Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The shape of the world to come

The Shape of the World to Come by Laurent Cohen-Tanugi was a little disappointing. I was hoping for some bold predictions but instead got some qualified ifs and perhaps. The book mainly delves into the implications of a decline in American and European influence in the geopolitical world, the rise of radical Islam, and the rising economic prowess of BRICs and how the America and Europe still has relevance. The main thrust of the book I thought was his discussion of the globalization of politics which while sounds nice is really about dealing with global issues at a multilateral level. A profile of Laurent Cohen-Tanugi is here. A presentation that he did for his book at the Carnegie Council is here. The book’s website says that “He is a regular columnist for Le Monde and Les Echos, sits on the boards of several international think tanks, and was recently appointed by the French government to reflect on the European Union's strategy in the global economy.” It’s nice to get a job whose description is to “reflect”. (only in France?)

Excerpts from his discussion at Carnegie:
What the book is really about is an analysis of the world we are entering into from a geopolitical perspective and how Americans and Europeans should prepare for it. It is really an attempt to analyze the new geopolitical paradigm that we are witnessing. In fact, it is quite surprising that less than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the end of the bipolar world that structured international relations since 1945, we are already witnessing another change of historic significance. I think that this succession of two very major changes probably explains why there seems to still be a gap in perception that we are entering into a new world. It is precisely to try to fill this gap that I wrote this book.

… tremendous shift of economic power to non-Western countries that is happening now and will continue to happen in the next decades. What is worth noting is that this rebalancing of economic hierarchies is the product of globalization, as you were saying. That is, it is through the liberalization of international trade and investment, through the decision of India and China—China first, India ten years later—to open their borders, that these countries finally took off. That takeoff of massive importance is the origin of this transfer of wealth to the East.

What we are seeing is that globalization is no longer purely an economic and social phenomenon. It's not only about job creation or job destruction. It is also the most significant transformative force of global geopolitics. Not only that, it is a return of traditional geopolitics in the global economy.

… The main argument that the book is making in that respect is that, contrary to the liberal view of commerce as an instrument of peace and harmony among nations—which remains true, of course—the world we are entering into is, in fact, not so flat. It's not the flat world that Tom Friedman is advertising. It is much more complex than that. Liberalization is producing as much conflict as it is producing harmony, as much fragmentation as it is producing homogenization.

I found the book less interesting than the overall ideas and the book itself does little to advance these ideas.

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