Francis Fukuyama, author most prominently of the provocative 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, has written an intriguing essay in The Wall Street Journal in which he argues that today’s political turmoil all over the world–Brazil, Egypt, Turkey, the Arab Spring, China, and elsewhere–has a common theme: the failure of governments to meet the rising expectations of the newly prosperous and educated.
He writes that the global economic growth that has taken place since the 1970s has reshuffled the economic deck around the world–“The emerging middle classes in the so-called emerging market countries are larger, richer, better educated and more technologically connected than ever before.” This particularly has huge implications for China, which has developed a middle class now numbering in the hundreds of millions, and he wonders how and when these pressures will result in meaningful political change, not to mention how this will play out in terms of its impact on stability. He adds that this new middle class is not just a challenge for authoritarian regimes or new democracies and he emphasizes that no political leader should be lulled into thinking “it can’t happen here”.
It occurs to me that these frustrations and the inevitable transformation that will result will be messy and in many cases violent, as we are already witnessing. But I worry about the larger questions for the U. S., which are how we are positioned to defend our interests in a chaotic and violent world, and more significantly, how do we respond to the threats to our own domestic stability, competitiveness, and delivery of expectations when we are in decline in our provision of educational advancement, competency, and marketable skills in our elementary and secondary school system. We remain the indispensable nation and our leadership will be critical to world stability and prosperity, but it remains to be seen whether we will be up to the task.