Thirty years ago, the United States dominated the world politically, economically and scientifically. But today?

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

“The tallest building in the world is now in Dubai, the biggest factory in the world is in China, the largest oil refinery is in India, the largest investment fund in the world is in Abu Dhabi, the largest Ferris wheel in the world is in Singapore,” notes Fareed Zakaria. “And … more troublingly, [the United States is] also losing [its] key grip on indices such as patent creation, scientific creations and things like that — which are really harbingers of future economic growth.”

Zakaria, the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and an editor at large for Time magazine, charts the fall of America’s dominance and the simultaneous rise of the rest of the world in his book The Post-American World: Release 2.0, which shows how the collapse of communism and the Soviet empire — as well as the rise of global markets — has leveled the playing field for many other countries around the world.

“The result is you have countries all over the world thriving and taking advantage of the political stability they have achieved, the economic connections of a global market, the technological connection into this market,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “And we are all witnesses to this phenomenon.”

America, Zakaria says, is also starting to lag behind other countries in education, building a competitive workforce, and fostering new energy and digital infrastructure to support those workers — all markers of long-term economic growth. He says America is now heading toward what he calls a “post-American” world, in which the United States’ share of the “global pie” is much smaller — as the rest of the globe begins to catch up.

“In economic terms, the rise of the rest [of the globe] is a win-win,” he says. “The more countries that get rich [and] the larger the world economy, the more people there are producing, consuming, investing, saving, loaning money. … If we didn’t have the rest of the world growing, the United States economy would be in much worse shape than it is today.”

But Zakaria cautions that the economic growth around the world — and the benefits that global economic stability create — do not extend to the political arena.

“Politics and power is a realm of relative influence,” he says. “So as China expands its role in Asia, whose role is diminishing? Of course, the established power — the United States. It’s not possible for two countries to be the leading dominant political power at the same time.”

America’s political system, Zakaria says, becomes mired in debate and cannot deal with the short-term deficit. “To put it in perspective, if Congress were to do nothing, the Bush tax cuts would expire next year,” he says. “That by itself would yield $3.9 trillion to the federal government over the next 10 years. We would go to the bottom of the pack in terms of deficit as a percentage of GDP among the rich countries in the world — we would basically solve our fiscal problems for the short term.”

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria is the host of CNN’s international affairs program GPS, an editor at large for Time magazine and a columnist for The Washington Post.