The Next Convergence The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 8/7/2012
  • Publisher: Picador

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A Nobel Prize-winning economist tackles the profound challenges to sustainingeconomic growth in advanced and developing countries.

Author Biography

Michael Spence is a Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and was the chairman of the independent Commission on Growth and Development. Winner of the Nobel 2001 Prize in Economic Sciences, he lives in California and Italy.

Table of Contents

“The global economy is too complicated for slogans. Which is one reason why Michael Spence’s new book is so refreshing. Spence, who shared the Nobel Prize in economics with Joseph Stiglitz in 2001, has systematically investigated the origins of hypergrowth, the process through which national economies rise from poverty to relative prosperity. In The Next Convergence, he presents a nuanced, highly readable argument on the symbiotic, fraught relationship between today’s booming developing markets and the seemingly stagnant developed ones.”—Daniel Gross, The Washington Post
“Cogent, comprehensive, and compelling, his book sorts out the issues, forces and trends driving 'the Inclusiveness Revolution,' the challenges facing China and India, and the impact on incomes, natural resources, and the environment.”—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Huffington Post
“Michael Spence has written an intelligent, rational and humane book about the great economic event of our era: convergence, or the rapid rise of once poor countries. Anyone seeking a common-sense guide to the transformation under way need look no further . . . Readers will learn a great deal.”—Martin Wolf, The Financial Times
“[A] sharp new book . . . It’s rare to hear an economist raise even theoretical doubt over such a deeply ingrained assumption in Western economies.”—Reuters
“Michael Spence has long been pointing out the frictions that interfere with efficient markets . . . [He]
has much to offer from a rich career in research, academia and global policymaking.”— The Economist

“Contrary to his book’s title, Nobel Prize–winning economist Spence does less prognosticating than one might expect. Indeed, early on he shares a chart showing just how inaccurately economists predicted growth during the 1990s. Instead, he offers a comprehensive summary of the forces at play in today’s global economy: removal of trade barriers, the lightning-fast transfer of knowledge from developed to emerging economies, global demand, resources, the role of national and international governments, and the management (or not) of currency rates, among others. Spence’s style is pretty flat (Where’s John Kenneth Galbraith when we need him?), and he seems to underestimate the looming role of climate change in any economic scenario. Yet his status report could give attentive readers a more empowered role in their own economic future.”—Alan Moores, Booklist

“In recent years, developing countries have become an increasingly important driver of growth in the world economy, bringing about the prospect of a new and multi-polar landscape of the global economy in which the traditional gap in living standards between developing and advanced countries may possibly disappear. Michael Spence has written a succinct and clear analysis of the forces behind this fascinating process that is immensely readable, yet does justice to the complexity of the issues involved. Among the many books written on the new world economy this is one of the most profound. A must-read for everyone interested in the mega-trends shaping the future of the world economy.”—Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank Senior Vice President and Chief Economist
“Rarely does one find a book that is so powerful in its analysis, timely in its topic, relevant in its thinking, and clear in its exposition. Combining his Nobel Prize winning theoretical brilliance and unmatched operational experience, Professor Spence explains clearly complex multi-speed dynamics that are rapidly impacting our world and influencing the current and future well being of billions. This is by far the best book I have seen on today's historical growth transformations.”—Mohamed A. El-Erian, CEO and co-CIO of PIMCO, and author of When Markets Collide

“The emergence of China is just part of an amazing catching up process going in the world. We all feel this profound change, but few of us have the ability to step back, put it in perspective, analyze the past and guess where the future is taking us. Mike Spence has it, and he delivers. This is serious thinking, on essential issues. I learned a lot from the book, both in the small and in the large; I am sure other readers will as well.” —Olivier Blanchard, IMF Chief Economist and Class of 1942 Professor Economics, MIT

“Among economists, common sense is not that common. Fortunately, Michael Spence has long bucked the trend. In this book he dispenses wisdom on economic growth – and much else – in accessible, bite-sized chunks. The world’s policy makers better listen.” — Dani Rodrik, Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“I always knew that Mike Spence was a terrific economist. After reading this book I realize that he also has the rare ability to see the world economy—all of it, rich and poor—with clarity, reason and empathy. If you are looking for a lucid, readable, consistent, unprejudiced picture of what has been happening and what might happen next in the world economy, this is an excellent place to find it.” —Robert Solow, winner of the 1987 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences



As the global economy emerged in the post war period, the colonial system disappeared. Old colonies became new countries, some of them with very odd shapes and geographical positions. With no history of self-governance as nation states, they struggled to find their way, economically and in terms of stable governance. India created the world’s largest and most complex democracy—a modern miracle. China turned to communism, adopted the centrally planned model of economic organization, and made very little measurable economic progress for 29 years, but perhaps sowed the seeds of its future rise by educating the vast majority of its people. It dramatically changed direction in 1978 and became the largest (in population) and fastest growing country in the history of the world.

What no one saw clearly was that in the post war period, the economic party that had been running for 200 years in a small subset of the population was about to spread to much of the rest of the world.

The implications of this new convergence are profound and extensive. The costs of things will change. Goods and services that require human time and effort will become relatively more expensive, an inevitable consequence of the eventual decline of low cost underemployed labor in the global economy. Economic forces and incentives will try to make them less expensive by allocating more capital to labor and hence reducing the labor input required. But there are limits to substituting capital for labor, though these limits are moving as technology changes the art of the possible. The abundance of underemployed labor in the world economy has in a sense delayed the arrival of labor saving technology. But this will end in the current century.

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