A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011
With the British Industrial Revolution, part of the world's population started to experience extraordinary economic growth―leading to enormous gaps in wealth and living standards between the industrialized West and the rest of the world. This pattern of divergence reversed after World War II, and now we are midway through a century of high and accelerating growth in the developing world and a new convergence with the advanced countries―a trend that is set to reshape the world.
Michael Spence, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, explains what happened to cause this dramatic shift in the prospects of the five billion people who live in developing countries. The growth rates are extraordinary, and continuing them presents unprecedented challenges in governance, international coordination, and ecological sustainability. The implications for those living in the advanced countries are great but little understood.
Spence clearly and boldly describes what's at stake for all of us as he looks ahead to how the global economy will develop over the next fifty years. The Next Convergence is certain to spark a heated debate how best to move forward in the post-crisis period and reset the balance between national and international economic interests, and short-term fixes and long-term sustainability.
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Michael Spence is a Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and was the chairman of the independent Commission on Growth and Development. Winner of the Nobel 2001 Prize in Economic Sciences, he lives in California and Italy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
As the global economy emerged in the post war period, the colonial system disappeared. Old colonies became new countries, some of them with very odd shapes and geographical positions. With no history of self-governance as nation states, they struggled to find their way, economically and in terms of stable governance. India created the world’s largest and most complex democracy—a modern miracle. China turned to communism, adopted the centrally planned model of economic organization, and made very little measurable economic progress for 29 years, but perhaps sowed the seeds of its future rise by educating the vast majority of its people. It dramatically changed direction in 1978 and became the largest (in population) and fastest growing country in the history of the world.
What no one saw clearly was that in the post war period, the economic party that had been running for 200 years in a small subset of the population was about to spread to much of the rest of the world.
The implications of this new convergence are profound and extensive. The costs of things will change. Goods and services that require human time and effort will become relatively more expensive, an inevitable consequence of the eventual decline of low cost underemployed labor in the global economy. Economic forces and incentives will try to make them less expensive by allocating more capital to labor and hence reducing the labor input required. But there are limits to substituting capital for labor, though these limits are moving as technology changes the art of the possible. The abundance of underemployed labor in the world economy has in a sense delayed the arrival of labor saving technology. But this will end in the current century.
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