Geopolitics

No, The West Is Not In Decline

Europe, the United States and other parts of the so-called West may not be booming, but they're not about to be superseded either. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Holding steady
Holding steady
Yves Montenay

-OpEd-

PARIS â€" Let's begin by clarifying what we mean by "West." The Western world is an intellectual, economic and military ensemble gathering Western and Central Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. And, now, Japan.

Demography

The proportion of Western population in the world is decreasing, it's true. But that's also the case for China and Russia. India, where areas of low fertility rates are spreading, will likely follow suit.

On the demographic level, the West is not, therefore, being replaced by Asia. Both instead are being pushed by Africa. That said, Africa isn't an economic, military or cultural rival for the West, so its demographic growth in no way represents a decline of the West.

Economy and Military

Is the West declining economically? After its concern late last century regarding the rise of Japan and other Asian Tigers, it's now worried about Chinese expansion. And yet, China's very real catch-up is coming to an end, and the next step will be a slow and difficult one. Its authoritarian regime will inevitably restrict innovations to the benefit of insider interests.

With 22% of the world population, it's only natural that China recovers a certain rank in the global economy. But that doesn't make it a cause of economic decline for the West.

Let's not forget that all developing countries systematically copy the West. And they do so by reproducing â€" if not stealing â€" its technical formulas as well as its legal, managerial, and educational organizations. This is anything but a sign of decline.

What about India? It's a country that's deeply paralyzed ethnically, religiously, socially and bureaucratically. Cows there get a better pension than farmers; fiscal barriers between states hinder trade; roads and electricity are lacking ... Sure, things are finally getting better in India, and it will probably become a very important client; but it's far from being a new China. As for Africa, the future demographic giant is extremely weak economically, despite showing a few encouraging signs.

The West remains, in comparison to its competitors, very creative and economically attractive for investors and entrepreneurs the world over. Its standard of living is still the highest in the world â€" by a huge margin. The United States military budget is four times bigger than China's and 10 times bigger than Russia's, even though mistakes in economic management or military strategy sometimes make us forget that.

Culture

Western culture provides a decisive advantage, including on the economic level, through the individual, political and religious freedom it allows. The resulting intellectual energy created, fueled by permanent reflection and self-criticism, is an unmatchable strength.

Checking in â€" Photo: Luca Sartoni

And this isn't just about the media or the entertainment industry. Of course, these are important, especially for the U.S. and its champions (Hollywood, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), as it gives them an undeniable influence. It's about much more than that: The West is a unique and complex product.

As French philosopher Philippe Nemo rightly put it in his book What is the West?, it's a combination of Ancient Greece and Roman legalism, of a vision of the world shaped first by early Christianity, then later by the Gregorian Reform, the Renaissance, Protestantism and the Enlightenment, all leading to our liberal democracy, a framework that allows for a free and innovative intellectual life.

The West wouldn't have needed colonialism to establish itself. Whenever they're in contact with the West, populations invariably choose it. For the same reasons, it is despised by dictators or traditionalists, especially now Islamists, and their accusations of imperialism and decadence are convenient tools to help them contain that influence.

Japan has become part of the Western world because it's a liberal democracy where individuals, and not only practices, have westernized. In China, an authoritarian regime, leaders do their utmost to prevent this from happeningâ€" blocking the Internet and throwing those who have been "contaminated" in jail.

Languages, finally, play their part in the process. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese are all spoken in vast parts of the world, whereas Mandarin Chinese and Hindi, despite their great number of speakers, remain regional languages.

And as for Africa, let's not forget that despite its growing demographic importance, its cultural capital cities are actually Paris, London or New York. This isn't neocolonialism; it's about the opportunities we bring to that continent.

The West isn't declining. On the contrary, the rest of the world is westernizing.

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Future

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.


Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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