The World Economic Forum launched its seventh Global Risks report before this year’s annual meeting in Davos. The top risk this year, among the 50 most pressing risks based on a survey of 400 top business leaders, is income inequality and its associated economic and political risks. The report aptly summarized this risk as the “risk of dystopia.”
Renowned British economic historian Niall Ferguson in his new and dazzling history of Western ideas, Civilization: The West and the Rest, argues as his central thesis that the West developed six killer “apps”—referring to the popular software applications for smartphones and tablets—that caused the West to dominate the global stage for the last 500 years. These key institutions and complexes of ideas, such as “competition,” “property rights,” “the Work Ethic,” were what led the West to preside (relatively unchallenged) over global politics, economics, and culture, despite the fact that the civilizations of the Orient were much more advanced than Western Europe in the 1400s, which was plagued by disease and war. Over time, however, the West has become, as Ferguson puts it, a “template” for the Rest (i.e. non-Western countries), which have been copying (or downloading) the apps and are now on the verge of overtaking the West in terms of economic strength and size, led by China.