The former editor of The Economist Bill Emmott has had the very good idea of diagnosing the ills besetting the West, though one should immediately note that his idea of the West also takes in Japan. The book will no doubt do very well, not least because of the anxieties arising from America’s ‘presidicament’.
Japan is generously treated. Emmott explores the country’s chronic economic stagnation and how it copes with an ageing and shrinking population. There are currently 65,000 centenarians in Japan, compared to just 153 in 1963, when such statistics were first collected. This kind of detail typifies Emmott’s engaging approach, and his book is cogently argued. His knowledge of Japan is matched by what he knows about Italy or Sweden, say, and such general trends as the rise of AI and robotics. I was surprised to learn that in the USA, home of capitalism red in tooth and claw, 30 per cent of jobs require an occupational licence from the local, state or federal government (these are often denied to convicted felons and former prisoners – some 17.2 million males in total). Bizarrely, Emmott informs us, ‘it takes more time to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer, and the hours of instruction to become a manicurist are double those needed by a paramedic’.
Emmott believes that the state of the West can be summed up in a series of Ds: ‘demoralised, decadent, deflating, demographically challenged, divided, disintegrating, dysfunctional, declining’. The chronic problems include economic failure as a result of the 2008 financial crash (he is rightly scathing about the bankers who