The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West

The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West

by Charles Kenny

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America is in decline, and the rise of the East suggests a bleak future for the world’s only superpower – so goes the conventional wisdom. But what if the traditional measures of national status are no longer as important as they once were? What if America’s well-being was assessed according to entirely different factors?

In The Upside of


America is in decline, and the rise of the East suggests a bleak future for the world’s only superpower – so goes the conventional wisdom. But what if the traditional measures of national status are no longer as important as they once were? What if America’s well-being was assessed according to entirely different factors?

In The Upside of Down, Charles Kenny argues that America’s so-called decline is only relative to the newfound success of other countries. And there is tremendous upside to life in a wealthier world: Americans can benefit from better choices and cheaper prices offered by schools and hospitals in rising countries, and, without leaving home, avail themselves of the new inventions and products those countries will produce. The key to thriving in this world is to move past the jeremiads about America’s deteriorating status and figure out how best to take advantage of its new role in a multipolar world. A refreshing antidote to prophecies of American decline, The Upside of Down offers a fresh and highly optimistic look at America’s future in a wealthier world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy within the next 15 years, but, according to former World Bank economist Kenny, there is a silver lining for the U.S. economy. Kenny continues in the optimistic vein of his first book, Getting Better, as he explains why America losing its status as the unchallenged global superpower doesn’t have to mean declining living standards for its citizens. “America is a country made great by the founding principles of broad-based democracy, education, civil rights, and openness embodied in ”—qualities that Americans should be glad to see spread throughout the world. As developing countries grow richer and more educated, global values will converge. Kenny decries the simplistic reasoning inherent in judging nations based solely on their GDP or military: “being biggest and among the richest hasn’t helped the United States stake a global lead on measures of the broader quality of life.” Unfortunately, his analysis feels incomplete: the fact that America (and much of the rest of the world) is facing very real economic headwinds goes largely unmentioned. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, the Sagalyn Agency. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“[A] lively little book.... [Kenny’s] convincing conclusion argues that Western countries should take steps now to lock in global rules and institutions that will protect their interests and values in a future in which they will be less powerful.”
Foreign Affairs

“Among the many tomes that have been written on (relative) American decline, Charles Kenny’s new book, The Upside of Down, is the rare one that embraces it.... His book proves not only a ‘refreshing antidote to prophecies of American decline,’ to quote the dust jacket, but also an idea-rich guide for preventing such prophecies from becoming self-fulfilling.... Kenny makes a compelling case that ‘the greatest threat to a brighter future is to dwell on the risk of failure.’”
Boston Review

“Upbeat without being Panglossian, Kenny’s starting point is that the relative decline is inevitable. The rise of the rest is not only well under way. It is also desirable.... Kenny’s account of US misdirectedness is salient. Yet he never strays too far from his chief argument—the west has all the resources it needs to make life better for all of its people. That, after all, is what the game should be about.”
Financial Times

“[Kenny] argues that just because one nation is winning does not mean another must lose; instead, he shows convincingly how the benefits of success spread far beyond borders.... [H]is statistic-laden polemic is ultimately a glorious hymn to the transformative powers of globalisation, showing the beneficial impact for everyone as countries become richer, healthier and smarter.... Once again, Kenny offers a powerful antidote to the poisonous pessimism that prevails in too many places.”
The Observer (UK)

“An optimistic view of the future economy—refreshing…”
Kirkus Reviews

“Charles Kenny is the real deal: an optimist with an economist’s data to back him up. So when he looks at the glass and sees it’s half full—you can rest assured it’s not because he needs new contacts. In The Upside of Down, he carefully dismantles our preconceived notions about American decline and the rise of the rest—and makes a convincing case by the end for why we shouldn't be too worried about either.”
—Susan Glasser, editor, POLITICO Magazine

“America’s declining influence in the world has been the subject of many books, articles and spirited debates. Charles Kenny explains why the declinists are wrong and surprises us with insights that are as original as they are persuasive. Read this book if you want to be reassured about America's future.”
—Moisés Naím, Carnegie Endowment and author of The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What it Used to Be

“Only Charles Kenny could write a cheerful book about decline. But by showing that relative decline actually means absolute gain when measuring the progress of the United States against rising powers such as Brazil, India, China, and parts of Africa, Kenny opens the door to a far more positive vision of the future, one that is backed by data rather than dreams and that inspires both hope and energy. The Upside of Down turned my world right side up!”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation and Bert G. Kerstetter ‘66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

“This book is the essential guide to understanding, and being rationally optimistic about, the weakening West, rising Rest, globalizing all story that is now playing out. Charles Kenny, admirably conversant with the facts and research, lays this story out with clarity, lightness, and insight.”
—Arvind Subramanian, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and author of Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance

Kirkus Reviews
If you want to know how the rise of China is affecting your daily life, check the beer cooler. Thirty years ago, writes World Bank senior economist Kenny (Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--And How We Can Improve the World Even More, 2011), beer consumption in China was pretty well nonexistent. Today, China "consumes more than 40 billion liters," plenty more than is consumed in the United States. Does that mean that the Chinese are stealing our suds or that brewers are ignoring the American market? Not at all: By Kenny's lights, illuminating his overarching thesis on the positives of development, "beer provides [a] global opportunity for Western brands from Guinness to Schlitz." Faced with declining markets for consumer goods of various sorts in the satiated West, Western concerns can thrive anew with the expansion of markets abroad--not just in China, but in India, Latin America, Africa and everywhere in the developing world, which is acquiring the wherewithal to bring abundance to its people. A moralist might cringe, but to Kenny, this is generally a good thing, not only since innovation will flow from such markets, but also due to the fact that it will help integrate the world economy even further. Arguing against "declinist" views of the West, the author claims that the lifting-all-boats model is largely correct, and if the go-go growth models of the past are likely not to govern the future economy, at least some growth will be possible, an unlikely scenario in an isolationist West with a declining and aging population. The rise of the rest will affect the rest in that sense, too, Kenny writes, since even if "real demand for migration is lower than stated demand," there is still need for skilled workers from abroad to move to America, leading to the continuing internationalization and diversification of American society. An optimistic view of the future economy--refreshing in that sense, but perhaps a touch too rosy, even if written with the dry detachment of an economist.

Product Details

Basic Books
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5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Charles Kenny, previously a senior economist at the World Bank, is now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a columnist for Bloomberg Businessweek and Foreign Policy magazines. He lives in Washington, DC.

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