How the West Was Lost by Dambisa Moyo — review Has social and economic complacency set the west on a path of terminal decline? The headquarters of General Motors in Detroit — a major American city experiencing dramatic decline. How the West Was Lost is a dyspeptic account of what this might imply. The rosy scenario that most economists would suggest if they dared to tackle such a large issue would be that the convergence of the emerging market economies on the west is mutually beneficial: we can all prosper together. Dambisa Moyo, author of the bestselling Dead Aid, is having none of this. She argues that the west has become mired in complacency: each of the drivers of growth — capital accumulation, skill accumulation, and technical innovation — have stalled, and there is no political will to salvage the situation.
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Share via Email Dambisa Moyo is a young Zambian-born economist who made her money at Goldman Sachs and her name with Dead Aid, a provocative book about western aid which claimed that rich countries only make things worse for the poor. On this basis she was picked by Time magazine to be one of its most influential people in the world in That was absurd, and should have been enough to end any promising career, but she has soldiered on and has now written a post-wreck treatise examining how the US economy has collapsed.
Moyo shows well how fundamental economic liberalisation espoused by what she calls the profligate, greedy, self-interested west has come back to bite it.
She clearly despises western free market capitalism, whose economies, she says, are based on ruthlessness, self-interest, and an ability to exploit resources and people from other countries, but her fawning admiration for the state-sponsored Chinese version of capitalism wears thin. China can build a city like Shanghai in a few years, she says; China can change the weather and turn the deserts green; China can take streamlined decisions; China can save trillions of dollars; China can have billion cars and win the world cup, too.
For all her brio and glamour, Moyo is a very orthodox thinker, unable to consider a world beyond free markets and underpriced resources and blind to the social effects of what she proposes and celebrates. Her prose is littered with images of winning and losing races, conflict, aggression, submission, domination, victory, violence and triumphs.
She sees the US as locked in a fight to the death with China, she advocates that states take "nuclear" options and she sees countries being "strangled" by each other. But she pays little attention to the ecological constraints of capitalism or to what may or may not be desirable.
For Moyo, the great game of making money, preferably by technological advances, is all. Unsurprisingly, then, her choices for the US in these miserable times are pretty stark: to retreat into protectionism, become effectively a socialist state, or to default on its massive debt to China. The stock markets would crash, she says, the dollar would turn into Monopoly money, and there would be uproar, but America would wipe its slate clean.
Unlike Moyo, he is not part of the elite discussion groups convened at Davos or the Aspen Institute. The head of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, a think tank that tries to make sense of globalisation, he follows creative development thinkers such as Jonathon Porritt, Eduardo Galeano and Lester Brown.
Without being a Malthusian fear-monger , he dares to ask calmly what may happen if Asia continues to develop along western lines and adopts the same old consumption-driven capitalism that Moyo and other economists like.
What we get is not an attack on the west so much as a powerful critique of the development path that Asia, and especially China, is taking and a healthy questioning of markets.
Nair questions the assumptions that everyone in China and India should — or needs to — have a car, live and work in air-conditioned buildings and consume food and goods shipped from everywhere in the world.
He argues that Asian capitalism must be reshaped for a resource-constrained world rather than be replaced. There must be a better way to live, he says. The have-it-all life of abundance now being adopted by hundreds of millions of Asians will create further tensions, resource disputes and environmental and social disasters.
Where Moyo and Nair converge is on the role of the state. It is this that gives both authors some optimism for the future — albeit for very different reasons.
How the West Was Lost by Dambisa Moyo – review
How the West Was Lost by Dambisa Moyo and Consumptionomics by Chandran Nair – review