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.
What you and your parents (and in some cases, grandparents) assumed as the normal, good, and right way of living—that is, the past seven decades or so—is a historic anomaly for the human condition both in strategic and demographic terms. The period of 1980–2015 in particular has simply been a unique, isolated, blessed moment in time. A moment that has ended. A moment that will certainly not come again in our lifetimes. And that isn’t even the bad news.
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.
Instead, the purpose of this book is to lay out what our transition looks like. What the world we are all going to live through is going to feel like. How do the things we know and understand about food and money and fuel and movement and widgets and the stuff we dig out of the ground change? Grow, rearrange. Fail.
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.
The entire concept of the Order is that the United States disadvantages itself economically in order to purchase the loyalty of a global alliance. That is what globalization is. The past several decades haven’t been an American Century. They’ve been an American sacrifice. Which is over.
Peter Zeihan, The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization
When I read a nonfiction/business book that I can’t put down because it is so engaging, I feel like I have won the lottery. (To be honest, many business books are books that are not…all…that…engaging, even though they have important information).
So, when I read The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization by Peter Zeihan, I felt lucky. I absolutely loved reading it.
OK…let me say that differently. It is actually quite scary to read. But, it is well written, genuinely informative, clear, engaging.. So, I loved it…and I hated it.
What I hated was the warning it has throughout the book . That warning is that the comfortable, plentiful, everything-available in a pretty-much-always-available world that we have shared in recent decades is coming to an end. Maybe pretty quickly.
In other words, “the world is flat” may no longer be an accurate description as our world unflattens.
I presented my synopsis of this book at the September First Fiday Book Synospsis, our monthly business-book focused event in Dallas.
This is, to put it mildly, a book worth reading.
In my synopses, I always begin with What is the point of the book? Here is the point for this book: The world as we have known it is ending. The key ending is this: globalization is ending. Thus, here are the things to think about to get ready.
And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This book is a pretty good history of how the world developed, worked, and works, in a number of categories.
#2 – This book pulls no punches. Things are going to change, and not in very good ways. Nearly everything is going to change…
#3 – This book prepares us, to some extent, for life in this new world coming.
I always include a few pages of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages. Here are a few of these best from this book:
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.
Americans survived and thrived before because their geography is insulated from, while their demographic profile is starkly younger than, the bulk of the world.
(Americans) they will barely notice that elsewhere the world is ending!!! 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 last seventy-five years long will be remembered as a golden age, and one that didn’t last nearly long enough at that.
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.
The American story is the story of the perfect Geography of Success. That geography determines not only American power, but also America’s role in the world. …THE UNITED STATES IS THE MOST POWERFUL RIVER POWER AND LAND POWER IN HISTORY.
Without the Americans riding herd on everyone, it is only a matter of time before something in East Asia or the Middle East or the Russian periphery (like, I don’t know, say, a war) breaks the global system beyond repair . . . assuming that the Americans don’t do it themselves.
No matter how you crunch the numbers, China in 2022 is the fastest-aging society in human history. In China the population growth story is over and has been over since China’s birth rate slipped below replacement levels in the 1990s. …A full replacement birth rate is 2.1 children per woman. China’s rate is at most 1.3, among the lowest of any people throughout human history.
For the rest of the world, it will never get better than it was in the 2010s. Never.
The United States is one of the world’s four settler states, which is a pseudo-technical term indicating that most Americans can trace their lineage to folks who aren’t from what is currently American territory. …As a settler state, the United States tends to be far more confident in its political identity as well as friendly to immigration than other countries. To the point that the United States is one of only a very few countries that even publicly publishes data on how many of its citizens were born in another country. …with the exception of the indigenous population, no Americans are actually from America.
The dominant ethnic group in Mexico originates from Spain, while the dominant “ethnic” group in the United States is white Caucasian. …Mexicans of Spanish descent somewhat look down on Mexicans of indigenous descent, and they feel more or less the same way about Central American migrants as Americans do. Once Mexicans migrate to the United States, they assimilate quickly. It’s fairly common for second-generation Mexican-Americans—and nearly reflexive for fourth-generation Mexican-Americans—to define themselves as white.
Take this concept of utter availability, apply it to absolutely everything, and you now have a glimmer of the absolute connectivity that underpins the modern, globalized economy. The ingredients of today’s industrial and consumer goods are only available because they can be moved from—literally—halfway around the world at low costs and high speeds and in perfect security.
The world’s supply of grievances is inexhaustible. For the most part, those grievances have not been acted upon for seventy-five years. . . . but only because the Americans changed the rules of the game.
Regardless of what goes wrong, long-haul transport is an instant casualty, because long-haul transport doesn’t simply require absolute peace in this or that region; it requires absolute peace in all regions. Such long-haul disruption describes three-quarters of all shipments in energy, manufacturing, and agriculture.
After all, should containerized shipping break down, much of the world will be economically decimated from the collapse in manufacturing. But should bulk shipping—which transports food and fuel—break down, many of the world’s people will starve. Alone. In the dark. …keep in mind that most countries lack long-arm navies. …First and most obvious are the pirates. Second and less obvious are the privateers, in essence pirates sponsored by an actual country to harass their competitors, and who have been granted rights to seek succor, fuel, and crew (and sell their *ahem* booty) in allied ports. …The third security concern isn’t likely to be constrained to the no-man’s-lands: state piracy.
Now add in missiles. And drones. And missiles fired from drones. A return to the days of militarized merchant marines is not far off. …Just imagine what happens when the Koreans or Israelis or French start selling idiot-proof anti-ship weaponry designed to be mounted on bulkers operated by India or Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
By the time you read this, the world will have a fascinating, horrific case study of true financial disintegration. Nor is Russia done. Beset with a population aging into decrepitude and a system that has given up educating the next generation, Russia’s credit collapse is but one of a phalanx of factors capable of ending the Russian state. The question isn’t will the Russians go out swinging—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is testament to that—but instead, who else will they swing at?
There is a difference—a big difference—between a rising price of access and an absolute lack of access. The first leads to an industrial hollowing out. The second leads to outright deindustrialization.
Should something—should anything—happen to those imported food flows, civilizational collapse into anarchy complete with a population “correction” isn’t simply a distinct possibility, it is the most likely outcome. After all, a government that cannot feed its population is a government that falls.
When the Cold War ended, the Americans had the opportunity to do nearly anything. Instead, both on the Left and the Right, we started a lazy descent into narcissistic populism. …The presidential election record that brought us Clinton and W Bush and Obama and Trump and Biden isn’t an aberration, but instead a pattern of active disinterest in the wider world. It is our new norm.
And, in my synopses, I include a little info about the author, and a few of the key points and principles from the book. Here are a few that I included in my synopsis. (Note: portions in italics come directly from the book)
- A word about this author, and this book…
- Peter Zeihan is a big, big picture thinker. A little – ok, a lot — on the pessimistic side… And quite an engaging and entertaining writer. (He has quite a section on the role played by “human poo” in the early days of human survival).
- And… do read this book! – His long-view, looking backwards from the beginning, provides an education, or at least a very good reminder of what you likely pieced together from here and there…
- What is The Order?
- 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. …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. …One outcome among many was the fastest economic growth humanity has ever seen. Decades of it.
- Instead, the Americans offered their wartime allies a deal. The Americans would use their navy—the only navy of size to survive the war—to patrol the global ocean and protect the commerce of all. …There was just one catch. You had to pick sides in the Americans’ brewing Cold War. You could be safe and rich and develop your economy and culture however you wanted, but you had to stand with (technically, stand in front of) the Americans versus the Soviets.
- At war’s end the Americans used Bretton Woods to create the globalized Order and fundamentally change the rules of the game. Instead of subjugating their allies and enemies, they offered peace and protection. They transformed regional geopolitics by putting nearly all the warring empires of the previous age—in many cases countries that had been in a shifting, cutthroat competition with one another for centuries—on the same team. Inter-imperial rivalry gave way to inter-state cooperation. Compared to the thirteen millennia of history to this point, it was a pretty good deal. And it worked. Really well.
- (But now…) — The American-led Order is giving way to Disorder. — The post–Cold War era is possible only because of a lingering American commitment to a security paradigm that suspends geopolitical competition and subsidizes the global Order. With the Cold War security environment changed, it is a policy that no longer matches needs. What we all think of as normal is actually the most distorted moment in human history. That makes it incredibly fragile. And it is over. …Globalization was always dependent upon the Americans’ commitment to the global Order and that Order hasn’t served Americans’ strategic interests since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
- Not every location will be able to maintain civilization after Order’s end.
- The Order established stability, which fostered economic growth, which enabled technological advancement, which led to the availability of these materials, which allowed their inclusion into the products, modernity, and lifestyle of the modern age. …In the Order the only competition over materials access was over market access. …Invading countries for raw materials was expressly forbidden. You simply had to pay for them.
- What happened…
- places mattered…then rivers mattered…then railroads…then seas, and highways and trucks…and American protection of the seas… oh, and fertilizers, and digitization, and…
- The Big Problems:
#1 — we’re getting older; we’re getting fewer — The global worker and consumer base is aging into mass retirement. — Now, in all these countries, the new average is below 1.8 (children) and in many cases well below. …much of the economic growth comes from a swelling population. What most people miss is that there’s another step in the industrializationcum-urbanization process: lower mortality increases the population to such a degree that it overwhelms any impact from a decline in birth rates . . . but only for a few decades. Eventually gains in longevity max out, leaving a country a greater population, but with few children. Yesterday’s few children leads to today’s few young workers leads to tomorrow’s few mature workers. And now, at long last, tomorrow has arrived.
#2 – We’re about to lose the global world — Regardless of trade or product, nearly every process crosses at least one international border. …A deglobalized world doesn’t simply have a different economic geography, it has thousands of different and separate geographies.
#3 – The U.S. Navy is the biggest, greatest Navy, by far; really, the only game in town. But…
- Very few countries have any vessels that can even cross an ocean unaided. Should anyone want to take a crack at America, they’d have to first get past the U.S. Navy, which is ten times as powerful as the combined navies of the rest of the world.
- Everything we’ve come to expect about transport since 1946 dies in this world.
#4 – We are going to go back to growing the food we need near us to survive. And a whole bunch of people will not survive. (1 billion +?)
#5 – Going electric…will have some problems… — From 2014, when the solar boom began, until 2020, solar has only increased to become 1.5 percent of total energy use.
#6 – The death of “just in time. — Thus…warehouse many, many things again; or ramp up 3-D manufacturing.
#7 – Climate is changing; getting hotter… — we do not at present have good enough data to project climate change down to the zip code level. Anyone who tries is at most making an educated guess….The data isn’t controversial. It isn’t political. It isn’t a projection. And if there is a trend line of change, you know that the needle has moved already, and you just need to follow it forward a bit. …On average, temperatures in both places have risen 1.1 degree Celsius since 1900. …Will deeper climate change occur in the years and decades after? Maybe. Probably. Okay, almost certainly.
- About “our” future…
- we (the United States; and North America) will be better off than all others, because:NAFTA! (U.S., Canada, and MEXICO!).
- Part of the Mexico factor is obvious: in 2021 the average Mexican was nearly ten years younger than the average American.
- Interesting tidbits…
- winning the Cold War may have been…sort of…bad…
- The Bretton Woods system generated the longest and deepest period of economic growth and stability in human history. Or at least it did until disaster struck. Until the Americans won. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Without a foe, the Bretton Woods alliance lost its reason to be.
- each country making stuff that we use is making different “levels” of stuff… and, basically, few countries will be able at some point to make everything… — With global peace, countries are able to specialize. Taiwan in semiconductors. Brazil in soy. Kuwait in oil. Germany in machinery.
- China steals, but can’t replicate…
And I conclude my synopses with my lessons and takeaways. Here are my six for this book:
#1 – We really should try to grasp how the world (of commerce; of finance; of agriculture) actually works.
#2 – So much is out of our control. Geography; the interaction of nations; these are so significant.
#3 – A thought: maybe our very big defense budget is worth it. Especially the money spent on our Navy.
#4 – Maybe our tendency toward a growing isolationism is a mistake – a serious mistake.
#5 – We need to prepare to live with “less” in many ways.
#6 – There may not be much we can do about this…except get ready for the changes that are coming.
I present over two dozen synopses of new business books a year, for the First Friday Book Synopsis, and other books chosen and requested by some of my clients. This book stands alone, meaning that it covers ground no other book that I have read covers.
We have enjoyed the peace of functioning globalization, and all the benefits of modern life this globalization has brought us, for decades. That is now all endangered. Globalization may actually collapse. The U.S. will probably be ok. But, other parts of the world could be in serious trouble.
Read this book. Worry a little. Then ask, now what!
A footnote: on the very morning I wrote this blog post, I heard about the rise in global hunger, bright on by the Russia/Ukraine war. Hundreds of millions are in real danger. As this book warns…
My synopsis of The End of the World is Just the Beginning, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my comprehensive, multi-page handout, will be available soon on this web site. Click here for our newest additions.
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