An article in this week's Economist begins with a simple premise: hope, that most basic of human emotions, is critically important. Think of politicians keeping an eye on right-track/wrong-track public opinion polls, the magazine suggests, or the role confidence plays in consumer spending. And who could forget the iconic campaign posters designed by Shepard Fairey that helped shepherd President Obama to victory?
When it comes to optimism, the article argues, the West--dominated by the conviction that humans could continually improve themselves--has had the upper hand in the world for the last four centuries:
Western intellectuals dreamed up the ideas of enlightenment and progress, and Western men of affairs harnessed technology to impose their will on the rest of the world. The Founding Fathers of the United States, who firmly believed that the country they created would be better than any that had come before, offered citizens not just life and liberty but also the pursuit of happiness.
The dynamic, the Economist contends, has now shifted dramatically; the belief that one's country is headed in the right direction is more widely held in countries like China and India than in places like the United Kingdom and the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Business investment is changing as well, as companies favor emerging markets over the developed world.
How is this global redistribution of hope manifesting itself in world affairs?
The magazine explains that in the West, gloom and bipartisan rancor have descended upon Washington while protests and violence crop up in Europe. The article chalks these developments up in part to the economic crisis, which has battered Westerners' confidence in their institutions and also exacerbated the growth disparities between mature and emerging economies. But "the dreams that have propelled the West" are also imperiled, as American parents come to doubt whether their children will live better than they did and Europeans lose faith in the sustainability of the European Union and the welfare state. In the developing world, meanwhile, colleges are sprouting up, scientific research is accelerating, and companies such as India's Infosys and China’s Huawei are outpacing their competitors in the developed world.
Ultimately, however, the West should celebrate the increase in positive thinking in the developing world, the magazine concludes:
There is a growing recognition that the old rich world cannot take its prosperity for granted--that it will be overtaken by hungrier powers if it fails to deal with its structural problems. Americans are beginning to accept that their country must become less spendthrift. Europeans are realising that they need to make their economies more agile and innovative. Both are beginning to treat this crisis as the opportunity that it is.
Nor should Westerners overdo the despair, for the emergence of new great powers will benefit them, too ... The rising number of Indians, Chinese and Brazilians who can afford to buy their products and services will help their companies prosper. The countries that have provided them with workers will increasingly provide them with customers too.