Ian Morris: The Next 40 Years Will Be the Most Important in Human History

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ian Morris, professor of classics and history at Stanford University, is the author of the just-published “Why the West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History, and What they Reveal About the Future.”]

The West is on top of the world. Only about one-seventh of the planet’s population lives in Europe or North America, but they generate two-thirds of its wealth, own two-thirds of its weapons, and spend more than two-thirds of its R&D dollars. On average, American workers are seven times as productive as China’s.

But when Richard Nixon made his famous visit to Beijing back in 1972, American workers had been 20 times as productive as Chinese. China’s share of global production was 5 percent then; now it is 14 percent. China is now the world’s second-biggest economy (Japan is the third) and the world’s biggest carbon emitter. The world’s fastest supercomputer is Chinese. Chinese taikonauts have walked in space, and will probably stand on the moon before Americans return there.

We are living through the biggest shift in wealth, power, and prestige since the Industrial Revolution catapulted Western Europe to global dominance 200 years ago.

The force driving the rise of the East is exactly the same as the force that drove the earlier rise of the West: the interaction of geography with economics and technology....

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