How the West was Lost

How the West was Lost (2011) by Dambisa Moyo is a disappointing book about how the richest parts of the world have been terrible mismanaged over the past 50 years and what could be done to avert further decline.

Dr Moyo wrote the very interesting Dead Aid that gave a fresh perspective to how development aid to Africa had not worked. Trading on the success of that book Moyo has decided to tackle the issue of apparent Western decline.

Moyo first goes over how the West used to be much more comparatively richer than the rest of the world. She does also indicate that this state of affairs was unlikely to continue. She goes on to point out that debt has exploded in the past 20 years in the West. Personal debt and government debt in the US has expanded at a clearly unsustainable rate.

Moyo then goes on to complain about how labour is being misallocated in the West toward financial work rather than toward things she regards as being better overall for society such as more engineers and so on. As usual, for the diagnosis is very common, no recommendation for how to alter the problem is seriously put forward. Moyo goes on to suggest that the US is making it too hard for foreigners to work in the US.

She goes on to talk about climate and energy and makes the point that energy demand globally is going to go up and that it unfortunate that there is not enough investment in new energy technology and an irrational fear of nuclear energy.

Moyo goes on to talk about the rise of China, India and the rest of the development world and also the strange way in which many developing countries are saving while the developed world, in particular the US, borrows more. She points out that this is precisely the opposite to what should happen.

Moyo concludes by presenting various scenarios, the status quo, where the West declines comparatively and calmly, a second where China falters, a third where the West fights back and a fourth where the US goes protectionist.

Moyo offers a program where the US should save more, balance the budget and spend more on science. It’s not a bad vision and few would object. What she fails to do is to live up to the hyperbolic title of the book, stating that the developed world has failed, while being the richest and most successful part of the world and advancing wealth and technology at a good rate as being in a disastrous state. Moyo would have been well advised to calm the book down and look at what parts of various West countries have worked well. While the same pressures that Moyo finds with the US exist in other places, budgets can be balanced, as done in Australia, and health care spending restrained while keeping the population healthy as in Japan and research can be maintained as done in the US or Sweden.

The book is not nearly as novel or as coherent as Moyo’s earlier far more interesting book and the book isn’t as interesting as other books on similar subjects such as Civilization by Nial Ferguson or for that matter The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen.

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