Q&A - Global dominance

Updated: 18 March 2015




Why is India not included?


There are a number of countries that could have been included in this comparative analysis: India, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia.

India will clearly dominate the world in terms of population size. The country will soon outbreed China and become the most populous nation on earth. And it is already, by far, the most populous democracy. But India has fundamental deficits in its social, cultural and economic structure, which will hold back the nation for decades to come. The persistence of an ancient cast system, deeply rooted in the cultural identity of Indian people, is not compatible with a modern society that must utilize all human resources. The low status of (most) women, the elitist behavior and unchallenged privileges of Brahmans and other higher casts, the culturally ingrained poor health and hygiene standards, and the persistent poverty and environmental pollution (particularly in the sprawling slums of big cities) will slow down the development of this nation. Other than China, India also does not have a sufficiently large private economic sector - too much of the economy is still under the control of corrupt, inefficient and incapable bureaucrats. And while the government may be democratic, it has so far failed to address the most fundamental deficits in India's development - such as the abysmally bad infrastructure (which had been actually better under English rule), the explosive population growth, the inefficient and corrupt administration and the lack of social and cultural modernization. India may have some of the smartest mathematicians on earth and highly educated and cultivated elites - but their widespread ignorance concerning the living conditions of hundreds of millions of struggling, low-caste fellow Indians is one of the roots of the country's development gap.

These are some of the reasons, why India was not considered as a country that might become a dominating global power in the 21st century - despite its nuclear arsenal and despite its large population.


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Why were 10 dimensions used to compare China, Europe and the United States of America?


To evaluate the potential of countries and regions one needs a theoretical model that captures the fundamental drivers of development. The model used in this analysis is derived from ideas of Talcott Parsons, Amitai Etzioni and other (almost forgotten) social scientists, who have tried to understand basic mechanisms of social and economic development.

My own model assumes that development is based on conditions and trends in 10 fundamental dimensions. These dimensions can be classified into inputs, actions, and structures or capabilities.

Inputs are those dimensions that countries need to have available in their own territory in order to develop. These include primarily the dimensions of human and natural resources as well as the conditions of their location (climate, topography, etc.).

Actions are those dimensions of development where countries can take initiative to improve their conditions. These include everything a country or region can do to recruit competent political leaders and establish a functioning political system (the policy dimension in the widest sense).  They also include all measures to promote economic development and generation of wealth (economic dimension). And, most importantly, countries can take action to promote science and technology.

Structures and capabilities are those conditions in countries that emerge from deeply rooted cultural and social traits, are embedded into legal or administrative procedures or need long-term resource allocation and preparation. These include various institutions and regulations (such as the civil legal system or the particular business law). It also includes the already built and available infrastructure (roads, bridges, telecommunication, cities, etc.) which can give a country or region an important advantage in development. And last, but not least, it includes the dimensions of military and intelligence capabilities. Without such capabilities no country or regions will become a dominating global power in the 21st century.

The ten key dimensions of development used in this analysis are discussed here.



Which country or region will dominate the 21st century?


The United States of America. Despite serious challenge from Europe and China, the United States will still remain the dominant superpower for decades to come. The US continues to be highly successful in attracting the best talent from around the world. Its human resource pool of top researchers, creative minds and economic innovators and entrepreneurs is unparalleled. No other country in the world has the explosive entrepreneurial potential of the silicon valley or the density of talent in elite universities such as Harvard, Yale, or MIT. The US can also fund a wide range of "think tanks" that work on all dimensions of development - from basic research to military technology and political analysis. And, of course, the US is the only remaining military superpower. Its military and strategies capabilities surpass those of any other country or region by far. As recent revelations from Edward Snowden have shown, US intelligence agencies are essentially controlling the Internet and other worldwide communication channels (cell phone networks) and are far ahead in encryption technology and the most advanced software tools. Military and civil research into future technologies, such as robotics, encryption, miniaturization or micro-biology, are cutting-edge in the US. However, there are also challenges that may jeopardize the leading position of the US in the 21st century: The heterogeneity and inequality of talent, education, living conditions, income, health, and many other characteristics is mind-boggling and is still increasing in the United States. While the US may have some of the brightest minds in the world, large section of the population are poorly educated (particularly in math, sciences and geography) and badly informed - with an intellectual horizon that barely stretches beyond their county or state. With the exception of recent immigrants, few people in America speak a second language or know anything about the world outside the US. Mass media have degenerated into pure advertising channels with slices of "trash TV" in between. Even news channels are packed with infomercials that promote the shopping-addiction of many Americans.  American pop-culture pollutes the minds of billions of people around the world with excessively violent action movies and computer games. Significant groups of the population are religious fanatics who deny evolution, and even larger groups are deeply skeptical about the results of modern science (vaccines, climate change, etc.). Due to its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial composition the US society is also constantly threatened by cultural, social and racial conflict. Murder rates, which have fallen significantly in recent decades, are still five to ten times higher than in other developed countries. The US already has one of the largest incarcerated populations in the world - rivaling those of bloody dictatorships. Compared with many European countries and China the US is thinly populated with many unspoiled natural parks. But the industrial and agricultural exploitation of natural resources is ruthless and has recently been extended enormously with the exploration of shale gas and oil. The living environment in many US cities is lousy (as compared to Europe) - with long commutes, low-quality, but expensive, apartments, permanent noise, significant air pollution and little green space. Labor conditions are tough and the middle classes have experienced real-term wealth decline in recent decades. Working hours are long and many Americans "work till they drop". But as long as these fault lines and potential breaking points in the development of the United States can be compensated by this nation's enormous innovative strength it will remain the dominating power of the 21st century. 

Europe, on the other hand, is seriously handicapped by its poor political and economic integration and weak political elites. These elites have failed to truly understand two fundamental demographic problems of the continent: its extremely low fertility and the undecided lasses-fair approach to immigration. Both trends are fundamentally unsustainable. Large sections of the population on the "old" continent (which is, in fact, demographically aging) are also poorly motivated, economically unproductive or absorbed in idle cultural value disputes instead of dealing with real problems. Large sections of the population are more interested in enjoying life than in working hard for economic or scientific achievements. A "nanny-state mentality" is spreading, where people believe that the state should take care of everyone from the "cradle to the grave". Left-wing and communist ideologies are still vibrant and could spread when governments have to cut pension and social security systems due to population aging and decline. The outlook is bleak that Europe will generate the necessary innovations to allow economic prosperity despite aging population. While the continent still has world-leading basic research capacity in the natural sciences (CERN) and excellent technical development expertise and capacity (Airbus, car industry), the countries of Europe are lagging behind the US in key future technologies (telecom infrastructure, software and encryption, robotics, miniaturization, space technology). General education in Europe is mediocre at best - with math and sciences being neglected by ideologically motivated educational reforms. Top researchers are still leaving Europe for the US and most countries seem to be incapable of truly supporting entrepreneurship.

After centuries of isolation and decades of communist madness under Mao Zedong, China, has now managed, after the reforms of Deng Xiaoping and his successors, to catch up again with the leading countries and regions of the world. China is now part of the global economy after three decades of economic and social modernization. Major factors of the "China miracle" were the government's measures to control the population explosion ("one child policy) and to introduce a market economy. However, China is still handicapped by three major deficits: The authoritative and increasingly controlling political system is suffocating human creativity and political participation. China will not fully utilize the innovative potential of its highly talented human resource base when (Internet) censorship and political suppression will continue. China also has the handicap that its massive population is concentrated in densely populated coastal regions and urban areas, where environmental conditions (particularly north of the Yangtze river) are horrendously bad. The human and economic costs of environmental degradation - not to speak about the costs of cleaning up the environment - are enormous and will drag down China's economy in decades to come. And finally, China has to transform its current economy of resource- and labor-intensive industrial production into a system delivering high-tech products and services. For this China needs a technically better qualified labor force - and most of all, a highly innovative research and high-tech development sector, which is still lacking.


Creative Commons License "China-Europe-USA" by Gerhard K. Heilig is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Published: 2004; Revised: 2015