Quotable (#227)

The end of the Universalist nightmare will be intrinsically perplexing:

Whether the emerging global system becomes multipolar or a-polar remains unclear, but universalist and messianic ideology is on the wane. The Western-led world order is in crisis, but no messianic ideology has yet offered an alternative. Instead, a drift towards regionalism has increased the influence of small powers amidst the chaos of a profound geopolitical transformation. The post-Western world looks to become post-ideological, too. Even Donald Trump’s administration has embraced a form of American exceptionalism shorn of globalizing and messianic goals. […] A century after their birth, Wilson’s and Lenin’s messianic geopolitical visions have passed into history, but their disappearance has also greatly complicated making sense of a world in the process of rapid fragmentation.

Thinking in pieces and patches begins.

Malthus was Right

The global wealth distribution is predictably spiky. That’s mostly because scarcely anyone owns anything:

… it does not take that much to get into the top 1% of wealth holders. Once debts have been subtracted, a person needs only $3,650 to be among the wealthiest half of the world’s citizens. However, about $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%. So if you own a home in any major city in the rich North on your own and without a mortgage, you are part of the top 1%.

This looks like what you’d expect if population — at the global level — expanded approximately to the resource limit. (There are no doubt cuddlier interpretations out there.)

World Economic Freedom

The Fraser Institute annual report, 2016 (up to 2014).

Hong Kong and Singapore, once again, occupy the top two positions. The other nations in the top 10 are New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Georgia, Ireland, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, and Australia and the United Kingdom, tied for 10th. […] … The rankings of some other major countries: the United States (16th), Germany (30th), Japan (40th), South Korea (42nd), France (57th), Italy (69th), Mexico (88th), Russia (102nd), India (112th), China (113th) and Brazil (124th). […] … The 10 lowest-rated countries are: Iran, Algeria, Chad, Guinea, Angola, the Central African Republic, Argentina, the Republic of the Congo, Libya and, lastly, Venezuela.

Quotable (#175)

Stephen M. Walt on ‘The Collapse of the Liberal World Order’:

As you’ve probably noticed, the heady optimism of the 1990s has given way to a growing sense of pessimism — even alarm — about the existing liberal order. The New York Times’s Roger Cohen, a thoughtful and committed liberal, believes that “the forces of disintegration are on the march” and “the foundations of the postwar world … are trembling.”

(UF emphasis.)

Quotable (#172)

Is technology now de-globalizing? The argument (at Stratfor):

Opportunities for producing and assembling products and their components have spread worldwide, making it is easier for countries to climb the production value ladder. States at the bottom, extracting raw materials, can gradually move up, first making low-value components and then progressing to higher-value ones or basic assembly. But just as technology spurred globalization and the shifts in international trade that followed, so, too, will it revolutionize how countries again do business with one another. Compounded by the economic and demographic changes taking place today, automation, advanced robotics and software-driven technologies are ushering in a new era — one of shorter supply chains that will provide fewer opportunities for the developing world. Regions once labeled “emerging economies” may instead stagnate, and the divide between the haves and have-nots within and among nations could widen further. …

Geopolitics > Ideology

George Friedman places recent US-Vietnam engagement within the history of balance-of-power diplomacy going back to the 1960s, in order to make a simple but compelling point. US relations with the USSR, China, and Vietnam have been only trivially inflected by ideological differences:

… look at the whole story and see how little ideology matters. The entire story is one of three Marxist regimes hostile to each other, and a Western capitalist regime using that hostility to balance the power. […] From the point of view of geopolitical analysis, the unimportance of ideology in all that happened is clear. The importance of the nation-state, regardless of its official ideology is equally clear. None of these four nations behaved as their ideology demanded. All behaved as their national interest did. […] This is why I find geopolitics an enormously more important method for understanding the world than beliefs and principles. These may matter in personal life. But the Marxism that defined Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev – and they were very much believers – could not resist geopolitical imperatives. And therefore, the president of the United States went to a Marxist country and set the stage for arming it. This should not surprise us.