Peter Zeihan gives us his vision of the collapse of globalization.
Reminds me of the quote involving Macaulay - "I wish I was as sure of anything as he is of everything." Zeihan is everywhere online. I get cautious when forecasters need publicists.
I had the same impression... directionally right, but overstating the consequences. Human beings and societies are dynamic feedback systems. There is always a response and this is somewhat difficult to predict. Three observations about this predications:
1) Demographics: yes..in the traditional model, the reduction of "working" age population can be a disaster. However, useful life is increasing, aggregate wealth is higher, and technology leverage is pretty good. Thus, a "disaster" in an agrarian economy is ok in a modern society.
2) Globalization: a lot of this analysis is on hard goods (energy, food, etc). All very important. No doubt. A lot of the value in global trade is moving to "soft" goods (SW, entertainment) and "medium" goods (sophisticated machinery). These tend to have centers-of-competence which don't move easily.
Your point about LFP batteries is super. Far too much of what passes for "hard nosed assessments of what WILL be required" for green energy & electrification transitions makes exactly that mistake of conflating some current production method with an essential property.
I first read Zeihan as a teenager. I was about 15 or so, my first real geopolitics book. Then I read Tilly’s Coercion Capital and European States which I thought was great. I really (really) enjoyed the first 60 or so pages of The Accidental Superpower, his first book.
I don’t necessarily agree with him on his predictions, but he introduced me to Demographics and geography. And for that, I still reread the the first part of Accidental every once and a while. I’ve even recommended it to people.
I always say to people I agree with him on his mechanics, but not anything else.
Thanks for this, Noah. I finished the book a few months ago and, while I hadn't asked you to review it, was thrilled when I saw this. Zeihan is a hammer looking for nails unable to see all the other fasteners he's surrounded by.
The first 2 chapters of this book are absolutely worth reading though. They are a geographically-focused history of humanity (Zeihan's exact wheelhouse) and his style makes these real page turners. For example: why was agriculture developed first in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley in modern Iraq? There are lots of floodplains in the world, so why there and not elsewhere? Zeihan has a good theory about that. These 2 chapters describe the unnoticed fact that geography greatly affects outcomes over the med-long term. I'm having my kids read these two as well, since the perspective is so unique.
After that, once you've read one chapter, you've read them all: no US Navy = piracy = no transnational oil = abject poverty for most of humanity.
I hated this book so much. It is so bad that it is one of the rare books that, like a Jordan Peterson book, makes me think less of anyone who recommends it.
There's not a single source or reference for any of his many, many claims. At points he stops pretending to even write a book and just lists bullet points.
I feel like the whole thing was written over the course of a drug fuelled weekend and not only never saw the hand of an editor, was never even proofread by Zeihan after this stream of consciousness braindump onto the page.
Good review! Also, if you are interested in more books that forecast the future, I would suggest you to read "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century" written by George Friedman. Personally, I think what Friedman wrote is more prescient than whatever outlandish stuff Zeihan claims. Here's the Amazon link to that:
Glad you gave it a read and thanks for writing the review. My own critiques are pretty close - the assumption that every system is so fragile and that nations and technology won't advance much are red flags.
In addition, I also question that the US would pull back so dramatically. You make a good point that the US could be replaced by a coalition of nations. It's hard to see this not happening given how much revenue the largest companies in each country are typically earning via ocean freight trade - are we just assuming that lobbying stops being effective?
Thanks for the review. Anything is possible, of course, but time is precious. It's probably not worth the opportunity cost to devote so much attention to pundits who spend so much time in the vicinity of black swans.
I tried this one and only made it about halfway through. Tried Quinn Slobodian's new one. I enjoyed "the American dream is not dead" and also Brad Delong's book.
Great review. The idea that it should be read more like it was Swift than Spengler or Nietzsche is very good.
Thanks , appreciate this
What a great book review. I favor the expression attributed to George Box -- All models are wrong but some are useful. The book sounds like an entertaining read.
Appreciate the heads up about the inaccuracies. I doubt I would have caught them but am intending to read the book.
Zeihan’s prediction of a China breakup and collapse is the most interesting to me. We will see.
Looks like both the author and the reviewer overlooked the single most ominous driver of collapse—the runaway global heating extinction emergency. We can be sure collapse of existing society structures will be drastic and widespread, if the particular sequence is not predictable. All the means—from beneficent to horrific—that humankind has at its disposal will come to bear as survival threatens everyone. No need to read any book today that “forgets” about this threat-multiplier, nor a reviewer who misses the biggest context at all while focused on details of the global supply chain.