We are not prepared for the rise of developing nationsby Jay Elwes / May 30, 2013 / Leave a comment
Last night at the London School of Economics, James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank addressed a lecture theatre of students, professors and journalists. Wolfensohn, a natural wag, dotted his speech with several noteworthy anecdotes, not least the story of his first trip to Nigeria which ended with his being arrested as a spy.
However, his message was anything other than jocund. We—the west—are going into the future unprepared. The world has changed under our feet, said Wolfensohn, and the people who run the developed world have failed adequately to adapt. He noted that when he started working at the World Bank in 1995, the developed nations of the west accounted for close to 80 per cent of global economic activity. However, said Wolfensohn, in the course of the next 40 years that share will decline sharply, and by around 2050 will be only 35 per cent. The remainder will be made up by Africa, China, India and other developing nations.
People over the age of 40 simply have no idea of the changes that are coming, he said. They are stuck in the past vision of the world, where power resides in a clutch of western nations—but they don’t get it. In contrast, he said, the developed world is preparing. They get what’s happening because it’s in their interests to acknowledge a future that will be to their benefit. This is why next year China will send over 200,000 students to study in the United States, while in contrast barely 5,000 Americans will study in China.
Add to this the crisis posed by climate change and the inevitable fight that will arise over resources, especially water, Wolfensohn said, and this only amplifies the important need for us to engage with the changing nature of global power.
The lecture was given in honour of Amartya Sen—but Wolfensohn was quick to point out that this was not a memorial lecture. The more astute in the audience had realised this already, as Professor Sen was seated up on the stage next to Mr Wolfensohn chuckling and nodding along approvingly throughout his talk. The evening was chaired by Nicholas Stern of the LSE,…