Discuss Peter Zeihan's *End of the World*
Join Mike Gibson and me on Wednesday; free, but registration required
This month, my “from the shelf” discussion will be on Peter Zeihan’s The End of the World is Just the Beginning. You may wish to read my review essay beforehand. Mike Gibson of 1517 fund will be joining me. Wednesday, February 1, at 1 PM New York time. Free but, you must register in advance. Link to register: https://libertyfund-org.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_df08IZynSYOiyA4yyOljXQ
That's it. I hadn't subscribed before because I thought most of the previous zoom talks were just way over my head in terms of the knowledge of economics that I needed to actually get something out of them. But after watching the first 30 minutes of the Joe Rogan podcast with Zeihan I came to the conclusion that the guy is just a charlatan, and I'm willing to pay to have an opportunity to discuss with someone who will defend his "thesis".
Those first minutes were just Zeihan talking about Russia and the war, so maybe he's not full of bs when it comes to other subjects, but I couldn't take anymore of his pompous pseudo-geopolitics after 30 minutes.
Well, that was, in a word, disappointing. Unlike XN, I got a free link and I'm glad I didn't pay money for that discussion.
I get that Mr Zeihan is a master of YouTube click-bait lately but he's got books to sell and consulting fees to collect. I was hoping for more discussion of "End of the World" but the conversation seemed centered on his current YouTubing. I get that Ukraine is still A Current Thing but I expected a bit better.
If you wanted to talk about his theories regarding the trajectory of the world since 1945 aka Bretton Woods, you should have read and reviewed his prior books, "Disunited Nations", "Accidental Superpower", or "Absent Superpower". They go into much more detail about how he thinks the world developed post WWII through the Cold War and its aftermath, as well as why the Cold War Global Order is breaking down from US non-involvement.
I can give Mr Gibson the TL;DR version. The US, as the sole major combatant still intact in 1945, decided that preventing the third installment of the long running World War series would hinge on blocking the recreation of competing international trade blocs. This dovetailed into the slightly later adoption of the policy of containing the Soviet Union's attempt to establish such a bloc by, in Peter's words, bribing up an alliance for that purpose. The cost was allowing the US to run your defense policy. The bribe was largely unfettered access to the US consumer market along with our pledge to enable your country to trade anything anytime with any other country, including those outside the alliance, for hard currency or US dollars so long as you complied. In practice it didn't always work out this way but that was the general principle. The key to understanding the US abandonment of The Cold War Global Order is to realize this was US *defense and foreign policy*, not *economic policy*. Once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the reason for The Alliance and The Bribe evaporated even though The Order has continued a zombie existence. Still, despite the apparent reversal of policy during the 2001-2015 time frame, we’ve been in a headlong retreat from the Team:World Police role ever since. The US is, proportional to our GDP, one of the least involved nations in international trade and what trade we do is largely within this hemisphere aka NAFTA. Contrary to popular wisdom (and something I think was repeated during the conversation) we were *never* dependent on Middle East oil supplies. Our *allies in Europe* were dependent on them but maintenance of the conditions of The Global Order and The Alliance, while it lasted, made it our problem.
Note this doesn’t mean that we’ve completely given up our ability to project military power. We can still go around bashing heads but, even as it was during the Cold War, it’s always a matter of what intervention is politically acceptable. Related to this, Mr Zeihan isn’t just fan-boy squeeing about our military big stick when he talks about the relative strength of the US Navy. The point of those statements is that even if the rest of the world wanted to maintain the Global Order, which they should because it's in their economic interest, the rest of the world combined isn’t capable of doing it without vast increases in military capability.
Last, I think it’s important to also note that in “End of the World” as well as the other books, Mr Zeihan is only projecting the end of the current Global Order not a complete end to international trade, and for a number of reasons other than a unilateral decision by the US. He devoted at least one chapter in “End” to a discussion of what will insulate the US from many effects of the breakdown and chief among those is our trade relations with Mexico, South American countries, and to a less extent Canada. His point is that trade is going to revert to the pre-Cold War style of being conducted within blocs anchored to a regional hegemon which will act in the much the same way the US did world-wide between 1945 and 1989, though on a smaller scale. The flashpoints in the new world will be where these regional hegemons are either butting heads or bashing heads, as the case may be, Ukraine being a good case in point. He also emphasized more in “End’ than in his prior books how the coming demographic collapse in many countries is going to impact the Order. We’ve been living in a sweet spot where, in addition to the US guarantees of largely free trade, we’ve had a set of rich industrialized countries with highly productive labor forces balanced against a large group of expanding resource-rich but skills-poor nations that offered raw materials, markets, and/or labor arbitrage opportunities. Everybody wound up benefiting but as the rich countries age into retirement, the poor countries age into higher skill but higher cost labor, and nobody is having more kids, we’re going to see that equilibrium upset. This also feeds into the military capability question since soldiering is mostly a young man’s gig, and young men are going to become increasingly scarce everywhere.