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Over the past few centuries, Western cultures have been very good at creating general prosperity for themselves. Historian Niall Ferguson asks: Why the West, and less so the rest? He suggests half a dozen big ideas from Western culture -- call them the 6 killer apps -- that promote wealth, stability and innovation. And in this new century, he says, these apps are all shareable. Interesting talk!

His latest book and TV series, Civilization: The West and the Rest, aims to help 21st-century audiences understand the past and the present. In it, he asks how, since the 1500s, Western nations have surpassed their Eastern counterparts and came to dominate the world (his answer: thanks to six “killer apps”: science, medicine, protestant work ethic, competition, property rights, consumer society). And he wonders whether that domination is now threatened by the rise of Asia. His theories have drawn criticism and prompted discussions, which he says was his intent. “It’s designed to be slightly annoying, so that you talk about it,” he told The Observer. Note, also that happiness was left out of the equation. For a future sustainable world, happiness and consumerism will most likely find themselves becoming distant cousins.

Niall Ferguson teaches history and business administration at Harvard and is a senior research fellow at several other universities, including Oxford. Also see The Ascent of Money:


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