The Decade of Disruption

The Decade of Disruption

Ten years ago tomorrow, Lehman Brothers, the financial services behemoth, collapsed. It was a crucial moment in what became the most severe global financial crisis since the 1930s. US banks teetered. European markets shuddered. Growth slowed in Asia. China’s diminished demand for oil, gas, metals, and minerals hit emerging markets in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.


Crises radicalize voters, say the political scientists, and the decade since the fall of Lehman has provided plenty of new evidence. The US financial market meltdown didn’t directly trigger all the remarkable political events that followed, but the anger and fear of the future it provoked have effects that reverberate still.

  • The US financial crisis triggered a global recession and a European sovereign debt crisis severe enough to call the survival of the Eurozone into question.

  • A wave of unrest swept across North Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia’s government fell. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak went to prison. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was executed in the street. Yemen exploded into violence. Syria sank into a civil war that has killed or displaced half the country’s population.

  • Middle East unrest triggered a new crisis in Europe, as more than two million migrants made their way north, transforming European politics. Angry, fearful voters began to reject establishment political parties.

  • In 2016, faced with a choice between continued membership in the European Union and a leap into the unknown, Britons chose Brexit.

  • In the United States, voters chose a brash celebrity businessman who had never run for office over a rival who epitomized the political establishment.

  • In 2017, the long-dominant political parties of center-right and center-left were swept aside in France in favor of another candidate making his very first run for office. Emmanuel Macron led a party he had created from nothing just one year before.

  • German voters re-elected Angela Merkel to a fourth term, but her center-right party and its center-left coalition partner posted their lowest share of the vote in decades. A party of the far-right won seats in the Bundestag for the first time since 1945. It is now the largest opposition party in Germany.

  • In 2018, Italian voters pushed aside long-established parties to elevate a movement founded nine years ago by a professional comedian and a rebranded separatist party from the country’s north.

  • In Mexico, voters elected the first leftist president since the 1930s, a man leading a political party he created just four years prior.

  • In Pakistan, voters rejected the long-dominant Bhutto and Sharif dynasties in favor of a man who became famous as captain of the country’s 1992 World Cup-winning cricket team.

  • In Brazil, voters go to the polls next month to cast ballots in a wide-open election.

These events represent rejection of the known and a lunge toward the brand new. This has become a world of profound political disruption.

There’s no reason to believe this turbulence is nearing an end.

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Even with innovations in fintech and digital payments, roadblocks related to basic infrastructure like electricity and internet connectivity still prevent many migrant workers from being able to transfer money to their families back home with a truly digital end-to-end flow. While more workers can send money digitally today, the majority of people still receive funds in cash. Read more about why public-private partnerships are key to advancing the future of global money movement and why it matters from experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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