Book Review: The End of Power by Moises Naim

Terence O'Neill Book Review

Earlier this year founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg publicized his plan to read a book every two weeks for the duration of the year. For his first selection, he chose The End of Power, a book about the changing state of power relationships across the globe. Like Zuckerberg’s learning of Mandarin Chinese, this personal goal is also tied to his role of leading a large multinational company—knowing how the world is changing can only help his business, and he’s betting that his fellow readers would like to similarly benefit.

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Overview

Charismatic faiths. Startups. Terrorism. The Tea Party. In this book, Moises Naim studies these seemingly disconnected topics and weaves them together into the argument that in every type of organization, keeping and enacting power is more difficult than ever before. Moises Naim has a decorated career as leader in economic thought, including stints as Venezuela’s Minister of Trade and Industry and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine. In The End of Power, Naim builds on his past work monitoring the world’s activities and how they relate to finance, academic research on a variety of topics, and innumerable conversations with key decision makers around the world. Through these diverse means, he finds that rulers are increasingly unsure of their grip on power, and that they have good reason to be uncertain. The world is changing quickly.

Technology is Overrated

A primary narrative is that technology enables more people to more easily interact, thus allowing for disruption and the audibility of a variety of voices. Naim argues that though this is important, technology itself would not be causing the momentous upheaval that we are now seeing. Instead, Naim sees three words as summing up the real drivers of change: More, Mobility, and Mentality.

More signifies the simple fact that there are more people than ever before. The sheer number of humans demands that whoever is in charge, they have to account for a greater number of possible stakeholders.

The Mobility revolution is defined by the ability for humans, their ideas, and their activities to go from one place to another more easily. Naim describes these effects in money, and one example he gives is remittances: people sending money back to their family’s home accounts for some 449 billion dollars in 2010, more than foreign direct investment despite that sector’s own tremendous growth.

The mentality revolution is defined by people simply expecting both improvement and agency in their lives. One example here highlights the differences Naim sees between a technological explanation and the real drivers: the Arab Spring’s organizing took place partly on Twitter, but was more actively driven by the youth’s expectations that they have access to well-paying jobs that capitalized on their unprecedented level of education.

Disruption

These destabilizing forces have had a profound effect on power dynamics. Command and control has become much more difficult as political constituents or churchgoers expect more information and more say. The machinery of bureaucracy, developed over centuries as the best way to effectively administer, is now being steadily undermined from a number of directions.

In addition to the overemphasis on technology, Naim identifies another trope as a misunderstanding of how the world is changing: the United States is losing power to China. In Naim’s view, no country is likely to gain the hegemony that the United States once held, and the relative rise in prominence of China is just one manifestation of a general trend towards power’s diffusion across the world’s population over time; Brazil, India, Nigeria, and many other countries are gradually wielding greater say in world affairs. Within these countries, though, it’s also likely that their leaders are gradually holding less power than before.

Challenges

One negative result of these and other developments is that it is simply harder to get things done. Command-and-control leadership, enabled by bureaucracy, allowed for decision makers to effect change when necessary. In congressional gridlock, the tepid international response to climate change, and other examples, Naim sees the ‘end of power’ as a real challenge for responding to the great challenges that the world is now presented with.

Should you read it?

Full of facts and figures, and with 19 pages of citations and notes, this book does not aim to be a light read. Instead, it is a relatively dry treatise on the nature of power in the world, and the author’s agenda includes supporting his claims with ample support from recent history.

If you don’t mind wading into this type of text, then I think this book would be a rewarding read. Big businesses are certainly taking the More, Mobility, and Mindset revolutions into account; reading this book may help you to compete with them and prepare for our ever more dynamic world.

End of Power

Terence O'Neill

About Terence O'Neill

Terence O’Neill is the Entrepreneurship Librarian at Michigan State University, where he works to connect entrepreneurs to resources that will better inform their business decisions. Through a background in libraries and community education, Terence has worked to support business and innovation internationally and throughout Michigan.

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