Part I is about deng, thatcher, Reagan, Gorbechev, Eastern Europe coming free, Latin America moving to the center, and India awakening.

Part II is about Fukuyama, Greenspan (before he was striped naked), Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Asia rises, and in a most interesting but all too short section: the role played by the anti-globalization advocates and the neo-conservatives.

Part III offers three scenarios, the world as Europe, the world as China and Russia, and the world as Pakistan.

In relation to my broader reading habits the book is disappointing. It is a journalism story not at all illuminating. Particularly annoying to me, and especially so noting the financial reporting capabilities of the author, is the absolute refusal to call a spade for what it is: a spade. The destruction, de-construction, corruption, and flat out fraud that permeated all of the governments under the varied leaderships discussed by the author do not exist within the jacket of this book.

At a simplistic level there is certainly value to the book, but it ignores so much I was constantly resisting the urge to simply put the book down and move on.

The author concludes that there are three sources of zero sum thinking:

1. Slower economic growth

2. Rivalry between the USA and China (no mention of Brazil, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, and Wild Cards like South Africa and Turkey that I noticed)

3. Clash of national interests in face of global challenges--the author's range of understanding of global challenges is very limited and traditional: climate change (which is 10% of environmental degradation), global economic imbalances (but no focus on massive fraud and corruption), nuclear proliferation (ho hum compared to poverty and infectious disease), resource shortages (duh, especially when farm land is the next bubble and food prices suffer from unethical politicians pushing ethanol), and failed states (no mention of the role of the US in increasing that number from 25 to 175 in the last 12 years).

When the author states that China is "stealing" jobs from the US I almost drop this book to a three. That is idiotic. Jobs are being exported from the USA by unethical CEOs with no grounding in moral capitalism, and allowed to do so by unethical politicians who are absolutely not making policy in the public interest.

The author anticipates that polarization and protectionism are the most likely near-term national reactions, and this is the point at which I realize he has absolutely no idea about what is going on among the young and those that have labored in the evolutionary activism, emergence, and open everything circles these past twenty years.

QUOTE I liked (275): "On every one of the big global issues, a mixture of national interests and ideological disagreements blocks the chances of an international deal."

Although I like the quote it reflects a complete lack of appreciation for panarchy, end-user democracy, open information-sharing, hybrid coalitions across the eight tribes (academia, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, non-governmental/non-profit).

My view of the author as totally status quo and convention is confirmed when he states that the existing international economic system must be preserved at all costs.

There is nothing in this book that actually helps understand complexity or foster resilience.

Ten books I recommend instead:
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change
The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education (Wiley Desktop Editions)
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Revised and Updated 5th Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State
Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators
Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The perfect guide for these unstable times. 21 Feb. 2011
By Reuel Golden - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
At last a measured, well reasoned and wonderfully written account on the inexorable rise and fall of globalization. Rachman's narrative is a compelling one, as he neatly divides the last 30 years into three key phases: "the age of transformation," "the age of optimism", and the current "age of anxiety." The age of anxiety is one of economic and political instability, an America in decline, a rampant China, and a situation where one country can only gain at the expense of another-this is the zero- sum future of the title.

As a former Europe, Asia and America editor for The Economist and a current columnist for the Financial Times on foreign affairs, Rachman has a true global vision that this complex subject demands. Yet what makes this book really stand out from other others in the field, is that Rachman's vision is never lofty or esoteric. He addresses the core issues, the geo political shifts, and its diverse cast of characters, which include amongst others Thatcher, Bill Gates, Deng, Clinton and Greenspan, with sober analysis, detachment, and occasional cynicism.

Will this age of anxiety eventually be replaced by a new age of optimism? Rachman certainly hopes so. In the concluding part of the book titled "saving the world,"he writes: "Most of my career has been spent reporting on a world where things were steadily improving.... it doesn't feel that way now."Yet greater cooperation between China and the US would certainly be a good start. Moreover, in Obama, argues Rachman, the US at last has a president with the gravitas and intellect to get the world to once again listen. These are indeed anxious times, but this timely book, places this anxiety into a historical context, with an eye very much on the future.
Macro-view of the situation in a very clear format 8 Aug. 2012
By essayreader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have to say that the book Zero-Sum World by Gideon Rachman is one of the books I have enjoyed more in the last months. Not only the content is of the maximum interest nowadays, but the style and specially the clarity in which Mr. Rachman presents his ideas is superb. He is the chief foreign affairs columnist at the Financial Times, and he had spent 15 years at the prestigious The Economist, where he edited the business and Asia sections. With this credentials, one expect a lot from this book, and I have not been disappointed at all. The book offers clear analysis, away from polarized positions, with a qualified macro-view of the world situation, of the situation of the world after the financial crash, that is dangerously slipping into a zero-sum dynamic. Without a catastrophist or pessimist approach he confront us with the worrisome options we will probably be confronted in the near future, and, from his well informed perspective, offers advice on the ways to go in a civilized world.
Totally recommended.
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