The Next 100 Years: Why the 21st Century Will Be an American Century


The first, last, and main thing to understand about the 21st Century as George Friedman, founder of the security consulting and forecasting firm STRATFOR, sees it unfolding is that the more things change, the more a few things not only stay the same, but become even more so.

Friedman’s approach is thoroughly geopolitical, and it’s almost tautological to observe that the most important geopolitical factor is geography – which in turn means that everybody trying to make a case for Sinophobia, Islamophobia, Russophobia, Indophobia, or any other conceivable -phobia (or -philia) attached to a nation, region, religion, or ideology will have to contend with facts of life that don’t change, at least in the human time-scale. In short, the global economy is critically and fundamentally dependent on oceangoing trade; North America, the North American economy, and specifically the U.S. Navy dominate the oceans; and this predominance, now firmly established, is self-reinforcing and extremely difficult to dislodge. It produces a series of relatively simple U.S. strategic objectives, as well as fairly straightforward means of achieving them affordably – and, in the final analysis, almost everything else is distraction.

In Friedman’s view, geography explains why America became rich and powerful.  You can attribute American success to democratic capitalism, but it was geography that made democratic capitalism of the American type possible. In this sense, geography is why we were in a position to win the 20th Century War of the World that finished Europe, and set up a finals match between ourselves and the Soviet Union; why the Soviet Union never really had much of a chance; and why the outlines were already visible to people like de Tocqueville and others when the United States was (or were) a small and fractious confederation as much as it was a nation, Russia was a backwater, and all of the action was emanating from Western Europe.

It’s also why, looking ahead, China and India are more likely to fragment and recede than to grow and lead; why Turkey is more important than Iran; why Islam is not an existential threat and why in fact the idea may be laughable; and why certain patterns of conflict, such as between the U.S. and Japan or between the U.S. and any power threatening to dominate the Eurasian landmass, are likely sooner or later to recur and to follow familiar paths – mainly to the benefit of the U.S.

It’s not fair, but don’t blame Friedman.  He wasn’t the one who created a rich, arable, relatively easily traversable, thinly populated but eminently inhabitable continent with multiple ports on both of the world’s most important oceans.

This unique position, or its results, explain further why we can afford to be sloppy, wasteful, and moody – oscillating between overconfidence and despair; why when we “lose” we so often win despite ourselves; why events that loom very large in the American public mind at one or another point in history can be all but forgotten a few years later; why citizens of less favored lands pay a much steeper price for our mistakes than we do; why we recover more quickly than anyone else can; and why no matter how much we’re envied, resisted, and hated, we’ll likely never be without friends, clients, and customers.

Unabashedly but not naively pro-American, Friedman also remains unperturbed by our recent national agonies in Southeast Asia and the Middle East: “These conflicts are merely isolated episodes in U.S. history, of little lasting importance – except to Vietnamese and Iraqis.” After explaining how our “barbarism” in such matters – a term Friedman uses descriptively, not judgmentally – works to our advantage, to the dismay of nations with much smaller “margins of error,” Friedman then sums up the “U.S.-jihadist war,” which he sees as “slither[-ing] to an end”:

An Islamic world in chaos, incapable of uniting, means the United States has achieved its strategic goal.  One thing the United States has indisputably done since 2001 is to create chaos in the Islamic world, generating animosity toward America – and perhaps terrorists who will attack it in the future.  But the regional earthquake is not coalescing into a regional superpower.  In fact, the region is more fragmented than ever, and this is likely to close the book on this era.  U.S. defeat or stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan is the likely outcome, and both wars will appear to have ended badly for the United States. … But on a broader, more strategic level, that does not matter.  So long as the Muslims are fighting each other, the United States has won its war.

Sure, in addition to leading to loss of life and treasure, this kind of thing leaves people angry, but, as Friedman is quick to point out:  “Anger does not make history.  Power does.”

Finally, this same higher, virtually from-orbit perspective enables Friedman to handle our current economic troubles in a few sentences:

The U.S. economy has a net worth measured in hundreds of trillions of dollars.  Therefore, a debt crisis measuring a few trillion cannot destroy it.  The problem is, how can this country’s net worth be used to cover the bad loans, since that net worth is in hundreds of millions of private hands?  Only the government can do that, and it does it by guaranteeing the debts, using the state’s sovereign taxing power, and utilizing the Federal Reserve’s ability to print money to bail out the system.

“The crisis of 2008,” he continues,” is hardly a defining moment. Think of it as a straw in the wind, a sign of things to come.”

In other words, Friedman’s not quite Glenn Beck about our present difficulties, and is probably inclined to give Obama-Geithner-Bernanke more latitude than most conservatives will be, but he’s not a Polyanna either:  He thinks we’re heading for a demographically driven economic crisis truly worthy of the name, but expects it to arise in the 2030 time frame, not next year or 2016, and expects us to be, as ever, comparatively well-positioned to handle it – and, in good time, to move on. Though Obama in particular may not, from a geopolitical view, have or need as much freedom of movement as some may wish to believe, or as Obama himself has sometimes pretended, there’s also nothing in Friedman’s analysis that prevents us from criticizing Obama-Geithner-Bernanke for handling things less well than they could or should, or that prevents us from taking advantage of the next American mood swing to correct for Obama-era over-corrections.  Indeed, if Friedman’s right, it’s by no means too early to begin preparing for problems that may be much more challenging and transformative than the ’08 financial crisis and the Conflict Formerly Known As The War On Terror.

Whether you’re pleased, dismayed, surprised, or simply unpersuaded by Friedman’s depiction of a war in 2050 precipitated by a Turko-Japanese alliance, of an eventual showdown within North America itself, of nearer term hopeless maneuvers by Russia and China, or of the technological, economic, and social changes that will accompany, drive, or be driven by such events, his guesstimates and projections always combine ruthless logic and well-informed, relentlessly fact-based extrapolations.  The effect may shake your assumptions, or at least shake you out of habitual modes of thought, and it may be especially welcome to Americans who’ve lately been given to exaggerated fear, pessimism, and despair – or, in some quarters, to unrealistic expectations – about the state of our nation and the world.


The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
George Friedman
Hardcover: 272 pages
Doubleday (January 27, 2009)

102 comments on “The Next 100 Years: Why the 21st Century Will Be an American Century

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  1. why Islam is not an existential threat

    What about the prediction that Europe will be a predominantly Muslim continent in 25 years due to birth rates and immigration? Does that factor into the equation?

  2. DtU – Friedman considers Western Europe pretty much a shot wad geopolitically. He does consider the “population bust” to be extremely important worldwide, but I don’t think he accepts the “worst-case” predictions about the Islamicization of Europe, among other things because Islamic birth rates are also tapering off. In truth, he doesn’t show much interest in Steynian projections, and seems to believe that France, Germany, Great Britain, and others will all become third-rate powers anyway. I suspect that, even if he did think Europe was going to be Islamic by 2035, he wouldn’t see it as in itself a major threat to U.S. power.

  3. Interesting.

    I’m not saying Friedman is wrong, but… I’m more concerned that the friction between the poles in U.S. politics is getting worse.

    External threats aren’t the problem – the whole system shaking apart is far more likely.

    Mew

  4. Hahaha! That guy is impossibly rosy!

    Let me count the ways …

    *First – doesn’t the “Nyah, Nyah, I got the best rock to sit on!” reasoning for continued American dominance ring a bit simplistic to you? Even if it’s true – it’s logical to assume that, the oceans – which have been shrinking since Chris Columbus due to technology – will eventually shrink away our little “island continent” advantage.

    *Hey – don’t the Aussies have the best geography?

    *How about the fact that nuclear proliferation has FAILED and basically everyone’s going to be building in them in their garages. They’re going to be smaller too – and easier to smuggle.

    *I hate to break it to you, but the U.S. Navy’s dominance is not certain.

    **Most of the fleet moves on OIL. My Aegis Cruiser was often tied to the pier for training exercises due to lack of fuel in the Pacific Fleet. That was in 2003. But – you can expect that we’ll play hell getting oil if the balloon goes up. No Oil – you can’t move an Aircraft Carrier (need’s conventionally powered escorts). Without moving carriers – you can’t project American Airpower.

    **We now officially have an aging Submarine fleet. The Los Angeles Fast Attacks and the Ohio SSBN / SSGN’s make up the bulk of the fleet – they are 1970’s designs. I recently went on a 688i (in the last two months) – and what I found was an aging old lady – not at all the bright shiny 688 I first reported aboard in 1983. We are building new SSN’s at about the rate of one per year I think. That’s … really not fast enough to replace these geriatric 688’s.

    **We don’t have enough Carriers. In fact – we’re now using Amphibs as the major flatop. Carrier Battle Groups are out and now the “Expeditionary Strike Group” is in. Problem is – these ESG’s are extremely vulnerable because they don’t have the defensive air canopy that Carriers do. Don’t get me wrong – we still deploy Carrier Battle Groups – but to fill in the gaps we use ESG’s. Those ESG’s have a lot of vulnerable people in them (they carry a full Marine Expeditionary Unit along with escorts) .

    *I don’t care who you are or what castle you think you’re sitting in – if the rest of the playground wants to take you down – they’ll do it.

    *America is in the middle of a vast moral erosion. No, strike that – we’re at the end of it. The Chinese may have some divisions coming but let me tell you – THEY ARE FOCUSED. This applies to the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Taiwanese, etc. The coming age is about ASIA – not the Americas – not even close.

    *If you want to talk about division – we have some coming in this country. We have not been this polarized and angry at each other since just before the civil war. That is NOT going to be resolved peacefully. Hard to see how the U.S. will dominate when we’re fractured to pieces.

    And that IS coming.

  5. In Friedman’s view, geography explains why America became rich and powerful. You can attribute American success to democratic capitalism, but it was geography that made democratic capitalism of the American type possible.

    My Ancient Near Eastern professor would always say, without apology, that what determines all nations and their advancements comes down to three things: topography, topography, topography.

  6. Logic indicates that in the long term North America will remain one of the more viable regions of the world in many respects; largely doe to the geographic factors Friedman indicates. But that does not mean it will remain under the control of a form of government that we would recognize as our own. After all, the indians had all the same geographic advantages, and that did not save them or their culture.

  7. Sorry don’t see this rosy picture. This boy is projecting. In the short to medium term I can’t see how our power is augmented for the long term with a debased dollar, crippling deficits, hollow military, internal polarization, and the increasing political illegitimacy of the “ruling class”.

  8. Weight of Glory on June 3, 2009 at 8:03 PM

    a lesson the Israelis have taken to heart with all those hilltop settlements.

  9. *America is in the middle of a vast moral erosion. No, strike that – we’re at the end of it. The Chinese may have some divisions coming but let me tell you – THEY ARE FOCUSED. This applies to the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Taiwanese, etc. The coming age is about ASIA – not the Americas – not even close.

    I think this is true. The response that Geitner received in China was a bit unnerving. The image I took away was less one of weakness than one of a Nation at a begging nadir.

    I can’t comment on the book or on geopolitical determinism, but what seems to me like a re-inflation of an unholy economy bodes ill. Now the bubble is a government bubble. It’s like we’ve built a building straddling the fissure of a quake.

  10. Well, I am going to pick this book up tomorrow and have a good read – sounds interesting.

    Honda –

    Wonderful comments – and of course your service – my dad served on the USS Angler Sub in the early 60’s…

    While I dont question your insight, namely to the military might – a few comments: Oil is important to the navy, as you expressed – I beleive a large group of experts believe the lack of fuel led to Germany’s demise in WW2 – but oil was discovered here in good ole USA – Penn. in fact – and based on Freidman’s assesment – N America is ripe with fossil fuels, oil, etc – but its the ideological dogma surrounded by “enviro” nuts hampering any real attempts at harvesting the full productiviy. Off shore rigs, Alaska, and desert rock stripping are readily abundant here.

    That seems to support his “geo” view – yet I understand converting that in the short term may not be available to a carrier waiting to be refueled.

    The rise of Asia has been promised for over 500 years – and while advanced in many ways compared to western civilizations – seems to have the same problem (barring political history) due to geography in flourishing: land locked on 2 sides, mountainous terrain for 1/4 the country, flooded in 1/5th – difficult sea patterns and a lack of many core raw goods, elements and materials

    I dont put 100% weight into this theory – and will read the whole book – but concerning our own country’s internal strife – the Civil War disrupted our nation for awhile – but ultimately led to its flourishing – of which I beleive is the “macro” argument being made by Freidman.

  11. a lesson the Israelis have taken to heart with all those hilltop settlements.

    elduende on June 3, 2009 at 8:13 PM

    Indeed.

  12. MikeA on June 3, 2009 at 8:10 PM

    Interesting point, but I would add “indians” in North America still exist, with some flourishing (through casinos, other advanced industries)and the fact they were micro nations or territories as tribes and, not a cohesive entity.

    As I mentioned above – oil is available in America – and the recent “shut down” of a oil refinery in the Quechan Indian Tribe region tends to side more with enviro issues to symie their growth, rather than a geographic hinderence.

  13. 10 years ago Friedman wrote how India and China would be eating us for lunch. Now all of a sudden 21st Century will belong to America. Mayne his next book will say Lichtenstein will own the 22nd Century. Makes about as much sense.

    The US died last year. Anyone who believes the US will be anything but a mediocre 3rd world country in 2050 is smoking something I would dearly love to get a hold of.

  14. I’d like to clarify one of my comments about “Carrier Battle Groups” being “out” and “ESG’s In”.

    What I meant to say is – due to the lack of carriers – we’ve been filling the deployment gaps with Amphibs like Pelilieu.

    Now, the official line is that we use these ESG’s in order to cover more hot spots. That’s only partially true. Sure, we cover more hot spots – but the ESG is not the ideal battle unit to cover it. We use ESG’s simply beacause there are too many hot spots for our Carriers to cover.

    A Carrier Strike Group is a moving piece of U.S. territory and it controls both the sea and air wherever it moves. Not so with the ESG. ESG-1 was able to field at most THREE of the four Harrier jets assigned to it. Readiness of the Harriers is pathetic – and they are not up to the task of intercepting air threats coming at the ESG. Now – we know that AEGIS cruisers escort ESG’s – and AEGIS cruisers can shoot down any air threat quickly. However – the can’t properly IDENTIFY an air threat. You may remember the case of the Iranian Air Bus we shot down in the Gulf back in the 1980’s – proof that not ever “threatening” target on a radar screen is indeed threatening. As a result – WE IDENTIFY all targets now using multiple means – the primary one being Aircraft. If you can’t get a Harrier off an Amphib quickly – the threat closes so fast you’re left with fewer options. Eventually – you have to let the target overfly and pray for the best (that it’s a harmless civvie) – or you have to shoot missiles. No one likes that situation.

    I am a Submariner – but I have seen all communities. I’m loyal to my community – but I will tell you there is nothing on the planet like a Carrier Strike Group – and we don’t have enough imo.

  15. After all, the indians had all the same geographic advantages, and that did not save them or their culture.

    MikeA on June 3, 2009 at 8:10 PM

    That implies that there was a single cultural and political Indian nation across what is now the United States. That simply isn’t true. Think more like Africa: dozens of different peoples of varying ethnicities, cultures, and levels of technological development; often at war with each other. Those “geographic advantages” would have been, to all practical intents and purposes, nonexistent.

  16. Hey, Odie1941 – thanks for your comments. I hope you’ll bookmark this page and come back after you’ve picked up and fnished the book! That goes for anyone else who reads it.

    I’ll also say that Friedman addresses many of Honda’s arguments – from shrinking of the world and, relatedly, to the complex of oil/hydrocarbon issues to the building and running of navies, though not to the same level of “granular” detail regarding specific submarines (it’s only a 270-page book covering 100 years plus background). Shrink as the world might, the bulk of trade, which includes the world energy economy, depends on the oceans and will likely do so for generations to come. He does see the US eventually leveraging its command of the seas, its technological head start, and its economic and political primacy into a virtual monopoloy on outer space.

    He believes China’s going to be either torn apart or forced to relapse into isolationism by around 2020, and he devotes extensive analysis to China and the other Asian nations.

    As for our problems, considering the importance of the Navy, I’m all for keeping it, um, shipshape!, and making up for our derelictions post-haste, but I don’t think our polarization even comes close, so far, to what we had during the ’60s or even the early ’80s, much less the pre-Civil War period. Oldie’s comments about Civil War and recovery are on point here, too.

    After all, the indians had all the same geographic advantages, and that did not save them or their culture.

    MikeA on June 3, 2009 at 8:10 PM

    Given the Indians’ technology, they weren’t in a position to exploit North America’s geographic advantages fully – to state the obvious. On the other hand, they had a pretty good run, and some major civilizations, that benefited mightily from not being interfered with by the rest of the world. Viewing the situation very broadly, the US still benefits from its relative isolation in that regard.

  17. While I won’t bet on the 21st century being an American century, what I can admit is that the US dollar still is the best bet despite the bankruptcy of the system upon which it is based simply because of military power. He who has the guns, has the money. Since no other free nation has the ability, or really the will, to assume the role of the world’s policeman, investors will always view the US as the safest place to invest capital and the safest place to run to when things get scary. Regardless of how bad the US economy gets, it will always be worse for the other guys. So the US dollar will still be the reserve currency.

    As Mao once said, all power comes from the barrel of a gun. In the end, it is power that matters. Even if you are fat and lazy and broke, if you have the gun, you have the power. If you have the power, you have the money. If not your money, at least you have the other guy’s money. There is no free nation on earth that is willing to spend huge portions of GDP on military spending. All the other advanced free nations are military phobic, nor do their economies have the ability to create a US-size military. But more importantly, they don’t want to be militarily strong. They have abdicated defense of law and order and world trade to the US. Basically, they get a free ride while the cost of maintaining the trade routes falls to the US. In exchange, the US gets to be boss.

    While China and Russia want to be strong and rule the world, their dictatorial culture and lack of English common law, property law and contract law and the lack of respect for intellectual property rights, not to mention human rights, precludes fundamental foreign investment, or any kind of American-style renaissance, so their currency will never make them powerful.

  18. CK –

    Will do and thank you for the sentiments. While a bit different – I highly recommend Voltaire’s Bastards by John Raulston Saul. Great read and snap shot through the past 500 years or so and uncovers or “opines” as to geopolitical forces being, well, basterdized by elitists in government towards the 21st century.

  19. HondaV65

    FYI, ESG’s from what I understand are going away. I don’t know all of the details, but this is a fact. It’s pretty much going back to the regular Carrier battle groups, and the ARG’s as far as I know.

  20. While China and Russia want to be strong and rule the world, their dictatorial culture and lack of English common law, property law and contract law and the lack of respect for intellectual property rights, not to mention human rights, precludes fundamental foreign investment, or any kind of American-style renaissance, so their currency will never make them powerful.

    keep the change on June 3, 2009 at 9:07 PM

    If we continue to inflate our dollar to neverland standards, then our own government will be the dictatorial culture…who lacks English Common Law understanding, property rights, human rights etc.

  21. Even if you are fat and lazy and broke, if you have the gun, you have the power. If you have the power,

    I don’t mean to quibble but the Soviets had over a 200 division advantage to us in Europe (even after including 60 or so turkish divisions) as well as a strategic parity in nuclear weapons and we exhausted them economically. Their power imploded because they did not have an economy to sustain it.

    If our economy implodes our power implodes what happens then is akin to what is happening now…multiple regional hegemons become dominant…which is why Brazil is emerging in South America as a manufacturing, energy, investment, and security powerhouse…if our economy the rest of our supposed power cascades….we’re toast the rest of the planet may revert to a mercantilist model akin to China and we’ll either reemerge later or not but don’t fool yourself money and prestige have no ideology.

  22. should read:

    …if our economy goes the rest of our supposed power cascades….we’re toast, the rest of the planet may then revert to a mercantilist model akin to what China has now with a planet wide scramble for resources akin to the early 20 th century. As for us we’ll either reemerge later after we get our economic house in order or not, but don’t fool yourself money and prestige and global power respects no ideology.

  23. Excellent review, CK! I have a feeling that the historian’s bedrock faith in the importance of geography will turn out to be one of those principles that remains reliably true… right up until it isn’t.

    I wonder if one consequence of the Information Age, coming on the heels of an Atomic Age that unleashed vast amounts of energy and movement potential, will be the increasing tendency of the human factor to shape geography, rather than the time-honored tradition of geography shaping human civilization. The 20th century left us with a remarkable ability to rearrange the topography of the planet – not just in the terrifying nuclear kaboom sense, but in the way we can transport food and raw materials cheaply over vast distances. What we do with these resources is increasingly dependent on collective human will.

    A flagging, exhausted West seems to be in the process of squandering the tremendous advantages geography and history have bestowed upon it. The steely will to power of China, or the feral bloodlust of fascist Islam, can go a long way to overwhelm a bloated, dissolute America that is too fat and overcome with self-doubt to raise its weapons. Fortress America won’t be that hard to sack, if the gates are hanging open and the guards had to cash in their bullets to pay for national health care.

    Europe’s nearly inevitable fall to Islam may have more of a ripple effect than Friedman seems to anticipate. The American Left is deeply invested in the idea that Europeans are our intellectual and cultural betters. What will the Left of 2030 make of those wise old socialist countries’ submission to Islam? Organized Islamic communities have already extracted astonishing concessions from nominally agnostic American liberals – concessions that would never be extended to any other religious group. Geography and technology may ensure that no one could take America by force, but the more uncertain question is whether Americans can prevent their elites from handing America over to the outsiders who most passionately demand it.

  24. He believes China’s going to be either torn apart or forced to relapse into isolationism by around 2020, and he devotes extensive analysis to China and the other Asian nations

    So his whole case rests on a foundation of China being “torn apart” or something in about 10 years. Pretty thin gruel to rest all his sweeping predictions on.

  25. Weight of Glory on June 3, 2009 at 8:03 PM

    I heard that same thought over and over during my undergrad years (poli sci) usually in the context of explaining why Africa has always fared so miserably. It doesn’t explain the Roman Empire, though.

  26. I don’t think our polarization even comes close, so far, to what we had during the ’60s or even the early ’80s, much less the pre-Civil War period. Oldie’s comments about Civil War and recovery are on point here, too.
    — C.K. MacLeod

    Geography and technology may ensure that no one could take America by force, but the more uncertain question is whether Americans can prevent their elites from handing America over to the outsiders who most passionately demand it.
    –Doctor Zero

    Gotta agree with Doctor Zero on this one.

    My humble opinion is that the far right has been pushed a hell of a lot further in the last 10 years (yes, under Bush) than they like, and that a lot more are thinking “No further” this year than were in 1968 or 1982.

    It’s not the social by itself, it’s not the financial by itself, it’s that both are hitting at the same time.

    The Left can stand against the Religious Right just fine, or against the Fiscally Sane just fine, but both together?

    Mew

  27. So his whole case rests on a foundation of China being “torn apart” or something in about 10 years. Pretty thin gruel to rest all his sweeping predictions on.

    MB4 on June 3, 2009 at 11:37 PM

    Well, you’ll have to sip the gruel at the source to determine for yourself how thin it is. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to take my word for it. I wouldn’t say at all that his whole case rests on it at all. In brief, China is limited by its geography, boxed in by virtually impassable regions east and south, with a channel into Sibera to the north, and other than that Korea. The coastal area’s interests and development tend to diverge from the inland regions, and the central government has been able to keep the centrifugal forces in check mainly by economic growth, which is insustainable at past rates, and even more vulnerable to international economic disruption. That’s the torn apart part. The isolationism part – China’s preferred pattern historically – comes when the central government tries to deal with inequities by clamping down. Resource limitations, deeply fraudulent bookkeeping and reporting, corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, etc., etc. If the US dollar cracks, then Chinese exports crack and Chinese holdings of US debt is devalued. For the US dollar to hold, China has to keep on buying and holding US debt.

    Why do you think they were all laughing so hard about their money being safe?

  28. Sorry, dropped a thought off my last post.

    The Left will cut both down, and end up with a U.S. that resembles Europe… Broke, buried under social programs, and incapable of being more than another spent wad .. or, my guess, balkanized and ripe for a partial or total takeover.

    Mew

  29. If we continue to inflate our dollar to neverland standards, then our own government will be the dictatorial culture…who lacks English Common Law understanding, property rights, human rights etc.

    Conservative Voice on June 3, 2009 at 10:10 PM

    I don’t want to be in the position of defending Obama-Geithner-Bernankonomics, but, on the other hand, it’s not good forecasting to assume facts not in evidence. We’ve withstood extended bouts of inflation and other relatively radical economic problems before without turning into “neverland.”

    Friedman doesn’t predict unicorns, rainbows, and uninterrupted good times. He just asserts that the US has a lot further to fall and a lot more to fall back on than anyone else. Before determining that our decline is irreversible and illimitable, I’d like to have better evidence than inchoate fears and generalizations.

  30. Resource limitations,

    They are buying up resources around the globe. We are not even exploiting our own very well. Solar and wind just are not going to cut it.

    deeply fraudulent bookkeeping and reporting, corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, etc., etc.

    That description fits the U.S.A. pretty well too, maybe even better. In fact that is what got us into this economic mess. With Obama it is getting even worse.

    If the US dollar cracks, then Chinese exports crack and Chinese holdings of US debt is devalued. For the US dollar to hold, China has to keep on buying and holding US debt.

    They are slowly tip-toe’ing out the door. They just don’t want to run and cause a out-of-the-dollar stampede.

    Why do you think they were all laughing so hard about their money being safe?

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    Because they believe that the U.S., under Obama is going down the tubes.

  31. The Left will cut both down, and end up with a U.S. that resembles Europe… Broke, buried under social programs, and incapable of being more than another spent wad .. or, my guess, balkanized and ripe for a partial or total takeover.

    Mew

    acat on June 4, 2009 at 12:02 AM

    The first part is a complex subject, and Friedman’s own predicted “solutions” to our entitlements/age structure problems may not be something conservatives are primed to endorse, but there’s nothing that can be put into law that can’t be revised in law.

    Who’s going to take us over? Even if we disbanded our military tomorrow (though why would we?), who has the financial wherewithal to launch a takeover overseas? On our own continent, who’s going to take over? Canada? Mexico, for now, can’t even run itself.

  32. Most of us have criticized those who, like Al Gore, predict weather/climate decades out when forecasters can not even accurately predict more than a few days out, sometimes not even that. I see no reason why it should be any different with this. Even less in fact, as there are so many potential “game changers” with something like this. You know what Rumsfeld said.

    “There are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know that we don’t know.
    – Donald Rumsfeld

    Does this George Friedman have a past record of successful prognostication that we can be impressed by?

    Does he have yearly “benchmarks” for the 21st century that we can follow to see if he is on the right track? i don’t know about the rest of you but I don’t think I am going to last through the rest of the century and I doubt that George Friedman is going to either.

  33. MB4 on June 4, 2009 at 12:16 AM

    You’re referring to generalizations. Friedman refers to numbers – for instance, in the comparison of “fraud and inefficiency” in the US vs. the same in China. He’s not the only by any means who views China as an economic paper tiger, by the way.

    Or in resources – even with both hands tied behind our backs, the US is still one of the leading oil-producing countries in the world. It’s just that our super-huge economy demands a huge amount of energy.

    It’s not all geography, though it does in an indirect way all go back to it eventually. All of those oil tankers safely transit from the Persian Gulf and other regions to China because we like it that way.

    We’re so conscious of our limitations and focused on ourselves that we’ve lost awareness of how far ahead of a country like China we still are in per-capita income, energy usage, production, etc., not to mention overall military power. Our “hollowed-out” manufacturing sector (accounting for something like 20% of our economy in 2007) is still larger than China’s entire economy.

  34. I suppose the “moral of the story” is to make prognostications so far out that nobody will even remember them by the time the “drop-dead-date” arrives, even if they are still alive.

  35. Does this George Friedman have a past record of successful prognostication that we can be impressed by?

    STRATFOR is considered the world’s leading private intelligence and forecasting firm. It’s reports are used by corporations and governments worldwide. Take that as you will.

  36. You’re referring to generalizations.

    I don’t see how I am doing that any more than he is. I am mainly questioning his generalizations.

    Friedman refers to numbers – for instance, in the comparison of “fraud and inefficiency” in the US vs. the same in China

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:33 AM

    Numbers? Maybe I am not looking in the right place, but I don’t see his “numbers”. He has numerical values that he puts on “deeply fraudulent bookkeeping and reporting, corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, etc., etc.” in the U.S. and in China? I don’t see them. Where are they and where did he get them?

    Again –

    Does this George Friedman have a past record of successful prognostication that we can be impressed by?

    Does he have yearly “benchmarks” for the 21st century that we can follow to see if he is on the right track? i don’t know about the rest of you but I don’t think I am going to last through the rest of the century and I doubt that George Friedman is going to either

  37. Doctor Zero on June 3, 2009 at 10:50 PM

    I have a feeling that the historian’s bedrock faith in the importance of geography will turn out to be one of those principles that remains reliably true… right up until it isn’t.

    When someone figures out how to ship a barrel of oil or an aircraft carrier over the internet, then we’ll be in a different world.

    The 20th century left us with a remarkable ability to rearrange the topography of the planet – not just in the terrifying nuclear kaboom sense, but in the way we can transport food and raw materials cheaply over vast distances. What we do with these resources is increasingly dependent on collective human will.

    Seems that way, because the USN guarantees free transit through the sea lanes. Air transport is extremely expensive compared to shipping – otherwise all those cars, containers, natural gas and oil tankers, etc., etc., would be dropping at airports and backyards instead of ports.

    A flagging, exhausted West seems to be in the process of squandering the tremendous advantages geography and history have bestowed upon it.

    Easier said than done.

    Fortress America won’t be that hard to sack, if the gates are hanging open and the guards had to cash in their bullets to pay for national health care.

    How are they going to get here? Swim?

    The American Left is deeply invested in the idea that Europeans are our intellectual and cultural betters.

    They’ll get over it. Or we’ll get over them.

    What will the Left of 2030 make of those wise old socialist countries’ submission to Islam?

    Not really convinced by the Steynian case, but, even if I was, who cares what the Left of 2030 makes of anything?

    Geography and technology may ensure that no one could take America by force, but the more uncertain question is whether Americans can prevent their elites from handing America over to the outsiders who most passionately demand it.

    Don’t see any money it. Maybe the American elite of the present day is a parasitic sub-class that will change its tune when it senses opportunity elsewhere, or be dispensed with.

    Such a bunch of defeatists on the right, these days. Sheesh. Some of you guys would have been worthless in 1942 or at Valley Forge! Even Lenin had more confidence in capitalism – always finding away out of its historical cul-de-sacs – than you guys do.

  38. Numbers? Maybe I am not looking in the right place, but I don’t see his “numbers”. He has numerical values that he puts on “deeply fraudulent bookkeeping and reporting, corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, etc., etc.” in the U.S. and in China? I don’t see them. Where are they and where did he get them?

    They’re in his book. My review is 1 page. His book is 270+. For instance, he refers to an estimate of the total value of bad loans (given out in the communist system for every reason other than economic efficiency) as $600 – $900 billion “or between a quarter and a third of China’s GDP.”

    To your repeated questions, MB4:

    I’ve already given his credentials. You can look up STRATFOR yourself.

    Yearly benchmarks would be absurd: He’s not pretending to be able to foretell the future in detail. He provides a forecast, explaining his method all along. You can assess his reasoning and evidence for yourself if it interests you, but I can’t write the book out for your here, dude.

  39. STRATFOR is considered the world’s leading private intelligence and forecasting firm. It’s reports are used by corporations and governments worldwide. Take that as you will.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:35 AM

    If their intelligence is so good, what did they say about Iraq and Afghanistan back in 2003 and 2001? Did they predict that there would be 4,000 dead American troops AFTER a successful Saddam regime overthrough, that we would spend many hundreds of billions there and that we would still have well over 100,000 troops there more than 6 years later? Did they predict that American troop levels, and costs, in Afghanistan would be escalating more than 7 years after the invasion there?

    If their economic forecasts are so good, they should all be super rich and retired by now. Did they tell people to get out of the market when it was at it’s peak and tell people to get back in this past March when it started to do it’s big run up?

    Paint me skeptical of those who would prognosticate the future, especially so far out. It’s not just STRATFOR, nor just George Friedman, nor just Al Gore. I think that prognosticators are all just damn fools, at least if they take their own prognostications too seriously.

  40. Here’s a straightforward, mainstream report on China’s economic situation, just one of the first articles that turned up on a Google search.

    http://blog.aranca.com/global_recession/2009/03/unemployment-in-china-%E2%80%93-trouble-looming-ahead/

    When you consider the degree of China’s dependence on exports than there are only two alternatives: If the consumer economies recover, then China can perhaps stay afloat, though it’s an open question whether it will ever resume the yearly double-digit growth that it had been accustomed to up until last year – that is, it faces major, uncertain adjustments even in what most consider a best case scenario for the world economy.

    If, as so many here seem to believe, we’re heading into the crapper, with a broken dollar unable to buy anything, then China is in deep trouble. If we get a cold, they get pneumonia. If we get pneumonia, they die.

  41. MB4 on June 4, 2009 at 1:01 AM

    You have strange ideas about what forecasting is about, and frankly are coming across as kind of cranky, too.

    Can’t say I followed STRATFOR day by day over the last eight years, but from what I read they were always skeptics, without being alarmists, regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. Even in the review, I quoted Friedman’s own rather pessimistic view of them.

    I do believe that Mr. Friedman’s probably doing a helluva lot better than I am financially. Betcha he bought gold, but I can’t tell you for sure.

  42. They’re in his book. My review is 1 page. His book is 270+. For instance, he refers to an estimate of the total value of bad loans (given out in the communist system for every reason other than economic efficiency) as $600 – $900 billion “or between a quarter and a third of China’s GDP.”

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:53 AM

    I think we have got a lot more than that and growing and with no end in sight. Did he even take that, things that have been coming out and happening over the last several months in the U.S., into account in his book? If not it’s got big holes in it already.

    I just very quickly looked at a review of his book and it says that he says that “Mexico will emerge as an important world power.” That seems a little hard to believe.

    I also see that he wrote an earlier book called The Coming War With Japan published in 1991. LOL. I think he may have been a bit off on that.

    I dunno, maybe someone should check the ventilation at his residence.

  43. For those looking for a evidence of competence on the part of STRATFOR, consider that they were the ONLY voice highlighting the danger the Bush Administration were setting themselves up for in using WMD as their main selling point for the Iraq war; i.e. -if it’s not found they’ll be screwed. They did an expert job of laying out the entire case for the war and the Administration’s rationales, but Bush was taking the easy way out and publicly highlighting only WMD. Only STRATFOR called them on it. Shame they didn’t listen.

    You can sign up for free emails from STRATFOR and if you aren’t impressed by what you get for free, well, just check it out for yourself, it is impressive.

  44. MB4 on June 4, 2009 at 1:01 AM

    You have strange ideas about what forecasting is about, and frankly are coming across as kind of cranky, too.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 1:10 AM

    Anyone can forecast, being right is another matter entirely.

    As to me being “cranky” (Having a bad disposition), well I do not believe that I am cranky at all and certainly not nearly “cranky” enough on my worst day to start calling you “cranky” just because we may disagree on some matters.

    As to the other definition of “‘cranky” (Having eccentric ways; odd), I would say that, as demonstrated by his book The Coming War With Japan published in 1991, that would seem to rather well fit George Friedman to say the least.

    Oh well, it’s been “interesting”.

  45. I do believe that Mr. Friedman’s probably doing a helluva lot better than I am financially. Betcha he bought gold, but I can’t tell you for sure.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 1:10 AM

    I bought gold and oil ETF and China ETF and India ETF, but am thinking about getting out, more or less, now while I am still ahead. Don’t want to press my luck.

  46. Prognostication, especially when published to take advantage of a fad – such as the Fall of the Great Powers/Rise of Japan stuff that was so current during the late ’80s/early ’90s – is subject to making fools of the prognosticators. However, from my glance at the Amazon review, Friedman and his co-author were coy about a setting a date, and the mention of “hypersonic missiles” leads me to believe that the alarmist title was a bit off.

    Hypersonics have been a favorite among future-war types for a while now. They re-appear in this book, and Friedman also still believes that the US and Japan are on an historical collision course – just not anything to worry about anytime soon.

    He’s almost 20 years older now. At least he’s still in the same job! I’d hate to be held responsible for everything I thought made sense in 1991.

    I read an interesting article recently about economist Richard Duncan, who wrote was dismissed and even ridiculed because he underestimated the last economic growth spasm that accompanied the housing bubble, but has become fashionable again because he otherwise forecast the unfolding of the financial crisis rather accurately – with a collapse of the dollar or other major adjustment still to come. If you’d bought gold when he recommended, but held for just a few years longer, you’d have done quite well – but that’s not the point. The point is that you can be off a few years with your predictions – an eyeblink in the grand scheme of things – and still have valid and useful arguments to make. Hyman Minsky gave what amounted to an excellent forecast of our financial troubles as well – in 1986. It’s useful not because it can tell you how to make your own economic forecasts, but because the underlying thinking can help you to put solutions and non-solutions in perspective.

  47. I think we have got a lot more than that and growing and with no end in sight.

    Uh, no – not in relative terms: The number refers to the equivalent of non-performing loans China -$600 to $900 BN in an economy ca. $2.5 T in size. If you’re thinking about US public deficits and debt, or maybe about the huge numbers sometimes conjured up in theoretical derivatives exposure, or maybe credit card debt, each is something else again. All god’s chilluns got problems, but not all problems are alike.

  48. CK MacLeod:

    Very interesting post. You raised an issue that I have never seriously factored in before.

    *I hate to break it to you, but the U.S. Navy’s dominance is not certain.

    **Most of the fleet moves on OIL. My Aegis Cruiser was often tied to the pier for training exercises due to lack of fuel in the Pacific Fleet. That was in 2003. But – you can expect that we’ll play hell getting oil if the balloon goes up. No Oil – you can’t move an Aircraft Carrier (need’s conventionally powered escorts). Without moving carriers – you can’t project American Airpower.

    And that IS coming.

    HondaV65 on June 3, 2009 at 7:58 PM

    Hi HondaV65,

    Us non-military types appreciate your military information here. I found your post to be very informative.

    I recently finished a You Tube history of the Falkland War, which Britain barely won over Argentina (according to the clips I saw).

    I think Ed Morrisey wrote a fine Hot Air article about how American dominance in the South Pacific is no longer a future thing to count on. Also, the Aussies recognize this and are preparing for a day without American naval presence in the Pacific.

    Personally, I think the Amazon author here is overly optimistic, but then again, I have not read the book either.

  49. Maybe its just the review, but this sounds like naive oversimplified sunny-day garbage and a rehashing of 19th century geopolitical ideas.

    The oceans are key to global dominance!!! Been reading Mahan much?

  50. I don’t mean to quibble but the Soviets had over a 200 division advantage to us in Europe (even after including 60 or so turkish divisions) as well as a strategic parity in nuclear weapons and we exhausted them economically. Their power imploded because they did not have an economy to sustain it.

    The Soviets had no real power. They had no Navy. They did not control the sea lanes of the world and never tried to. America gets the foreign investment because, in the end, it is the only free nation governed by English common law that has the power to keep the trade flowing.

  51. America is on a collision course due to it’s internal problems all the outside stimuli only exacerbate the crisis.

    The masses have found that they can vote themselves other peoples money.

    The enemy has already taken over:
    1. One political party
    2. The education system
    3. Much of the banking system
    4. The press
    5. The courts
    6. The executive branch
    7. General motors

    Without a great revolution, it’s game over.

  52. Hi I am late and most probably this thread has gone cold but any how my two cents.

    1. Overall the analysis is good, however the primary challenge to US will be economic and military. So having strongest navy is not of much relevance

    2. I think you and (by extension) Friendman are underestimating China. I am not an expert on China but from what I understand its younger generation is fired by the determination to humiliation of colonial era and restore China to its rightful place as befits the oldest civilization. Hence I don’t think there is any likelihood of As an aside, I have observed that many westerners can’t fully grasp the impact of colonialism on the the psyche of colonized. I think it should be taken into account.

    3. Reg. India as an Indian I don’t think India is going to be major global player for one India is not aggressive second its cacophonous democracy distracts it from long term strategic planning. Having said that I won’t bet on India breaking up any time soon. It is a mistake many western observer have made, in fact one of the reason British acquiesced to creation of Pakistan was they thought India was unviable and Pakistan a more stable polity because it was based on a single factor will be helpful in securing British interest in the region. Funny how it turned out :-)

  53. Hi I am late and most probably this thread has gone cold but any how my two cents.

    No problem. We were expecting you.

  54. Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 6:36 AM

    Hasty writing. Please read
    “determination to humiliation of colonial era” as “determination to erase humiliation of colonial era”
    and “Hence I don’t think there is any likelihood of” as “Hence I don’t think there is any likelihood of China breaking up any time soon”

  55. The U.S. economy has a net worth measured in hundreds of trillions of dollars. Therefore, a debt crisis measuring a few trillion cannot destroy it.

    Er, pardon my ignorance but how does he figure that? In general, I think this guy Friedman makes Pollyanna look like a cross between Woody Allen and Oscar Levant.

  56. in fact one of the reason British acquiesced to creation of Pakistan was they thought India was unviable

    I wonder why the author thinks India will split up and I wonder why the British believed India to be unviable.

    My thoughts are that Hinduism (speaking of cacophony) is an endlessly elastic glue, which allows India to stretch without breaking. (I must say that I find India endlessly fascinating but have never been there, although I do live in neighborhood with a large Indian population.) Because the same cannot be said of Islam, we have Pakistan (and most other Muslim societies). I think another surprise is that it was Britain that was unviable.

    China can unite against the outsider, but has internal contradictions like India, but no unifying religious organization from which the social contract derives, and therefore, imo, less ability to keep a lid on tensions.

    There’s too little info in the review to understand how many of the conclusions are drawn, but it does sound interesting to read, which I will do.

  57. JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    I think it boils down to the background of analysts. IMO western experience is so different from eastern, any analysis by person steeped in one culture of the other is so bound to be tricky.

    Reg. China, the reason I am optimistic (for lack of other words)is that it has a sense of its antiquity. For social contract to exist common religious experience is not necessary, it would be more accurate that a common identity is foundation of social contract. Now for modern west it is common religious heritage* however that was not always in the post, Greco-Roman contracts were result of common identity which were mostly, but not always, tribal in origin. In China as well as India identity is provided by the shared history. The only difference in case of India is it is difficult to demarcate between the civilization (Indic) and religion (Hinduism).

    * In my opinion American experience while clearly effected by religion is as much about shared history of frontier dwellers.

  58. y thoughts are that Hinduism (speaking of cacophony) is an endlessly elastic glue, which allows India to stretch without breaking

    JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    Less charitably Octavio Paz termed Hinduism as metaphysical boa constrictor

  59. The only difference in case of India is it is difficult to demarcate between the civilization (Indic) and religion (Hinduism).

    That is what I was trying to say. There seem to be two elements in Indian society which contribute to long-term stability, and which other nations don’t have, even ones with long histories. That may be a fundamental difference. And I don’t only mean a common religion, I particularly mean Hinduism–it’s appeal to all types of people in all stages of society makes it universal, but it is not narrow in the way middle-eastern originated religion is, which has, imo, a fairly small and rigid set of do’s and don’ts.

    I bow to your views on India, but reinforce your comment that it’s hard for outsiders to accurately understand what they’re seeing when viewing another culture. With respect to the US, after living here almost all of my life, I can tell you with some certainty that whatever ties binded us, they are surely frayed now. And I can’t think of a single thing, such as religion, or frontier spirit, or pride in our Constitutional values, or respect for tradition, or shared history, that is powerful enough to compensate for our differences. Obviously, I wish it weren’t so, because I know from personal experience that the lifestyle led by the vast majority of Americans is unequaled elsewhere, and even those who daily claim to be the most “oppressed” are living lives of relative luxury and unrivaled freedom. It’s all a collossal shame.

  60. JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    Don’t feel so despondent over US. You guys are fabulous*. Again I may be wrong, but from what I understand Americans are so argumentative politically because you can afford to by virtue of geography. I am sure that when the need arises Americans will stand as one to defend US.

    * On the other hand, I really don’t understand why should US inflict American Idol on rest of the world.

  61. Here is the boa quote

    “Hinduism is a conglomeration of beliefs and rituals; although it lacks missionaries its power of assimilation is immense.It does not know conversion in the Christian or Muslim sense,but it practices, with great success,appropriation. Like an enormous metaphysical boa, Hinduism slowly and relentlessly digests foreign cultures,gods,languages and beliefs.”

    ‘In Light of India’

  62. Less charitably Octavio Paz termed Hinduism as metaphysical boa constrictor

    Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    Understandable. As I said, I find the religion fascinating, especially insofar as it seems to permeates daily life in a way we can no longer see in the US. But I am aware of some of the philosophical difficulties it presents, and often wonder if I’d be as intrigued if looking from the inside out.

  63. “Hinduism is a conglomeration of beliefs and rituals; although it lacks missionaries its power of assimilation is immense.It does not know conversion in the Christian or Muslim sense,but it practices, with great success,appropriation. Like an enormous metaphysical boa, Hinduism slowly and relentlessly digests foreign cultures,gods,languages and beliefs.”

    That’s precisely what I meant when I termed it “elastic.” But then that is a compliment to it. The negative I see is that the lack of att’n on the here and now often allows for things which would be improved in other societies.

    As for US, it will survive, but like England, will become something different.

  64. JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 8:35 AM

    Actually it is a two way street, even though I eagerly follow the discussion involving Christianity on HotAir, Christian premise is so outside my life experience I am unable to grasp it. Same goes for Dawkinsian Atheism, or controversy around evolution.

  65. * On the other hand, I really don’t understand why should US inflict American Idol on rest of the world.

    Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 8:30 AM

    Have heard of it. But here in the US, you must be very careful what you pick and choose. I have a 25 year old television, but it only receives baseball :) Because of some technical changes occurring here this month (switch to digital TV signal) it will no longer do even that.

  66. Actually it is a two way street, even though I eagerly follow the discussion involving Christianity on HotAir, Christian premise is so outside my life experience I am unable to grasp it. Same goes for Dawkinsian Atheism, or controversy around evolution.

    Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    I completely understand that comment, and from the little I know about the philosophical underpinnings of Hinduism, also understand from where it derives. That’s what I meant about Hinduism being universal. Too me, it simply has more rational explanations about more things than other religions do, from the creation of the universe, to the nature of God, to my purpose here on earth. And the atheism thing is funny, I agree. There’s Buddhism for that :)

  67. As for US, it will survive, but like England, will become something different
    JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 8:40 AM

    It is possible, but I feel that despite England being the mother country US is markedly difference in being robust about its identity. I think it comes from pride in being the frontier of human endeavor.

    The negative I see is that the lack of att’n on the here and now often allows for things which would be improved in other societies.

    Precisely ! In fact a propensity to renounce worldly possession and become ascetic has been one of the recurrent features of Hinduism, so much so that there are actual injunctions against able bodied males becoming ascetic before they have discharged familial responsibilities. Naipaul also observed this elasticity.

    The key Hindu concept of dharma – the right way, the sanctioned way, which all men must follow, according to their natures – is an elastic concept.
    At its noblest it combines self-fulfillment and truth to the self with the ideas of action as duty, action as its own spiritual reward, man as a holy vessel.
    India was trampled over, fought over. You had the invasions and you had the absence of a response to them. There was an absence even of the idea of a people, of a nation defending itself.
    Only now are people beginning to understand that there has been a great vandalizing of India. The movement is now from below. It has to be dealt with. It is not enough to abuse these youths or use that fashionable word from Europe, ‘fascism’, There is a big, historical development going on in India.
    What is happening in India is a new historical awakening….Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

    India: A Million Mutinies Now

  68. There’s Buddhism for that

    JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 8:47 AM

    It is my understanding that among western atheists Buddhism or what I term intellectual Buddhism is popular. Anyway the differences betweens Hinduism and Buddhism are so complicated as to induce headache.

  69. so much so that there are actual injunctions against able bodied males becoming ascetic before they have discharged familial responsibilities.

    LOL. I am 53 but still have young children. My internal moksha is calling loudly, but I cannot yet respond.

  70. Anyway the differences betweens Hinduism and Buddhism are so complicated as to induce headache.

    Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    I have often thought the same about Naipaul.

  71. Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 9:06 AM

    I meant attain Moksha

    I have often thought the same about Naipaul.

    JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    You think Naipaul induces headache :-D

  72. Plus there is nothing wrong with sex as long as it is in moderation.

    You will learn that moderation is all you will get as you age, if you are lucky. LMAO.

  73. Well there is always Dharma

    I have to concentrate on making some artha now, but, as always, have enjoyed my conversation with you. I hope you have a good night.

  74. Shubh Labh (Shubh = Favorable, Labh = Profit)

    Gaurav on June 4, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    I am born Jewish. I’m afraid it’s ingrained, but the symbol is hideous to me, although I know that is not the original intention. My apologies.

  75. JiangxiDad on June 4, 2009 at 9:24 AM

    I think you are confusing Shubh Labh with Swastika. Although Shubh Labh is accompanied by Swastika, Shubh Labh doesn’t mean Swastika which is almost found everywhere in India. Anyway you don’t need to apologize. I can understand your feeling.

    On the other hand DAMN THAT AUSTRIAN MIDGET.

  76. Such a bunch of defeatists on the right, these days. Sheesh. Some of you guys would have been worthless in 1942 or at Valley Forge! Even Lenin had more confidence in capitalism – always finding away out of its historical cul-de-sacs – than you guys do.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:46 AM

    I think some of the difference between my negative sense of future developments, and Freidman’s more positive one, is a question of perspective. A reduction of living standards or economic power that seems relatively minor to a historian can be horrendous to the people who actually need to live through it. The American standard of living in the years before the Great Depression would have been considered quite high by anyone writing at the time, and any historian would agree it was a tremendously advanced environment compared to any that preceded it… but if the America of the coming century reverts to those standards of living, it won’t seem advanced or opulent to those of us who need to live through it. At the highest level of strategic analysis, the economic turbulence of 2008 to present seems relatively modest, and still leaves the United States swimming in wealth and possibilities. To the population living through that turbulence, watching jobs and fortunes evaporate – and seeing nothing positive on the horizon to replace them – it doesn’t seem very modest at all.

    I don’t think we’re utterly doomed. I think we’re in deep trouble. On a timeline measured in centuries, the United States will most likely get along just fine, barring some form of massively destructive terrorist or military attack. The question is how much the population suffers before working things out, and what sort of culture we have when we emerge from our tribulations. It may not make much difference to a big-picture futurist, measuring the 21st century against the grand sweep of human history, whether it takes a massive economic crash to make us adjust our policies of taxation, regulation, and governance. It matters to those of us who have to live through the crash. We can be well north of regression to a society of primitive hunter-gatherers, but still be going through hell. We can still be judged an affluent and prosperous society by global standards, and yet arrive at a future where we tell our grandchildren wistful stories of a bygone era when you could drive anywhere you wanted in your own personal automobile, or purchase your choice of affordable groceries at thousands of convenient corner stores.

    As for how we might be invaded, of course we aren’t likely to be fighting off amphibious military invasions of Florida and California. Entering the United States in sufficient numbers to deform, and eventually overwhelm, its culture does not require swimming. It only requires patience, determination, and a higher birth rate than the weary, atomized, self-absorbed culture you aim to displace. I don’t know how anyone could fail to find the Steyn analysis convincing, but you might find it more persuasive if you jet over to France and read it by the light of a burning Citroen.

    I don’t know the exact shape of the future, any more than anyone else does, and I don’t expect a record of perfect accuracy from an analyst to find his prognostications interesting. I only know that we don’t seem to be anywhere near doing the things we should be doing to retain our position as the engine of prosperity and liberty for the world. I believe the collective good of all mankind depends on our leadership, and our immediate future is worth fighting for. Even if everything is likely to work out okay by 2030, 2050, or 2100, I think it matters how we get there.

  77. On India: Friedman doesn’t devote a lot of time to it except to explain why it is somewhat hemmed in geographically, unable to dominate the Eurasian landmass and directly threaten its competitors or secure resources for growth, and unlikely to contend geopolitically. It wouldn’t have to fragment completely as a single political entity to be held back by its fractiousness, but there are even India optimists who predict a political break-up, and see it as a good thing. (If you ever read speculative fiction, Ian McDonald’s RIVER OF GODS depicts an India of the year 2047 that has broken up into 5 countries. His story collection CYBERABAD DAYS expands on the themes. Yet he’s very much an India optimist and, incidentally, a US pessimist of the leftwing persuasion.)

  78. CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 10:13 AM

    Yeah I conceded the fractiousness of India will ensure that it is very difficult to become a superpower, however it is different from fragmenting politically. Reg Ian McDonald I am familiar with his work and he doesn’t strike as particularly knowledgeable about India. As I wrote earlier, it is not the first time people have predicted demise of India, I will against betting on it though.

  79. Doctor Zero on June 4, 2009 at 9:58 AM

    Your arguments are, as usual, very well-taken: A situation of relative decline/frustrated expectations can be much more de-stabilizing, and experienced as a much greater trauma by the subject population, than absolute misery. Niall Ferguson locates the syndrome as being at the heart of German self-destruction during the WAR OF THE WORLD, as he terms European civilization’s century-long mass suicide.

    Since I’m in effect arguing for Friedman’s view on this thread, I think he’d say that, however much the US suffers from that syndrome, its main competitors are likely to suffer much more, while the next great opportunities will be outlined in the most last great disasters. As others have pointed out, our situation also affords us the luxury to overreact to historical hiccups without doing ourselves too much harm: Unlike Germany of the ’30s, we don’t have competitors on our borders and in our locale to fight a suicidal war with.

    He also tries to explain what the real challenges facing the US are and how the most recent epoch defined by Reaganism and the power of the suburbs (following Roosevelt and the power of the urbs) will have to be replaced by a new paradigm, which he expects the elections of ca. 2028 to usher in.

    I find his notion of 50-year cycles in US history to be a bit contrived except as a way of organizing what’s already happened and helping to organize his forecast, but I can’t to justice to it here.

    As for Steyn, demographics and population extrapolation has led to some of the greatest forecasting errors. A generation ago, the Population Bomb/Limits to Growth/Malthusian catastrophe school dominated. The green types still believe in overpopulation. Friedman’s in the “Population Bust” school, and does consider birth rates extremely important. He just doesn’t seem convinced that Eurabianization will follow a straight-line progression leading to the kind of unified Moslem super-state that would be geopolitically important. You must be aware that there are other demography mavens and futurists who’ve either attacked Steyn’s assumptions on various levels or who’ve pointed to countervailing factors. For instance, anything short of the Islamist best case instead suggests a Europe in economic decline and facing social turmoil, even civil war – a sad situation but not a geopolitical threat.

    BTW, on Mexico, since it relates the demography question, Friedman’s discussion of the North American showdown is in some ways the most speculative chapter, since it occurs furthest out – ca. 2080-2100 – but it’s also one of the hardest to refute. In short, he argues that the borderland area is tending over time to become more Mexican than American, and that at some point the real national border may be 200 miles north of the legal border, creating a situation that the US will find extremely difficult to deal with by its traditional means.

  80. Who’s going to take us over? Even if we disbanded our military tomorrow (though why would we?), who has the financial wherewithal to launch a takeover overseas? On our own continent, who’s going to take over? Canada? Mexico, for now, can’t even run itself.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:23 AM
    —–
    One would look at China.

    Yes, China has internal stresses. External adventurism is a classic “treatment” for internal stresses, though – and there’s clear evidence that the “broken branches” are looking at Africa.

    I’d also point out the Chinese have, traditionally, played a long game while the U.S. leadership have become rather focussed on the next quarter, or on the opinion polls for next week.

    If China changes focus from Africa to South America … and if the U.S. balkanizes (i.e. Texas secedes, others follow) then.. who knows?

    The U.S. has no external adventurism to tap its’ current internal stresses….

    Mew

  81. I read this book a few months back, and found it quite illuminating. Nevertheless, there was a gnawing feeling in the background that Friedman was missing something.

    IMO, he almost puts too much weight on geography, and downplays the need for cultural capital. I don’t doubt for a second that geography is an extremely important factor in determining a nation’s fortunes, but any analysis that does not consider a nation’s cultural capital is in my mind incomplete. Someone mentioned the example about regarding the Native Americans being here for centuries without being able to capitalize on the favorable geography of what is now the U.S. It wasn’t immigration from Europe brought Western values over here that the favorable geography could begin to be fully utilized.

    The geography may have been an enabling factor to allow Western values to flourish as they did in the US, but it alone wasn’t sufficient. Furthermore, some countries (e.g., Israel, Japan) can do well in spite of geography that is less than favorable because they have the cultural capital.

    As another example, Europe was able to rise with virtually the same geography in which they are now falling. The factor that has changed is the cultural rot that has set in over there, and that is what is now driving their downfall. When Europe’s culture was healthy and confident, they rose to prominence. When their culture became decadent and lost confidence in itself, they began to decline. And does anyone believe that the Muslim culture that is ascendant in Europe will be as successful in that same geography as the Europeans were in their heyday?

    On another topic, his late-century projection of solar powered satellites seems more than a bit of wishful thinking. Robert Zubrin did an analysis of this concept in his book ‘Entering Space’. In his analysis (done circa 1996), the launch costs for such an endeavor would add up to about $3300/watt of power delivered, which comes out to $3.3 trillion for 1000 megawatts of power – something along the lines of the capacity needed to light up a city like Denver. Needless to say, that’s not economically efficient. Launch costs would have to drop by several orders of magnitude to make such a thing economically feasible, even as a military program. But you can’t change the fact that the surface of the earth sits at the bottom of a very deep gravity well, so the prospects for reducing launch costs by the amount necessary to make this proposal even thinkable are grim at best.

    In short, we are going to have to figure out different ways to produce energy in the future. We need to expand our nuclear capability and look at other ways we might produce energy as well (although wind and Earth-based solar will be of little if any help in that area). Solar powered satellites sound cool in theory, but in practice they will simply be too expensive to be workable, even by the late 21st century. The laws of physics will have the last word on that.

  82. acat – China doesn’t even have the naval resources and skills to invade TAIWAN. I think North America and Africa are safe from invasion for good while. Safe from investment and trade and pushy ruthless argumentative Shanghai capitalists – that’s something else. What Friedman emphasizes, however, is that the lure of international trade affects coastal/cosmopolitan China much differently than interior/peasant China. 20 years ago today, the tension between the two Chinas climaxed at the Tiananmen massacre. In previous generations – except when under iron dictatorship – China has repeatedly been torn apart socially and economically. That doesn’t mean that Hong Kong, Shanghai, Macao, et al stop doing business, it just means that they tend to be in it for themselves in alliance with foreign interests.

    Read between the lines on that article I linked above on China’s economic situation and the contradictory methods the government has to consider – in short, liberalization vs. clampdown. It’s hard to do both at once.

  83. thirteen28 on June 4, 2009 at 11:14 AM
    —–
    Thirteen28,

    Yes, it’s harder to see what’s missing than what’s added.

    The U.S. growth, like the European growth, was driven in part by a unified culture – German culture gelled before WWI, English culture earlier than that, American culture …

    Multiculti is part of the problem because what really happens isn’t mutual respect, but mutual mistrust, leading to separate communities working at cross purposes. In short, balkanization.

    Mew

  84. CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 11:17 AM
    ——
    CK,

    China doesn’t invade. Like I said, they’re playing the long game. Look at how much influence China has in southeast Asia. You wouldn’t, I think, call it an “invasion”, but .. there are Chinese fingerprints all over many of the decisions made.

    Short term vs. long term. China does not do boots-on-the-ground, but mandarins running structurally significant businesses.

    Mew

  85. China does not do boots-on-the-ground, but mandarins running structurally significant businesses.

    That’s all well and good for the particular mandarins (though I don’t know if that’s really an accurate description of Chinese international businesspeople), but it doesn’t strike me as a basis for predominating political power. Sooner or later, you need the barrel of a gun…

  86. thirteen28 on June 4, 2009 at 11:14 AM

    You could certainly be right about the solar power collectors. Friedman believes that military needs will drive a massive expansion of lift capabilities and reduction in payload costs. I have no idea whether he’s right. For all we know, nuclear fission or even fusion power or hydrogen or something undreamed of may be much more practical. I wasn’t persuaded by his forecast, but took it as an illustration of a potential mid-century dynamic around the eventual transition from hydrocarbons to other energy sources.

    One point about Europe and geography: In the age of sail, the positions of England, Spain, and Portugal were relatively much more advantageous vis-a-vis growth-phase Europe than they are in the age of steel-hulled tankers and aircraft carriers, which greatly reduces the Atlantic and Mediterranean in relative importance. The transformation in turn reduced Britain’s margin of error, which WW2 used up.

    I do tend to see “cultural rot” as more a symptom than a cause of political decline, and not always a reliable one. There’ve been some pretty darn rotten or otherwise dysfunctional cultures that have survived for centuries in place, if that place was secure enough. Sometimes, being secure gives a culture a chance to explore the outer limits of rot.

  87. China does not do boots-on-the-ground, but mandarins running structurally significant businesses. — acat

    That’s all well and good for the particular mandarins (though I don’t know if that’s really an accurate description of Chinese international businesspeople), but it doesn’t strike me as a basis for predominating political power. Sooner or later, you need the barrel of a gun…

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 11:47 AM
    ——-

    Ah, but boots-on-the-ground aren’t needed until there’s pushback. Until then, slow and steady encroachment. Buy the U.S. ports on the pacific, slowly replace the operations guys with Chinese immigrants, bring in private security, etc. Wait for backlash, then and *only* then are boots even remotely needed.

    This won’t work today – the U.S. is still too homogenized – but it would work if the U.S. were more fragmented. Where is the fragmentation going to come from? It’s the logical backlash to the current federal overreach, and the California budget disaster. The central almost must recede, the current centralization is not sustainable.

    Mew

  88. Well, acat, we’ll see (or maybe our children or grandchildren will). I don’t see how China advances as an integral geopolitical force if the consumer economies crash. See discussion above. On the other hand, if the consumer economies prosper, then the vulnerability you describe disappear. Given China’s force projection and other limitations, why wouldn’t those Chinese immigrants taking over port facilities in your example more likely in a generation or two to be flag-waving America Firsters than advance troops for the Chinese takeover?

  89. My Ancient Near Eastern professor would always say, without apology, that what determines all nations and their advancements comes down to three things: topography, topography, topography.

    Weight of Glory on June 3, 2009 at 8:03 PM

    I agree with him on the first 2 things, but I think he might be wrong about the 3rd.

  90. Given China’s force projection and other limitations, why wouldn’t those Chinese immigrants taking over port facilities in your example more likely in a generation or two to be flag-waving America Firsters than advance troops for the Chinese takeover?

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 1:16 PM
    —–
    Why should they?

    Damn few “America Firsters” on the ground, except in exurban/rural areas, i.e. flyover country. Not that that couldn’t be changed – Reagan changed it, for a while – but right now, there’s no drive to fire up the melting pot.

    Ironically, a call for re-unifying the culture would actually help quite a bit, but conservatives are tired of being called racist, and most liberals don’t see the point of unified culture, failing to understand that their multi-culti wishes would be completely ignored by a Muslim-majority country….

    We’ll see what happens…

    Mew

  91. We’re so conscious of our limitations and focused on ourselves that we’ve lost awareness of how far ahead of a country like China we still are in per-capita income, energy usage, production, etc., not to mention overall military power. Our “hollowed-out” manufacturing sector (accounting for something like 20% of our economy in 2007) is still larger than China’s entire economy.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 12:33 AM

    Well the facts are these …

    What you say about the Chinese economy not being “superhuman” is true – but the fact is – their standard of living is GOING UP.

    Yeah – it’s still lower than ours – but it’s increasing. This means they can keep their people motivated and moving forward.

    What do you think is about to happen to OUR standard of living?

    And what do you think is going to happen to OUR motivation when the government begins to confiscate 50 percent of our incomes and then still can’t deliver on it’s pension, social security, and medicare programs?

    We are about to run smack into a age wall. The baby boomers will be the most demanding of all retirees – no doubt. Yet we will move from 4 working adults supporting every retiree to 2 or less supporting every retiree.

    And our government officials have no solution.

    Our task is MORE CHALLENGING than China’s.

  92. acat – China doesn’t even have the naval resources and skills to invade TAIWAN. I think North America and Africa are safe from invasion for good while.

    CK MacLeod on June 4, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    Mac … no one on our side is saying anyone will invade the U.S.

    What we’re saying is that this guy’s predictions for American dominance throughout the 21st century they are criminally psychedelic.

    Again – you have expanding industrial / technical bases rising in China (and other places). True – the Chines PLAN can’t challenge the U.S. Navy in blue water just yet – but the PLAN is modernizing quickly to do so. They may even be moving quicker than we can know – since it’s alleged they are building many nuclear submarines in hollowed out mountainsides where they are out of sight of our satellites. What else are they building out there that we can’t see?

    Make no mistake – China is on the rise. China requires resources now – and lines of trade that it can GUARANTEE will remain open. This will necessitate the PLAN moving to “blue water” status. It has to happen. It will happen. Meanwhile we’re building one nuclear submarine a year.

    That’s not a scorching pace.

  93. Our task is MORE CHALLENGING than China’s.

    HondaV65 on June 4, 2009 at 9:44 PM

    Honda – just in the last quarter of last year, China had to send 12 million workers home to their villages from the jobs on the coast due to economic dislocation. I ask the same question I’ve asked others: How is China, with an export-driven economy largely supported through an artificially low currency, supposed to maintain anything like its pre-’08 growth rates if, as you seem to believe, its main markets, especially the United States are in the toilet? If the dollar cracks, for example, then a) we won’t be able to buy anywhere near as much Chinese stuff, b) our own exports will become more competitive, c) Chinese debt holdings are devalued. However things work out, China will have to make major adjustments. It won’t be able to produce double digit growth rates year over year financed by American credit cards.

    As for the PLAN, even if somehow China is able to finance a massive building effort despite their economy being stopped in its tracks, it takes decades to develop a functional Navy. No one in the world other than the US at this time even knows how to run a modern naval battle group, much less run it effectively. Even if China begins to make significant progress, it would inspire an active response not just from the US, but from its regional competitors, especially including Japan.

    I think Friedman’s view is more likely correct – that over the long term the US will be supporting China as it was prior to Mao in an effort to prevent other foreign competitors from dominating it and Eurasia instead.

    The demographic challenge is real, but in some respects it’s also been exaggerated. In any event the US is better positioned to cope with it than the other developed economies, whose age structure problems are much worse.

    We may experience a labor shortage in the US, alongside real estate devaluation, loss of demand, shortage of investment capital, etc., but what we can do to address it is a big subject. When you consider that the retirement age for Social Security was set at 65 when life expectancy was 61, not pushing 80, you can see already a huge degree of elasticity that has been politically difficult to exploit, but which can sooner or later be exploited with the tap of a keyboard.

    Anyway, I think you should read Friedman’s book, since he defends his view in more detail and more expertly than I can, and his and my views do not coincide 100%. I also think you might want to research China in more detail. Basing your judgments on the Chinese you may have met in your travels is an unrealistic way of assessing the prospects for a country of 1 billion people in a changing world.

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