The 88 Percent

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The 12 percent of the world’s population who live in the West simply have to make room at the table for the other 88 percent now rising to take their place in the global order. That’s the simple, powerful message of Kishore Mahbubani – and when you hear it put in such stark terms, it’s hard not to think he has a point.

It’s also a message that Western ears rarely hear. Mahbubani is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He served two stints as Singapore’s ambassador to the United Nations. Foreign Policy magazine has named him several times to its list of the top 100 global thinkers.   

I began talking with Mahbubani by phone and email a few years ago, while researching Singapore’s remarkable achievements in education, health care and economic growth. We visited in his office when I was in Singapore last year. Now he has a provocative new book out, “The Great Convergence,” that’s bullish about humanity’s prospects as markets and middle-class aspirations spread to every corner of the globe.

Mahbubani notes that the Asian middle class will grow from roughly 500 million people today to a staggering 1.75 billion by 2020. "The world has never seen anything like this before," he says, adding that America and the West have to rethink global institutions to remain legitimate and seize the promise of this new age. If that meansFrance and England no longer belong on the UN Security Council, well, it’s not 1945 anymore. Mahbubani also says the Iraq war was a huge geopolitical gift to the Chinese, since it distracted America during a crucial decade when China integrated itself irreversibly into the global economy (in many ways to America’s disadvantage).

You should give this episode a listen -- I think you’ll agree that Kishore Mahbubani has fresh insights that navigate empathetically between East and West in ways you just don’t hear anywhere else.



Matt Miller