The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 6, 2009


Panel considers the post-American world

Glen Urban (far left) moderates the panel discussion of the Carlisle Community Read book The Post-American World. The other panel members were (left to right) Mark Cragan, Joseph Albanese, Michael Ruettgers, Ray Offenheiser and Bruce Hitchner. (Photo by Dave Ives)

Eighty people turned out on Thursday evening, January 22, in Union Hall to participate in a panel discussion on globalization based on Carlisle’s Community Read book choice, Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. Panel moderator Glen Urban, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s David Austin Professor of Marketing, chair of the MIT Center for Digital Business and former dean of the Sloan School of Management, introduced a distinguished panel of speakers who held the audience in rapt attention for over an hour with their responses to the question: are we entering a post-American world?

“This is a very auspicious moment,” Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser said, “for us to be having this discussion... In Washington, we are also having a debate about our national security, smart power, and the ‘three D’s’: diplomacy, development and defense [that Zakaria addresses]. What is the right balance between hard and soft power in this new strategic reality?”

Pragmatic, not dogmatic

R. Bruce Hitchner, chair of the Classics department at Tufts University and of the Dayton Peace Accords Project asserted, “We will confront more competitors for things we thought to be our domain.”

Panelist Michael Ruettgers, former chair of the EMC Corporation, articulated a more sober point of view: “There is no question that we have lost ground. We have to become practical and pragmatic instead of dogmatic about all this… We have to approach things culturally, differently, and for the long term.”

Captain Joseph Albanese of the U.S. Naval Reserves added, “‘The rise of the rest’ [Zakaria’s phrase to indicate the rise in prosperity and power of developing nations] is consistent with much of what we have created. We are helping the tide rise: how do we capitalize on that to our mutual benefit? … There is still nobody else better positioned to fulfill that leadership role than we are.”

Mark Cragan, vice-president of Global Services for IBM Corporation commented, “Our businesses are and always have been able to make bold decisions. How do we change on the political side to be able to make the same type of decisions?”

Panelists question old models

Hitchner, by profession a classicist, questioned whether the economic and political models and structures that “have been there from the 1600s will see us through. History has never shown that intensive growth remains the successful model. Is democratization inevitable? Are the large nation-states the model that will proceed into the future? We may well be on the verge of a new paradigm shift that we’re not seeing.”

Offenheiser agreed. “In today’s geopolitics,” he said, “three large blocs may put forward a proposition to the rest of the world: the U.S. liberal nation-state; China, which is about building greater Chinese prosperity without basic [human] rights; and the EU [European Union], a multi-lateral model. Now developing countries can shop around between these three propositions.

“The [United Nations] Security Council is debating the idea of adding members: why not have an EU representative? The G8 meeting recently was actually a G20 meeting. Should we reform the governments of banking institutions like the World Bank? The WTO may also be an unsatisfactory framework. What sort of system of global financial architecture do we need to manage finance in a secure way and avoid the climates we have now?”

Cragan mused, “The next generation of kids will be very comfortable in that world. The more it changes, the more that represents an advantage to us.”

Summarizing the issues

Urban asked each panelist to summarize: “What are the one or two most important things you think the U.S. should do to reflect a positive long-run foreign and economic policy?”

Cragan said immediately, “Not waste the economic crisis. We have another moment to make a profound change because we are in distress. This is a huge challenge for our political system. We need big central decision-making.”

Albanese asserted, “We need to reposition our reputation so that we have credible leadership. We need to prove the way we were perceived in our heyday, the way people thought of us after World War II.”

Ruettgers said, “The U.S. is the engine that drives the world economically. The rest of the world can’t move until we start to move. We have to put people back to work…We have to get consumers spending again.”

“There are tremendous opportunities for us in the ‘green economy,’” said Offenheiser. And maybe one of the best ways to help Americans overcome their anxiety about participating in the global market is to overhaul health care and make it universal, as other countries have done. How do we [find] an integrated and coherent approach to linking aid, trade and investment?”

Hitchner answered, “Be prescriptive. Do more anticipating and less responding. We need to presume complexity… and prepare to stay in once we are in.”

Audience questions and comments

In answer to audience member Bonnie Miskolczy’s question about where sustainability fits into the growth pattern, Ruettgers replied, “I’ve been impressed by how many businesses actually do participate in and measure sustainability.” Then he asked, “How do we distribute food in the food crisis? How will we meet the demands put on our basic global food supply?”

Urban believes, “The good news is that the next generation of students are working on sustainability right now.”

Audience member Michael O’Laughlin commented that, “the massive migration of people parallels antiquity. The Romans created obstructions to stop people moving into the developed world. Societies that accept populations do better than those that reject them. If you throw somebody out, they go somewhere else and use that place against you.”

Panelists agreed. “Knowledge and sharing of knowledge,” they said, “create common bonds and bridges across cultures.”

Urban ended the evening with the idea that globalization should be about “collective security: an American presence, rather than American power, excites other countries. Can we become more clever about how we present ourselves?” ∆

[Ed note: The event will be aired on local access TV. Check CCTV listings for time and channel.]

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito