Zakaria discusses the American Dream

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Photo by Audrey Luo.

The American Dream has changed, according to Fareed Zakaria ’86.

Zakaria — editor-at-large of Time Magazine and the host of CNN’s foreign affairs show “Fareed Zakaria GPS” — spoke before a packed audience at the Levinson Auditorium of the Yale Law School on Wednesday afternoon. Zakaria talked about how the shifting global economy and increasing levels of technological advancement are affecting the American Dream, describing everything from his decision to leave India to come to Yale in the 1980s in pursuit of the American Dream to his current work in analyzing economic markets.

“Wherever you go there is a sense, there is anxiety in America that the future is not going to be the best,” Zakaria said. “So much of the energy, so much of the dynamism in the future is no longer quite as true.”

As a child, Zakaria said he fantasized about America based on what he saw in VHS tapes and newspapers. But when he first came to the United States in the 1980s during one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression, Zakaria said he found his dreams crumbling away.

Within a year of his arrival, however, the economy turned the corner and jobs were plentiful. The “animal spirits” of capitalism had returned, he said.

Yet the sense of anxiety remained and is still present to this day, Zakaria said.

“Well, what [was] going on?” he said. “Well, I think we were creating a new global system that was very different from the past and difficult to understand when you’re in the midst of it.”

Zakaria outlined three key reasons for the change in the global system. The peace and political stability that followed the Cold War, the economic convergence of the global economy and the boom of technological advancement and connectivity all helped raise the standards of living in other nations, particularly China and India, he said.

In recent years, developing countries have advanced, and their manufacturing and labor markets have caught up to the United States, he said. The United States is no longer leading the pack — the world has caught and globalization and technology have helped level the playing field, he added.

Today, every nation is trying to participate in a single global model of capital and goods, he said.

“You can’t stop China from growing. You can’t stop the Internet,” Zakaria said. “But it does mean you have to honestly recognize these are forces that are having these very profound [effects] in our societies that are going to continue.”

Zakaria said one of the problems America is facing is that, before the 1990s, people got their jobs back very quickly after recessions hit. Since that time, the dynamic has changed, and it is much more difficult for employment to bounce back, he said.

While it may have taken five months on average for people in the latter half of the 20th century to get their jobs back, it will now likely take 40 to 60 months from the 2008 recession, he said.

“For the average person, those with a college degree and mostly likely those without, what is going to happen?” Zakaria said. “You are left wondering how this is going to work out.”

Students interviewed said they were impressed with the way Zakaria handled questions and gave a comprehensive overview of America’s place in the world.

Colin Lu ’14 said Zakaria gave a balanced view of major world issues and recognized that problems cannot be solved unless people understand how America’s situation has changed.

“It was pretty eye-opening in the sense that, in my own mind, I had some critiques of capitalism and anticipated that people would ask that, but he had pretty convincing answers that I had not considered,” Omar Malik FES ’13 said. “The way he linked globalization with [technology] was pretty remarkable.”

Gautam Chopra SOM ’15 said Zakaria seemed optimistic about the future of the U.S. economy in the new global order.

At one point, an audience member asked Zakaria whether he believes the American Dream is alive today.

“It may be because in some ways I still feel like an immigrant in this country, and perhaps it is a little corny, but yes, I do still believe in the American dream,” Zakaria said.

While at Yale, Zakaria was president of the Yale Political Union and editor in chief of the Yale Political Monthly.

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