This post is a compendium of my husband, Alexander C. Blaser’s opinions and those of reviewers on Amazon’s website.
Who is Peter Zeihan?
Geopolitical Strategist Peter Zeihan is a global energy, demographic, and security expert.
To help business leaders navigate the complex mix of geopolitical risks and opportunities, Zeihan’s worldview integrates the realities of geography and population with a profound understanding of how politics around the world affect markets and economic trends. His style converts subjects typically complex and heavy into digestible, current takeaways for audiences of all types, with an eye toward what will make tomorrow’s headlines.
Zeihan has worked for the US State Department in Australia, a think tank in Washington, DC, called Community, and Stratfor, one of the best private intelligence firms in the world. He has helped develop analytical models for all these places throughout his career. He established Zeihan on Geopolitics in 2012. His clients span a range of industries, the U.S. military, financial institutions, business associations, and agricultural interests.
In 2014, he published his debut book, The Accidental Superpower. The Absent Superpower followed in 2016, Disunited Nations in 2019, and in June of 2022, his latest release, The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization, became an NYT Bestseller.
Find out more about Peter (and his world) at www.zeihan.com.
So, what are his premises?
2019 was the last great year for the world economy. For generations, everything has been getting faster, better, and cheaper. Finally, we had reached the point that almost anything you could ever want could be sent to your home within days (or even hours) of when you decided you wanted it.
America made that happen, but now it has lost interest.
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.
Quite a US-centered worldview! (Zeihan is an American citizen and lives in Colorado).
We do not need to be sold on all of Zeihan’s comments and ideas. He knows much about geopolitics, population, geography, energy, farming, business, manufacturing, climate, etc. He says that many climate activists don’t know enough about how all the different types of alternative energy can quickly replace fossil fuels, which are here to stay for a long time.
His examples to prove that statement are the intermittency of renewable electricity sources; the minimal extent of energy storage technology to mitigate that intermittency; the problems with electric-powered transportation (mining, recycling of batteries, etc.); and the fact that fossil fuels are not just used as an energy source but heavily as ingredients for the production of thousands of essential materials such as plastic, fertilizer, asphalt, concrete, etc.
- The globalized economy today has brought more growth to humanity. The development of container shipping has changed the world and enabled the use of just-in-time methodologies to maintain minimal inventories and highly complex, extended supply chains.
- The demography of most countries in the world, beginning with the most industrialized nations, has changed, and the number of people in many is declining and aging very rapidly. So fewer people work and pay taxes to compensate for those already retired.
It is interesting that:
- This phenomenon is hitting especially hard in China, India, and Russia. In the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, to a lesser extent.
- The USA escapes that tendency because of its “millennial” generation (and, supposedly, immigration).
- Same with another number of countries like (surprise!) France, that still manages to increase its population.
- The demographic transitions from a growing to a stable population and a declining one cause shocks and massive breakdowns to the system. According to Zeihan, countries that stop growing stand to lose importance and become irrelevant in the concert of nations in the hostile, hypercompetitive environment we live in.
- History seems to support that theory. Countries like Japan and China, as well as most of Europe, are already reducing their population. Many of the poorest and least developed countries are not far behind.
This analysis is the book’s best.
- The United States will broadly retreat from the international system it built since the end of WW2. The country is becoming isolationist again and does not have the willpower, energy, moral conviction, or even military clout to take care of the world and keep the sea lanes open and safe with its navy.
But this claim remains to be proven. Recent data shows, US imports and exports as a share of GDP have been steadily going up since WWII and are now at their highest level since the recession of 2008.
So, is the US becoming disentangled from the world? Current trends, including the massive attempt to green its economy, suggest that it might become more dependent on world trade to import all the cobalt, lithium, chromium, rare earth, etc., that it needs to decarbonize much of its transportation, utilities, energy, housing, and building sectors.
On the other hand, we are not far away from an open war over Taiwan. After Afghanistan, another possible debacle for the USA, might lead it to further isolation especially since, of all the countries in the world, it will come out of this new situation less damaged than all other countries that do not have that option because of their geography, size, military might, topography, etc. So, there are many reasons why the future may be what the book has painted.
There are all sorts of consequences for the world economy—the first victim: Containerized shipping. With that, there goes the possibility of maintaining the extended, complicated supply chains for everybody except, once again, the United States which will always be able to keep its shipping safe and its supply chains open, with the world’s most powerful navy.
Peter thinks, China’s navy, in contrast, cannot control anything beyond 1000 miles from its shores. His belief that Japan, instead, could maintain the safety of the sea lines in the region does not ring true.
A Google search reveals that China has the world’s largest navy and it is formidable. Look at how much trouble it is causing within the South China Sea region. Japan´s significant fleet is still only a distant third among the three.
Will this also leave shipping at the mercy of pirates and nefarious states, as Zeihan states? Since the 2007-2012 Somali crisis, piracy has declined. The world has put together a robust effort to stop it, with solid support from essential members of the UN (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US).
NATO has also waged successful anti-piracy maneuvers, and commercial ships are now powerfully armed with armed guards, and vessels are lined with barbed wire.
Following his opinion, the world economy will de-globalize in the coming years. Nations will be forced to have production closer to where the consumers are, in their own countries or close by, with friendly neighbors. That is less efficient and sophisticated, more costly, but safer.
Most of these adverse consequences of de-globalización will be worse for some countries, especially for the poorest and least developed ones. The USA (surprise!) is the only country that would come out of the described turbulences unharmed. The UK will benefit from its special historical relationship with the US.
The NAFTA members (Canada and especially Mexico) will be other beneficiaries, together with the whole “Western Hemisphere,” including Argentina and Colombia, and, to a lesser extent, Central and the rest of South America. Again, geography, climate, size, space, military power, and friendly neighbors are reasons for this.
Other regional “alpha-nations” could become leaders of a group of countries; one example is France (with Spain, Portugal, and Morocco?). China, will be pretty much alone, for lack of friendly neighbors, with the possible exception of NorthKorea (and, therefore, wholly screwed).
The book provides detailed information about the consequences of de-globalization, with an impressive wealth of data assembled for a world vision over the following decades. It is dark and pessimistic.
Analytical tools, such as geography (waterways, rail, and road networks), demography (aging and shrinking populations), and agriculture (climate, topography, extension, water, etc.) help make distinctions between the futures of different countries and regions. The prophecies are favorable to the US, very poor for both Russia and China, mediocre for Europe, and terrible for Africa and India.
The media points to China becoming a leading force and taking the baton from the US. But the book shows that its population is already older and will be cut in half from current levels between 2050 to 2070! East Asia and most of the developing world are staring at de-industrialization and famine!
It’s agriculture that keeps Zeihan awake at night. If anything happens to the current global system of inputs and delivery of final products to the rest of the world, then there will be chaos and starvation. China will lose the most because its supply chains are the longest, and it doesn’t have the resources to get the things it needs.
Peter talks about global warming in two areas of the book: energy and agriculture. He does not, however, factor in other areas like finance. If New York, London, and Singapore, all coastal cities, are underwater because of global warming, it will be hard for them to remain international finance capitals.
What then? He also seems dismissive of nuclear energy, ignoring the advances in technology that render it a safer source with considerably less waste than the plants of the past.
We hope he has gone too far when he states: “likely in excess of 1 billion people will starve to death, and another 2 billion will suffer chronic malnutrition.” Again, China is painted as the number one victim.
One would hope China does not fall into the trap of provoking a war on Taiwan. If (God forbid) it wins the first battle, it could have shot itself in the foot, and Zeihan’s prophecies will become true.
Then, maybe not.