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The Forces Of Culture Behind Economies’ ‘Fortunes’

February 4, 2011

Glenn C. Altschuler for NPR:

These days, most of our troubles can be explained away by the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” We await the latest numbers on unemployment, inflation, imports, exports and government deficits. We go up and down with the stock market. Nonetheless, according to author Daniel Altman, we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the deep structural factors that underpin the world’s economies.

n his new book, Outrageous Fortunes, Altman analyzes these factors — including natural resources, demography, geography, climate, culture and politics — in an effort to “refocus economic prediction” on the longer term, decades away. Informative and accessible, penetrating and provocative, his book is a first-rate guide to global trends.

Altman, founder of the consulting firm North Yard Economics and an instructor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, is nothing if not bold. Despite its phenomenal recent growth, China, he predicts, is not likely to overtake the United States as the world’s leading economic power. Still a hierarchical culture, rife with corruption and lacking a first-rate technology infrastructure, China is not at all receptive to start-up businesses. Even more importantly, thanks to the “one-child policy” instituted in 1979, China’s population is increasing by less than 0.7 per year, making it the fastest aging country in the world. By 2050, as China feeds hundreds of millions of senior citizens, average incomes will grow at lower rates than in the U.S. Its moment in economic history, Altman asserts, “will be impressive, but brief.” [More]

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