Finding the Right Perspective on the World's Prospects

For the moment the world is caught in the economic cross-currents between the European debt crisis and the robust growth figures coming out of Asia. Some see double dips, collapses and general decay and disintegration. Others see growth, progress, prosperity and a bright green future for all mankind.

Americans alternate wildly in our outlook, grasping at a few loopy tech stocks in hopes of a future payday, buying a little gold in case there is no future. Looking across the Atlantic and talking gloom and doom, then turning across the Pacific and wanting to get in on the action.

There’s good reason for our confusion. We’re the inflexion point between a tired Old World winding down after four centuries of frantic progress and a New Asia in the springtime of its rebirth as the world’s new economic center.

It’s no accident that among European nations the hardest hit by the debt crisis are the ones that figure most prominently in our western civilizations history books — Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain. Having rich, glorious histories make people stylishly fatalistic and blasé. It’s like the adage about youth and old age: if youth but knew, if old age but could. A deep awareness of past glory dampens enthusiasm for working up new sweat.

It’s no accident that the most economically vigorous of the European nations is the relatively new Germany which didn’t really exist until the late 19th century. Similarly, the Scandinavian nations, which we hardly read about in school, are also doing fine. Britain is doing okay, being neither one of the ancient powers nor a total upstart, and kept invigorated by immigrants from its old colonies. But as a continent Europe’s position relative to the world isn’t what it was in its heyday from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

Looking at Asia, it’s no accident that the nations leading the charge into the future are the ones that served more as places where empires went to die rather than as great expansionist powers.

China was the final resting place of the main branch of the Mongol Empire, as well as several empires that were born and collapsed entirely within its present-day borders. With the exception of a few brief moments of mostly defensive glory, Korea had a miserable history as a buffer between China and Japan. India too had some localized empires but on a global scale served mostly to contribute to the fatigue of the Mughal (Mongol), British and Japanese empires.

And now Chinese, Koreans and Indians are seizing the day by conquering the world with their electronics, cars, technological educations and sheer energy, drive and vitality.

So one’s view of the world’s future prospects depends mostly on which direction one is facing. If you’re focused on possible debt defaults by Greece, Portugal and Spain, you’re understandably jittery and pessimistic. If your attention is turned toward Asia’s remarkably swift rise to prosperity and stability, you’re likely an optimist.

As an Asian American I’m naturally turned toward Asia and it’s bright future. I can’t help seeing the world as a place that’s only getting better, notwithstanding the inevitable stumbles along the way. To me the world is a single united 4-by-400 relay team. One runner gives his all for a lap, then hands off the baton to the next. So it has been since the beginning of recorded history. Old Europe took the baton from the Middle East and has run its heart out, taking some big strides in the evolution of civilization. The baton was passed to the U.S. maybe 70 years ago. America is nearing the end of a spectacular lap and is getting ready to pass the baton to Asia.

Welcome to the human race.