Friday, July 22, 2022

The End of the World is Just the Beginning

The title of this post repeats the title of Peter Zeihan's latest book, which I've just finished reading and found utterly fascinating and entertaining, in a gallows humor sort of way. During my awakening this morning my mind was generating words attempting to cook Zeihan's basic message down into a few sentences... Here they are:
In the new world that we are now entering America is one of the few countries that can both feed itself and make all the widgets that it needs. Together with its partners in the NAFTA alliance it is geographically and demographically secure, able to turn inwards and still maintain much of its population and lifestyle. Almost all other countries must either export or import energy, food, materials, or manufactured products. Free trade transport routes that have permitted this are crumbling as America continues its withdrawal from guaranteeing a world order formed to oppose a former Soviet Union that fell in 1990. As the level of global trade diminishes, most countries outside the North American group must reduce their population levels and living standards.
I was pointed to this book by listening to a Sam Harris "Makeing Sense" podcast titled titled "The End of Global Order," an interview with Peter Zeihand and Ian Bremmer. Zeihan integrates geopolitical and demographic perspectives to make a compelling case that that past few decades have been the best it will ever be in our lifetime, because our world is breaking apart. For the past seventy-five years we have been living a a perfect moment made possible by post World War II American fostering:
“an environment of global security so that any partner could go anywhere, anytime, interface with anyone, in any economic manner, participate in any supply chain and access any material input—all without needing a military escort. This butter side of the Americans’ guns-and-butter deal created what we today recognize as free trade. Globalization.”
But,
“Thirty years on from the Cold War’s end, the Americans have gone home. No one else has the military capacity to support global security, and from that, global trade. The American-led Order is giving way to Disorder. Global aging didn’t stop once we reached that perfect moment of growth...The global worker and consumer base is aging into mass retirement. In our rush to urbanize, no replacement generation was ever born...“The 2020s will see a collapse of consumption and production and investment and trade almost everywhere. Globalization will shatter into pieces. Some regional. Some national. Some smaller. It will be costly. It will make life slower. And above all, worse.”
Zeihan shows that the America and its partners in the NAFTA accord, Canada and Mexico, enjoy a "Geography of Success" and demographics that will render it vastly better off than the rest of the world.
Perhaps the oddest thing of our soon-to-be present is that while the Americans revel in their petty, internal squabbles, they will barely notice that elsewhere the world is ending!!! Lights will flicker and go dark. Famine’s leathery claws will dig deep and hold tight. Access to the inputs—financial and material and labor—that define the modern world will cease existing in sufficient quantity to make modernity possible. The story will be different everywhere, but the overarching theme will be unmistakable: the last seventy-five years long will be remembered as a golden age, and one that didn’t last nearly long enough at that.
In the introduction of his book, from which the above quotes are taken, Zeihan states that the book's real focus..
...is to map out what everything looks like on the other side of this change in condition. What are the new parameters of the possible? In a world deglobalized, what are the new Geographies of Success?
The book's introduction and epilogue are useful summaries, and you should check out the very instructive graphics provided on Zeihan's website.

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