A Book Review – Civilization

In Athenus Training & Consulting we would like to introduce a book for a month and also express our opinion on that, so that it would be good platform for the viewers to have a look into the books and their contents.

The Book we are going to review this month is Civilization: The west and the rest, by Naill Ferguson. Naill Ferguson is a renowned author and a keynote speaker who has written extensively on Financial History, and History.  The Ascent of money, the war of the worlds, Colossus: the Rise and fall of the American Empire are some of his other books where he analysis the Financial history of the globe.

About the Author:

Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. A weekly columnist for Newsweek and a contributing editor for Bloomberg TV, Niall Ferguson divide his time between the United States and the United Kingdom. He is currently working on a life of Henry Kissinger. The film based on his interviews with Kissinger won the 2011 New York Film Festival prize for Best Documentary. Prof. Ferguson’s research is principally focused on nineteenth- and twentieth-century subjects, with an emphasis on economic and especially financial history. He has subsidiary interests in international relations and military conflict. He continues to be interested in the use of counterfactuals in historical explanation.

Synopsis:

Naill Ferguson in this book has tried to find out what made the west most powerful and dominant both on political and financial status. A hundred years before, it would have been answered simply as racial supremacy, THE WHITEMEN ADVANTAGE. He in this book tries and proves that wrong. He also from there moves to a point is the period of western dominance over the world is approaching its end. He terms there are six main issues which gave the west a great advantage and mileage to move ahead the rest of the world. He calls them six killer apps. The Author believes that east now has started downloading those six apps, and hence it is improving and on the path to become new global power. The six killer apps are

Competition

Science

Rule of law

Medicine

Consumerism and

Work ethics.

Let us see them what the author has to say about these things in his book and then we can see how relevant these things are to the current scenario.

Competition:

The author says the competition which the small nations like England, Dutch, France, and some other European countries for survival made them rich. This competition made them to become an organized work force and they even start to raise money from bonds and equity shares in order to make a sea travel, go to a distant land and make a fortune. The period from 13th century to 14th century was terrible for Europe. It was full of wars, people starved to death. To make things worst people died of what was famously known as Black Death, death caused by Plague. This situation kindled their competitive aggression and made them to live fiercely. They fought and got what they wanted. They were slowly becoming Go Getters. At that time there were two great empires where ruling the Globe. One of them was in Far East by Chinese Han Dynasty. The other one was Ottoman Empire which was vast that it can compromise eight roman empires within it. If you think that Europeans are the first persons to start a voyage on ship you are mistaken. Chinese did that in 10th century itself (Thanks to them we have giraffes in India). What happened to Chinese and Ottoman Empires? They went to destruction slowly as there was no competition. They had no need to fight over anything, which brought in lethargies and complacencies. This is the first app.

 Science:

The second killer app according to the author is Science. He says the correlation of text book science into real life experience was the key. He gives an example of how Physics theory was translated into the action for preparing military ammunitions and weapons gave west an edge towards the other nations. Diamond Geared in his book called Guns, Germs & Steel, has mentioned the same theme. He also says that Muslims were the fore runners in creating science, but they lagged behind as there were religious obstacles. The turning point as per his say is when the Newtonian physics of mass and distance was correlated by a man called Fridriech in Germany to the absolute trajectory of a bullet from a gun. So by these advancements the west had their foot ahead.

Rule of law or Democracy:

In this area the author sites example of US formation. How people from England who were thrashed by poverty and revolution wanted to find a new land, where they were promised Newlands by John Luke if they work hard enough and make it a prosperous land. The people then landed on the coast and worked their way out. But the point is they were given lands as promised and when they formed as a community and then a society due to this freedom, they formed democratic form of government where everybody had a right to have their say. The author also sites the misfortunes of South America, at the similar period as it was an autocratic governing nation. So that was the third Killer app.

Modern Medicine:

The fourth Killer app is the modern medicine that the westerners developed and the longevity of human lives that helped them to be a step ahead of others, says the author. This modern science of medicine as he puts it saw a great leap in progress from late 19th century to early 20th century. The author here speaks about the entrepreneurialism combined with Biological science knowledge which enhanced the west not only to make them live longer, but also live richer. There is one very important point to be noted here. Whenever we speak of Entrepreneurism we speak about risk appetite and risk taking. But the western countries did this with no risk at all. They had colonies in India, Africa, and rest of the countries in Asia, where people were made as experimental rats to check their new medicine. This is called cheap labor or perhaps free labor. The west thus made Innovations by trial and error and hence became the great power of having the modern medicine.

Consumerism:

This is one of the Important reason that west had grown economically leaps and bounds in the last seven or so decades. People bought things that were produced by them. Or to put it frankly the companies made them buy what they produced. Author in this book gives the example of Levi jeans being sold to people of Paris, Berlin; South American countries where people were struggling even to get food properly for a whole day. This frenzy buying nature which was created by excessive and aggressive marketing campaign drove consumerism to a great height which propelled their economy (now that is causing their downfall too). So that was the fifth killer app.

Work Ethics:

The Sixth and final killer app is the work ethics followed by the westerners. Author of this book gives credit to the Protestant Christianity which made this as a life style for most of the westerners. He goes to such a limit and says people of China convert themselves into Christianity, especially to protestant way, and hence they form a great work force that produce 69% of the total goods produced by the world.

Having seen what all the things said in the book, let’s give our opinion and insights.

Though the author has tried to give different perspectives for the western domination but we feel those things though are distinct are not sufficient. In the first Killer app he describes how the society was. Any man who has a reasonable sanity would not like to be a part of such society. In India and China in the similar period people were extremely happy and prosperous. He claims that complacency caused China its misfortunes. After 1929 debacle in US finance, US goes with the Keynesian Strategy of Quantitative easing and free money and hopes the Animal Spirits of the business people would make then rise again and they would pay the state with excess wealth. If Competition is the driver of the well being, now the Competition is very intense. Now the Competition is not only from the own country but globally. We all know what happened to Ford, GM and Chevrolet went through when a competition from a Japan car company TOYOTA came into US market. Now they face similar situation since 2008. But the animal spirit for which the US is hoping has gone completely missing. If it is said that the society is not so much insane on the periods from 13th to 15th century to drive growth, we would rather be in a peaceful society and saner one with less growth. Then the author speaks about the scientific advancement. We have to note that the author did not emphasis on the science that gave goodness to humanity, but he speaks of science which brought destruction to the humanity. In a way he is correct, because the whole of European and US economic prosperity could never be understood, if we fail to understand the world wars happened. This destructive science gave them a chance to mass produce goods and sell to people who have lost everything on war. This science is not a cure; it is a curse which has returned to US and Europe in the form of IRAN now.  So it literally means US and Europe cannot be the world leaders again unless there is a World war 3. But unfortunately most of the nations are building their military bases even ignoring food production and education. So if West world sets out on destruction, it would be a doomsday rather than a hope for resurrection.  The next thing he says is democracy, which is acceptable. When people are given basic education, and freedom of thought and speech; the democracy is the greatest asset a country can ever have. But if the literacy level drop, if the educated youth are frustrated because of unemployment the free will which democracy upholds would become a destruction force too. In India, the chances of this are huge as Education is yet to be taken seriously. We have a grave concern of having 60% of the workforce or in agriculture sector which accounts roughly 12 to 15% of the GDP. There are lots of people who migrate to cities to get a job because there is no job in agriculture sector in rural areas. Unless this is handled deftly and swiftly, what we call the greatest strength can become our greatest threat. The next is Consumerism. Consumerism is one thing which is being created. In our opinion it is not good if a growing economy is pushing the growth by credit without having the people who have the capacity of payback. If the people who are earning and spending, then the issue is ok. India and China who have a huge advantage about this thing is now considered as a market for the globe. Companies put up their production units, retail units, and direct selling outlets in these countries hoping that it can take its road to prosperity again. We wish them luck in that. But there would be a stiff competition from the local sellers and vendors. The last point is having Work ethics. It is very funny that the author has said because of the protestant way of living the people in the west have developed the attitude of work ethics. He even says China is converting into protestant Christianity which gives people a will to work hard. Either the author must be too naïve or too arrogant, that a doubt arises in our heart whether he would have gone through any other philosophies. In short he says, the west is slogging now but will bounce back. He says that still Innovation has to come from west. Unfortunately we don’t think so. If you have seen the movie Social network – movie about face book and its founder Mark zuckerburg, the first dialogue in the movie goes like this. The protagonist asks the friend is she aware that there are whole lots of intelligent people in China than there are in Americas. His friend neglects it and says how it is possible? For which he replies, well there are whole lots of people in china for the primary reason. Watch out Naill, it’s our time.

Please shed your comments below and let us know what you felt about the article. We are here to initiate a good healthy and learning debate.

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