Technology and revolutionary changes in energy, banking and manufacturing will force a sunset on Western dominance.
Several speakers at the Second World Emerging Industries Summit in this central China city on the Yangtze River shared that forecast recently with business, government and university officials from nearly two dozen countries. “Technology creates new possibilities,” said Dominique de Villepin, former prime minister of France.
Global dominance will shift to such countries as China, India and nations in Africa and South America. They are rich in resources and have a growing middle class.
A new cooperation will create new innovations and new horizons. “No one has to remain passive,” de Villepin said.
In medicine the focus will be more on prevention than cures. Because of technology, renewable energy, banking changes, smart grids and 3-D printers, centralized manufacturing plants, which dominated the Industrial Age, will become a thing of the past. But there will also be a need for a worldwide security council to “take into account the new economy created by innovation,” de Villepin said.
John and Doris Naisbitt, authors of “China’s Megatrends,” shared a similar message. The Western world has produced everything from the steam engine to the Internet.
The developing world has absorbed much of it, including the West’s education, transportation, medical advances music, fast-food, clothing, entertainment, art, technology, ideology and culture. Dominance will shift to the developing nations, and technology will cause it to happen quickly.
Rapid change can be seen in the Arab Spring, Cuba opening up and Pope Francis’ New World selection and direction for Catholics. This kind of “soft power” is spreading while the “hard power” of centralization, militarization and inflexibility keeps receding, John Naisbitt said.
Doris Naisbitt added that a transition is occurring from the old to the new world with a middle class growth in billions of people in countries like Brazil and China.
Indeed, highways and streets in Beijing, Wuhan and Hong Kong were clogged with American-size autos. Fuel efficiency didn’t seem to matter to this emerging middle class as much as style and status.
The air also was thick with pollution, making breathing difficult. People at the summit needed to question whether Western dominance was receding or multinational corporations in the West were simply offloading polluting industries on developing nations. The shrinking U.S. middle class also should question whether the emerging middle class in developing nations will now replace U.S. consumers as the target market for products and services.
The haze and questions about the future were just as murky and choking as the air quality of China. The dirt of pollution streaked windows of otherwise beautiful hotels and skyscrapers.
Many luxury cars and SUVs were coated with the air’s filth. To protect themselves, many people wore face masks in cities my partner, Bette, and I visited.
Deteriorating health is the high cost of emerging countries, pushing hard and fast for the lifestyle of the West.
Wang Jian, the board chairman of the Beijing Genomics Institution, told the summit the world must decide which is more important ― people or money and growth.
“If not for health, what is the purpose of growth industries?” he asked. “People are the most important factor.”
High blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, respiratory and other illnesses stalk the successful Western lifestyle, other presenters at the summit warned.
In one slide, Wang showed the classic picture of man progressing from a hunched chimpanzee walking on all four limbs, to standing upright as a human being, to regressing to a hunched person at a computer. Let’s hope humanity makes the needed corrections so that the regression is arrested, pollution and global warming are reversed and species are saved, giving people and the planet a livable future.
By Lewis W. Diuguid
Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. ― Ed.