Ian Bremmer: The World's Geopolitical Recession

Ian Bremmer, in the midst of a serious global crisis, explains what a geopolitical recession is - because we're in one. And it makes the ability to respond to coronavirus a lot more difficult than it normally would be.

We have economic recessions, boom and bust cycles, every seven years on average since World War II. We have tools to respond in terms of stimulus and fiscal expansion and monetary easing. And we even can identify and define a technical recession as when you have two consecutive quarters of negative growth.


Geopolitics have boom and bust cycles, too. We've been in a geopolitical boom cycle for a long time. We're now in a bust cycle. The end of the US led global order - a GZERO World, not a G7 or a G20. This geopolitical recession makes it a lot harder to respond to a crisis. The political institutions are less resilient. There are three different ways that that plays out, three different components of the geopolitical recession:

First is inside the United States, inside our democracies. We have a lot more feeling of illegitimacy, feeling that the system is rigged against the citizens. And therefore, less willingness to support leaders who need to lead. There's no willingness to work together. And it's not just in the United States. We see this playing out in Brazil today with President Bolsonaro and forces against him. We see it playing out in other countries across Europe with real challenges internally for those governments. So a geopolitical recession, first and foremost, weakening and de-legitimizing democracies around the world.

Secondly, a geopolitical recession in the alliances around the world and the ability of international politics to be run in a stable and consistent way. Not only do you have a lack of coordination in responding globally to a global crisis, but you also have global leaders actively blaming each other.

Then you have the institutional side, which is the institutions themselves are increasingly not aligned to the geopolitical order, so they can't respond very effectively. This is geopolitical recession, a bust cycle in the geopolitical order: the institutions are not aligned with the geopolitical balance. Because the alliances and the relations between countries are increasingly focusing not on coordination, but instead on what they need for their own national interests. Every nation for itself. And also, inside democracies around the world, both advanced industrial democracies and emerging market democracies, you increasingly have political polarization, blames-man-ship and a sense that the system and its establishment is rigged against the average citizen. If you have all three of those things, there should be no surprise that the ability to respond the coronavirus, effectively to the biggest global crisis we've had since 2008, and maybe larger than that, is going to be very, very severely lacking.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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