With all the breaking news every hour, I found myself looking for a longer-term perspective on the world. I read a book that fit the bill: Peter Zeihan’s Disunited Nations is a political economy book, a sort of Guns, Germs, and Steel for the future. I wish my economics classes had been taught in Zeihan’s style.
Zeihan structures the book as a series of scorecards for the major countries of the world. These scorecards discuss four main pillars of healthy economies and governments.
He starts with an explanation of the importance of transport to trade. A country’s manufacturers benefit from low-cost transport. It’s a long-term competitive advantage to ship goods by water than overland.
Second, he discusses the demographics of the major nations in the world. Countries with younger populations are significantly better off because these young workers earn salaries to support geriatrics' benefits.
Third, natural resources are essential for energy needs and manufacturing. Some countries are net exporters of oil; some are net importers. Same for coal, natural gas, rare-earth minerals, etc.
Fourth, topology. How easy is it for a country to defend itself? How is easy is it to move goods? To govern itself? Mountain ranges and deserts present natural defenses against invasion. How many acres of farmland per citizen exist within a country? How many sources of fresh water exist?
That already fascinating. But there is a major geopolitical change afoot. After the Second World War, the United States did something no other victor of a major war has done. Instead of asking for reparations from the vanquished countries, the US convened most major countries at Bretton Woods. There, they laid out the vision for how the world would trade for the next 70 years.
The United States Navy would protect all trade routes for free. In exchange, friendly countries would adopt democratic governments. This was an anti-communist strategy-. Because the US had the strongest navy in the world, and all of the others had been decimated, the US was supremely positioned to offer this “trade.”
Today, the US is adopting an isolationist foreign policy. Disunited Nations predicts a future in which the United States no longer protects all trade and focuses instead on its own needs and markets. What happens to geopolitics if the US continues to be a net exporter of oil? Which countries rise? Which fall? Which continents are completely reshaped?
One fair critique of the book is that it fails to discuss climate change. But aside from that, it is a compellingly argued view of the next 30 years of world affairs.