The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West (2014) by Charles Kenny is an optimistic look at how the changing centre of global economic activity is good for the West and the US in particular. Kenny also states what should be done so that the transition to a world where the West is no longer the richest yields an even better world.
Kenny first points out that when you are born is more important than where in terms of wealth. Being born now means that you’re wealthier and live longer than most people have in history regardless of where you’re born. It’s the point that Matt Ridley, Bjorn Lomborg and others have made to counter the constant beating of the doom drum.
The book then describes how being wealthier than ever regardless of which country is the wealthiest is more important than being the world’s largest economy. Size doesn’t always help either. Smaller countries can have better health systems, better education and other strengths.
Other countries being wealthier will also help the US. Kenny points out that the US trades more per capita with wealthy countries than with poorer ones. The environment is also addressed and there Kenny thinks that climate change is a serious problem but he is honest enough to point out that even with climate change the world will be considerably wealthier in a hundred years.
The advantages of immigration in keeping populations younger is examined, the virtues of trade and the opportunities presented by more international cooperation between bigger newly wealthy countries is given great coverage. Kenny also describes how he believes the US should use the institutions created by the US to better the world and more for world enrichment rather than as part of a zero sum game. He does miss here that a lot of the institutions were set up to make the West wealthy but with the intent of making the West wealthier than the Communist world.
The book makes many valid points and is nice and short. It’s definitely worth reading in contrast to unwise books lamenting the fact that the US will no longer be the world’s largest economy. The optimistic view is strongly grounded in reality and is really important to consider.