These policies have spurred growth in places where few experts predicted it would be possible, from steamy Singapore to Brazil's sugary northeast. They are a reminder that policies that encourage self-advancing behavior and leave the way open for human creativity to flourish can accomplish more than simple transfers from the affluent to the impoverished.
That this unprecedented rapid development has caused some problems for the United States and other advanced countries should be no surprise. Any sweeping change renders some old practices obsolete and requires some institutional adjustment.
Zoellick, who served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, says he is skeptical of predictions of American, European or Japanese decline, but admits we have work to do. The U.S. needs "credible and definitely possible action -- not just short-term fixes -- on debt and deficits to restore confidence."
Nations need, he said, to "focus on structural and tax reforms to spur private-sector growth, boost productivity and create jobs."
And advanced countries need to practice what they preach on fiscal discipline, free trade and sustainable debt.
All of which sounds like a pretty stringent critique of what Barack Obama has been up to lately.
One of the underappreciated truths about Obama is that he isn't all that interested in public policy -- much less so than Bill Clinton, considerably less so than George W. Bush.
He was content to leave the details of the stimulus package to congressional appropriators and the details of Obamacare to the deal-cutters squeezing out the last few votes in Nancy Pelosi's office. The result is laws that don't work nearly as well as advertised.
His latest proposals, for $447 billion of stimulus spending and goodness knows how much in tax increases, are not designed to become law but to provide a backdrop for campaign ads.
The Obama formula of higher taxes and no significant change in entitlements is a formula for transforming America into something like continental Europe -- even as it becomes clearer than ever that the European model is collapsing.
The times call for serious governance, as Zoellick says. But Obama seems uninterested in serious policy issues and interested only in cheap-shot campaigning.