Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review: The Next Decade

The Next Decade: Where We've Been . . . and Where We're Going is George Friedman's follow up to his well received "The next 100 years", and attempts to make some more precise predictions about the way the next decade will play out on the world stage.

Overall I liked it, but not because I agreed with everything Friedman has to say. I agreed with perhaps half, with the remainder falling between disagreeing and not knowing enough to say either way.

The bulk of the book centers around Friedman's assertion that America is an "accidental empire", making comparisons to the Roman and British empires, but asserting that while those were created through might, America's was a mix of that, economic might, culture, and a melange of historical accidents. There's some validity to his claims about America's place on the world stage (e.g. 5% of the world's population counting for 25% of the world's GDP), but the analogy is strained at best.

In addition to this analogy being strained, a couple other things I disliked:
  • The author assumes (at least by the weight given in the book) that 99% of what shapes the world stage is politics. Perhaps I'm naive but I believe that the old institutions don't carry the weight they used to and will carry less going forward.
  • Technology in particular, is given only passing mention. When looking at the growth of high tech in places like India and China; or at the recent twitter-fueled uprising in the middle east, it seems there should be more consideration given on this front.

On the other hand, some things I did like:
  • I learned much about the political dynamics in some parts of the world about which I had little history.
  • He asserts that leaders, and the US President in particular, need to lie. That they need to do things that won't be popular and that sometimes this means saying one thing and doing another. I believe this is true, and to believe otherwise is naive.

In short, I recommend it, but to be taken with a considerably sized grain of salt.