The end is a beginning
Last updated 3/23/2022 at Noon
My friends must have thought I had seriously over-caffeinated Friday afternoon. I took a late lunch break and went out to Zimmerman Butte for some kettle-bell-and-gunpowder therapy, and on the way out there I fired up the latest episode of Jack Carr’s Danger Close podcast, featuring geopolitical analyst Peter Zeihan.
As soon as I pulled into the Pit, I pulled out the phone and ordered all of Zeihan’s available books from the Deschutes Public Library. After my session, I started calling my geopolitics-nerd friends to tell them to check this guy out.
Zeihan is operating with data sets — economic, geographic, and, most importantly, demographic — that most analysts, especially those caught up in immediate political trends, either ignore or give short shrift. He has bona fides, the most telling one being that he called Putin’s invasion of Ukraine eight years ago — to the year. (Putin went off a little early, and Zeihan offers a convincing explanation as to why).
Some of this analysis flies in the face of a narrative that I have to some degree bought into — the United States’ relative decline in a post-American world. The USA has significant challenges — but in Zeihan’s analysis, both Russia and China are in much tougher shape, mostly due to demographic (and, in the case of China, resource) challenges that he believes they cannot overcome. Zeihan sees the Ukraine invasion as a last-gasp lashing out of the Bear — a power in steep, terminal decline. Which, of course, makes the situation very dangerous.
And Zeihan’s take on the looming food crisis accelerated by the war in Ukraine and the isolation of Russia is dire.
No analyst or pundit should ever be taken as an oracle. Their analysis and forecasting should be tested against countervailing arguments and, most of all, against developments on the ground. Zeihan’s critics believe he underestimates the power of technology, and overestimates the potential for America to step back from global leadership. Perhaps.
Still, Zeihan’s emphasis on the relentless, impossible to “tweak” influence of geography and demography make his analysis compelling and his forecasting worth taking into account.
Zeihan’s forthcoming book forecasts a massive, seismic change in the world, bearing down on us like a freight train. It’s going to be a very bumpy ride — but, in his analysis, it’s going to be less rough for America than it will be for others who are utterly dependent on the globalized world. Because, Zeihan believes, that world is coming to the end. But, as the title of his book suggests, “The End of the World Is Just the Beginning.”
Here’s the caper:
2019 was the last great year for the world economy.
Globe-spanning supply chains are only possible with the protection of the U.S. Navy. The American dollar underpins internationalized energy and financial markets. Complex, innovative industries were created to satisfy American consumers. American security policy forced warring nations to lay down their arms. Billions of people have been fed and educated as the American-led trade system spread across the globe.
All of this was artificial. All this was temporary. All this is ending.
Zeihan maps out the next world: a world where countries or regions will have no choice but to make their own goods, grow their own food, secure their own energy, fight their own battles, and do it all with populations that are both shrinking and aging.
The list of countries that make it all work is smaller than you think. Which means everything about our interconnected world — from how we manufacture products, to how we grow food, to how we keep the lights on, to how we shuttle stuff about, to how we pay for it all — is about to change.
This is really good stuff — challenging, thought-provoking. Carr’s podcast with Zeihan can be found at https://www.officialjackcarr.com/danger-close-podcast/ or on all the standard podcasting platforms. Zeihan’s work can be explored here: https://zeihan.com. Take some time with this stuff. You’ll be richer for it.