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The End of the World is Just the Beginning



The End of the World is Just the Beginning PDF

Author: Peter Zeihan

Publisher: Harper Business

Genres:

Publish Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN-10: 006323047X

Pages: 512

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

The past century or so has been a bit of a blitzkrieg of progress. From horse-and-buggy to passenger trains to the family car to everyday air travel. From the abacus to adding machines to desktop calculators to smartphones. From iron to stainless steel to silicon-laced aluminum to touch-sensitive glass. From waiting for wheat to reaching for citrus to being handed chocolate to on-demand guacamole.

Our world has gotten cheaper. And certainly better. And most definitely faster. And in recent decades the paces of change and achievement have accelerated further. We’ve witnessed the release of more than thirty ever-more-sophisticated versions of the iPhone in just fifteen years. We’re attempting to shift wholesale to electronic vehicles at ten times the pace we adopted traditional combustion engines. The laptop I’m tapping this down on has more memory than the combined total of all computers globally in the late 1960s. Not long ago I was able to refinance my home at a rate of 2.5 percent. (It was stupidly awesome.)

It isn’t simply about stuff and speed and money. The human condition has similarly improved. During the past seven decades, as a percent of the population, fewer people have died in fewer wars and fewer occupations and fewer famines and fewer disease outbreaks than since the dawn of recorded history. Historically speaking, we live in an embarrassment of riches and peace. All of these evolutions and more are tightly interwoven. Inseparable. But there is a simple fact that is often overlooked.

They are artificial. We have been living in a perfect moment.

And it is passing.

The world of the past few decades has been the best it will ever be in our lifetime. Instead of cheap and better and faster, we’re rapidly transitioning into a world that’s pricier and worse and slower. Because the world—our world—is breaking apart.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

In many ways this book is the most quintessentially “me” project I’ve done. My work lands me squarely at the intersection of geopolitics and demography. Geopolitics is the study of place, exploring how everything about us is an outcome of where we are. Demography is the study of population structures. Teens act different from thirty-somethings versus fifty-somethings versus seventy-somethings. I weave together these two disparate themes to forecast the future. My first three books were about nothing less than the fall and rise of nations. About exploring the “big picture” of the world to come.

But you can only speak at Langley so many times. To pay the bills I do something else.

My real job is a sort of hybrid public speaker/consultant (the fancy marketing term is geopolitical strategist).

When groups bring me in, it’s rare that they want to ruminate over the future of Angola or Uzbekistan. Their needs and questions are closer to home and their pocketbooks, wrapped up in a series of economic questions about trade and markets and access. What I do is apply geopolitics and demography to their problems. Their dreams. Their fears. I peel out the appropriate parts of my “big picture” and apply them to questions of electricity demand in the Southeast, or precision manufacturing in Wisconsin, or financial liquidity in South Africa, or the nexus of security and trade in the Mexico border region, or transport options in the Midwest, or energy policy during the turn of American administrations, or heavy industry in Korea, or tree fruits in Washington State.

This book is all that and more. So much more. I’m once again using my trusty tools of geopolitics and demography to forecast the future of global economic structures, or, to be more accurate, their soon-to-be lack thereof. To showcase the shape of the world just past the horizon.

The crux of the problem we all face is that, geopolitically and demographically speaking, for most of the last seventy-five years we have been living in that perfect moment.

At the end of World War II, the Americans created history’s greatest military alliance to arrest, contain, and beat back the Soviet Union. That we know. That’s no surprise. What is often forgotten, however, is that this alliance was only half the plan. In order to cement their new coalition, the Americans also fostered 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.

Globalization brought development and industrialization to a wide swath of the planet for the first time, generating the mass consumption societies and the blizzard of trade and the juggernaut of technological progress we all find so familiar. And that reshaped global demographics. Mass development and industrialization extended life spans, while simultaneously encouraging urbanization. For decades that meant more and more workers and consumers, the people who give economies some serious go. One outcome among many was the fastest economic growth humanity has ever seen. Decades of it.

The Americans’ postwar Order triggered a change in condition. By shifting the rules of the game, economics transformed on a global basis. A national basis. A local basis. Every local basis. That change of condition generated the world that we know. The world of advanced transport and finance, of ever-present food and energy, of never-ending improvements and mind-bending speed.

But all things must pass. We now face a new change in condition.

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. Aging continued. It’s still continuing. The global worker and consumer base is aging into mass retirement. In our rush to urbanize, no replacement generation was ever born.

Since 1945 the world has been the best it has ever been. The best it will ever be. Which is a poetic way of saying this era, this world—our world—is doomed. 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. No economic system yet imagined can function in the sort of future we face.

This devolution will be jarring, to say the least. It’s taken us decades of peace to suss out this world of ours. To think that we will adapt easily or quickly to such titanic unravelings is to showcase more optimism than I’m capable of generating.

But that’s not the same as saying I don’t have a few guideposts.

First comes something I call the “Geography of Success.” Place matters. Hugely. The Egyptian cities are where they are because they had the perfect mix of water and desert buffer for the preindustrial age. Somewhat similarly, the Spanish and Portuguese rose to dominance not simply because of their early mastery of deepwater technologies, but because their location on a peninsula somewhat freed them from the general melee of the European continent.

Toss industrial technologies into the mix and the story shifts. Applying coal and concrete and railways and rebar en masse takes a lot of money, and the only places that could self-fund were those with a plethora of capital-generating navigable waterways. Germany has more than anyone in Europe, making the German rise inevitable. But the Americans have more than anyone in the world—than everyone else in the world—making the German fall just as inevitable.

Second, and you may have figured this out for yourself already, Geographies of Success are not immutable. As technologies evolve, the lists of winners and losers shift with them. Advances in harnessing water and wind eroded what made Egypt special into history, providing room for a new slate of major powers. The Industrial Revolution reduced Spain to a backwater, while heralding the beginning of the English Imperium. The coming global Disorder and demographic collapse will do more than condemn a multitude of countries to the past; it will herald the rise of others.

Third, shifting the parameters of the possible impacts . . . pretty much everything. Our globalized world is, well, global. A globalized world has one economic geography: the geography of the whole. Regardless of trade or product, nearly every process crosses at least one international border. Some of the more complex cross thousands. In the world we are (d)evolving into, that is relentlessly unwise. A deglobalized world doesn’t simply have a different economic geography, it has thousands of different and separate geographies. Economically speaking, the whole was stronger for the inclusion of all its parts. It is where we have gotten our wealth and pace of improvement and speed. Now the parts will be weaker for their separation.

Fourth, not only despite the global churn and degradation, but also in many cases because of it, the United States will largely escape the carnage to come. That probably triggered your BS detector. How can I assert that the United States will waltz through something this tumultuous? What with its ever-rising economic inequality, ever-fraying social fabric, and ever-more bitter and self-destructive political scene?

I understand the reflexive disbelief. I grew up during the age of duck-and-cover. I find it galling that issues such as “safe spaces” in colleges devoid of divergent viewpoints, transgender bathroom policy, and vaccine benefits have even crossed into the proverbial town square, much less all but crowded-out issues such as nuclear proliferation or America’s place in the world. Sometimes it feels as though American policy is pasted together from the random thoughts of the four-year-old product of a biker rally tryst between Bernie Sanders and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

My answer? That’s easy: it isn’t about them. It has never been about them. And by “them” I don’t simply mean the unfettered wackadoos of contemporary America’s radicalized Left and Right, I mean America’s political players in general. The 2020s are not the first time the United States has gone through a complete restructuring of its political system. This is round seven for those of you with minds of historical bents. Americans survived and thrived before because their geography is insulated from, while their demographic profile is starkly younger than, the bulk of the world. They will survive and thrive now and into the future for similar reasons. America’s strengths allow her debates to be petty, while those debates barely affect her strengths.

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.

The center point of this book is not simply about the depth and breadth of changes in store for every aspect of every economic sector that makes our world our world. It is not simply about history once again lurching forward. It is not simply about how our world ends. The 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?

What comes next?

After all, the end of the world really is just the beginning. So, it’s best if we start there.

At the beginning.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraphs

Introduction

Section I: The End of an Era

How the Beginning Began

Enter the Accidental Superpower

And Now for Something Completely Different

The Story of . . . Us

History Speeds Up

Learning a Scary Word

The End of More

Messy, Messy Models

The Last Bits of More

A Quick Note from the Author . . . and Moscow

Section II: Transport

The Long, Long Road

Breaking Free: Industrializing Transport

The Americanization of Trade

The Great Unmaking

Harbors in the Storm

Section III: Finance

Currencies: Navigating the Road Less Traveled

Adventures in Capital

Disaster Is Relative

The End of More, Redux: Demographics and Capital

A Credit Compendium

Finagling Future Financing Failures

Section IV: Energy

Harpooning Progress

The Order’s Order for Oil

The Map of Oil: Contemporary Edition

There’s More to Oil than Oil

Fueling the Future

Section V: Industrial Materials

Disassembling History

The Essential Materials

The Future Materials

The Always Materials

The Funky Materials

The Reliable Materials

This Is How the World Ends

Section VI: Manufacturing

Crafting the World We Know

The Map of the Present

The Map of the Future

Manufacturing a New World

Section VII: Agriculture

What’s at Stake

The Geopolitics of Vulnerability

Avoiding—or Accepting—the Worst

Mitigating Famine

Expanding the Diet, Shrinking the Diet

Agriculture and Climate Change

Feeding a New World

The Long Ride of the Third Horseman

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Author

Also by Peter Zeihan

Copyright

About the Publisher


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