BOOK REVIEW: The End of the World is Just the Beginning

Geopolitical strategist Zeihan argues that we are heading toward a period of deglobalization, with ensuing chaos and disaster
8th August 20224 min

By Malik Abu Luqman

The End of the World is Just the Beginning Mapping the Collapse of Globalization 
Peter Zeihan
July 2022

The End of the World is Just the Beginning is the fourth instalment from geopolitical strategist, Peter Zeihan. The book lays out his thesis that the US sponsored Bretton Woods world order (“the Order” for short) is going to collapse. With the Cold War over and an energy independent America, the superpower is no longer supporting globalization. The bleakest prediction is around food: “…in excess of 1 billion people will starve to death, and another 2 billion will suffer chronic malnutrition”.[1] He breaks down his argument into six sections; transportation, finance, energy, industrial materials, manufacturing, and agriculture.  

Zeihan’s approach lies in assessing how geography and demographics impact a nation’s political fortunes. With respect to geography, he argues that the US owes its economic wealth not just to its rich agricultural lands, but also the ability to transport food and other goods cheaply on the Mississippi River. In terms of demographics, he predicts that the “Chinese population in the year 2070 will be less than half of what it was in 2020”[2]. This imposes significant challenges on relying on cheap labour and any hope that the local Chinese population can be relied on for economic growth.

Other observations he makes range from the reigning in of risky investments due to the ageing baby boomers seeking safer investments to the challenges with green tech. With respect to the latter, he points out how the electrical grid will need heavy investment in energy storage capacity that depends on the environmentally unfriendly extraction of copper, chromium, lithium, cobalt, and other resources.

The book is also useful in appreciating the US-China rivalry. He sees the US as having the upper hand, with the ability to trade with Canada, Mexico, and others in the Western hemisphere – insulating the US from the troubles he sees on the horizon. With respect to China, he predicts the end of “Asia Inc.”. China’s low-cost labour advantage is withering away, as the cost of  labour has gone up by a factor of 15. He sees manufacturing transitioning from Asia to Mexico. He also highlights how exposed China is to the US, noting how the American ban of Huawei resulted in the company going from “the world’s largest cell phone manufacturer to not even being on the top-five list within China.”[3]

He also shares his analysis of Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. For example, he predicts Turkey will dominate the Mediterranean. However, he also points out that the country is exposed financially – with credit expanding a factor of 12 from 2000 to 2013.

His thesis is hard to reconcile with the US increasing its global footprint. With the US endorsing Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO[4], the US State Department providing high-level assurances around shipping and insurance of Russian-Ukrainian wheat exports[5], or the 2022 US-Greece defence pact allowing US forces into the country[6], it can be hard to understand how the US is less involved in the world.

That being said, the book is valuable in breaking down geopolitics into tangible components that any lay person can appreciate. Moreover, it helps to see how fragile “the Order” actually is. Zeihan himself admits that the Achilles heel of Capitalism is growth. The pro-GDP consumer economy that is with us is no longer viable: “Demographics tells us that the number and collective volume of mass-consumption-driven economies has already peaked. In 2019 the Earth for the first time in history had more people aged sixty-five and over than five and under. By 2030 there will be twice as many retirees, in relative terms.”[7] Consequently, those who want to understand why the current world is unsustainable and ripe for a ‘New Order’, Zeihan is a must read – even if you disagree with his conclusions.

 


 

[1] Zeihan, Peter. The End of the World is Just the Beginning (p. 423). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid pp. 103-104 

[3] Ibid pp. 361 

[4] Inside Biden’s successful six-month bid to expand NATO – CNNPolitics

[5] Russia, Ukraine Clear Way for Grain Exports to Resume Amid Fears of Global Food Crisis – WSJ

[6] Greek parliament approves defence pact change on eve of PM’s visit to U.S. | Reuters

[7] Zeihan, Peter. The End of the World is Just the Beginning (p. 73). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

 

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