Ian Bremmer (@ianbremmer) is a political scientist, the president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, and the author of NYT bestseller The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats — and Our Response — Will Change the World.
What We Discuss with Ian Bremmer:
- How the COVID pandemic exposed cracks in the ability of major powers to cooperate with one another for the common good.
- What a Goldilocks crisis is and how one could galvanize successful cooperation on a global scale.
- Why conflict between nations becomes more likely when the balance of power is unclear.
- Are we currently in a state of technological cold war with other superpowers?
- How rising sea levels combined with dwindling supplies of drinking water stand to drive migration crises and increase the likelihood of conflict.
- And much more…
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It’s comforting to think that humanity would come together to fend off a shared danger for the benefit of all, but if the COVID pandemic put this notion to the test, it seems it’s a test we collectively failed. But is there a so-called Goldilocks crisis that could better galvanize humanity’s ability to cooperate and bring us to a better world on the other side?
On this episode, we look for answers with Ian Bremmer, a political scientist, the president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, and the author of New York Times bestseller The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats — and Our Response — Will Change the World. Here, we discuss why the pandemic didn’t have us uniting with purpose in ways that current and future crises might, what threats will most likely force us to cooperate, and what a truly collaborative 21st century might look like. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Resources from This Episode:
- The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats – and Our Response – Will Change the World by Ian Bremmer | Amazon
- GZERO Media
- Ian Bremmer | Eurasia Group
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- Ian Bremmer | Instagram
- Ian Bremmer: Power of the “Goldilocks Crisis” | GZERO Media
736: Ian Bremmer | The Power of Crisis to Change the World
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Shout out to Pluralsight, friends of ours and yours. Leading technology teams around the world trust Pluralsight to bring skill development and engineering insights to the forefront of the developer experience, increasing productivity, efficiency, satisfaction, and retention.
[00:00:13] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:15] Ian Bremmer: For the last 50 years, we've lived in a world where life on balance for the average human was getting better year after year after year. And for the last three years, that has not been true. Now, the pandemic is the biggest driver of that immediately, but climate is an underlying condition that is massively significant and going to get much worse.
[00:00:47] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional Emmy-nominated comedian, Russian chess grandmaster, drug trafficker, former jihadi, or gold smuggler. Any episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:15] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, our starter packs are the place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic that'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on this show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, China, North Korea, scams, crime, cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:41] Pandemics, climate change, warfare, and nuclear conflict — all of these challenges seem to be not only ahead of us, but happening right now. In order to steer the ship of humanity, major world powers like the US and China, we got to be on the same page. Unfortunately, the relationship between China and the United States, almost certainly the most important relationship in the world in terms of deciding what the future looks like, that relationship seems to be headed in the wrong direction. Today, we'll discuss the current state of affairs, what it looks like now, and what needs to be done to get America and the rest of the world back on track to be able to handle the huge global challenges coming down the road ahead.
[00:02:19] Now, here we go with Ian Bremmer.
[00:02:23] The book starts with this Reagan and Gorbachev anecdote, which I don't know, were people there? Do they hear this? Is it real? RIP Gorby, of course. It sounds apocryphal, but it's also very, it's almost quaint at this point because now I'm not sure what the outcome of that would be. Can you take us through that a little bit?
[00:02:39] Ian Bremmer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This was the first time that Reagan and Gorbachev had met in person and it was in a dacha outside of Geneva. And the men are walking and they are with the translators, but they're not with anyone else. And apparently, Reagan goes to Gorbachev and said — again, these people had never met before. And we're talking the evil empire days. This is when the Soviets are the big enemy of the United States. And Ronald Reagan says, "If we were attacked, we, the United States were attacked by aliens, they came down. Would you come to our aid? And Gorbachev a little surprised says, "Well, of course." "And so we'd come to your aid too." And that was kind of hokey.
[00:03:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:28] Ian Bremmer: But also created a basic level of trust. And it's kind of a — first of all, it didn't come out for a long time. It came out when Gorbachev eventually told the story 10 years later to an audience in the United States. And it was later confirmed by others that Reagan had apparently told it to and Gorbachev's translator had as well, who was an independent figure at that point. But of course, for my book, what was really interesting is the fact that things that you think are not doable in a moment of crisis become doable.
[00:03:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:00] Ian Bremmer: Things that you're unwilling to get your ass and gear over, suddenly, when your life is flashing in front of your eyes, suddenly you realize, I can get that happening. How many people have just absolutely no willpower to get their diet in order, get their physical habits in order, and suddenly they're 55, they have a heart attack, they see that they could almost die, and then, then they finally make it happen.
[00:04:27] And this is what this book is all about on the global stage. It's all about how we are now facing these crises. Our unwillingness to respond is not surprising and it's not any individual's fault. It is a structural manifestation of the geopolitical order such as it exists today. And that indeed, it's probably my most hopeful book because we absolutely see in these crises the seeds of a new set of global orders.
[00:04:59] Jordan Harbinger: It's a little — I know this is a cynical comment, and I'm not usually this way, but I almost think now if this happened, if you had Putin standing there with whoever, they'd be like, "Well, as long as the aliens kill more on the other guys than it does Russians, then I'm — in fact, maybe not even more, just like a lot and, you know, I'm out. I'm tapping out." I just don't know if the answer is going to be, "Yes, of course, we would come to your aid." It just seems like we've fallen so far from that point, even though it's hard to say how bad things were in 1989 or whenever this was between the Soviet Union and the United States because I was a kid. I was eight or nine years old. It's hard for me to compare the two, but it certainly seems like maybe there's even less of a chance that China or Russia would come to our aid in this case, or they'd be like, "Well, how do we know they're aliens? Because this other guy on Twitter says that it's fake."
[00:05:47] Ian Bremmer: Well, I think a level of skepticism when you are talking about global cooperation in today's environment—
[00:05:56] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:05:56] Ian Bremmer: —or even domestic cooperation in today's environment is absolutely warranted. But here's the funny thing, and I mean, I didn't talk about this in the book, but it's kind of relevant, I think it was Sun Tzu that says, "Never get in the way of your adversary when they are failing, when they're making mistakes," right?
[00:06:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:15] Ian Bremmer: And Putin did that in a big way. I mean, the United States is divided on absolutely everything. The Europeans are divided on everything. NATO is a drift. The French president says it's brain-dead. Trump said it was obsolete. The United States screws up royally the Afghanistan withdrawal. I mean, within literally days the government collapses, and people are hanging and falling off of C-130 transports trying to get the hell out of dodge. I mean, this is all a complete disaster. And Macron is going strategic autonomy. Merkel, who's the leader of Europe, is gone. And now, we've got, you know, a new weaker coalition in Germany. I mean, Biden is there and he's seen as comparatively interested in Asia and doesn't want to deal with the Russians anymore particularly.
[00:07:06] I mean, if you were Putin, you'll be like, "These guys are weak. This is the time—"
[00:07:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:12] Ian Bremmer: "—that I'm going to go." And yet what happened? He goes into Ukraine and it's the one thing that expands NATO. It's the one thing that strengthens NATO. It's the one thing that gets the Democrats and Republicans. Biden asked for 33 billion. The Congress said, "No, we want to give 40 to Ukraine." To Ukraine, I mean, you know, after you pull out, because you spent two trillion dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we're going to throw billions and billions of dollars in Ukraine. Why? Because Putin did the one thing, he created the crisis that forced us together.
[00:07:46] And as you and I sit and talk here today, the Europeans are looking at incredible sacrifice this winter.
[00:07:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's going to be cold.
[00:07:55] Ian Bremmer: It's going to be cold, it's going to be expensive. And yet they have unanimously passed seven rounds of sanctions against Russia that they will not undo, despite all of those challenges. They invited Ukraine to be a member of the European Union for Christ's sake.
[00:08:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:11] Ian Bremmer: That's what's really interesting is that it turns out that as dysfunctional and broken and tribal and fragmented, as our institutions and our political leaders are if you give us a big enough crisis, turns out we can still get our acts together.
[00:08:28] Jordan Harbinger: That's pretty damn good news. And we didn't even need aliens. And like, it still remains to be seen what happens when Mars attacks.
[00:08:35] Ian Bremmer: Hey, we still haven't seen what's underneath Putin's suit. Maybe that's what we got.
[00:08:39] Jordan Harbinger: That's true.
[00:08:39] Ian Bremmer: Right?
[00:08:40] Jordan Harbinger: That's true.
[00:08:40] Ian Bremmer: I mean, you know?
[00:08:41] Jordan Harbinger: There are people on Twitter that say that the reptile people, you know, Putin, Anderson Cooper, possibly you and I, I don't know. I haven't checked lately the roster of suspects.
[00:08:50] Ian Bremmer: Anderson Cooper could absolutely be a reptile person. I think that's plausible, right?
[00:08:55] Jordan Harbinger: I told him that. I said, "What do you think about that?" And I mean, I don't remember if he dodged. I got to revisit what he said and look at his eyes.
[00:09:00] Ian Bremmer: I bet he didn't directly answer it.
[00:09:02] Jordan Harbinger: I got to see if his eyes blink sideways, right? If there's a pupil in there.
[00:09:08] You lay out two premises in the book. One, domestic politics in the US is effectively broken. And two, the relationship between China and the US is the most important relationship in the world in terms of determining or deciding what the future looks like. And unfortunately, this relationship seems to be headed in the wrong direction. Did I get that right?
[00:09:27] Ian Bremmer: Yep. Yes, you did.
[00:09:28] Jordan Harbinger: So it's clear that we're going to have major crises in the future and we need to be able to work together with China to solve them. And of course, the EU, whenever I say that, people are like, "What about Europe?" Okay, fine. But we're not as far away from them in terms of values and cooperation on a better and more secure world order, but we're still arguably going through COVID now. It seems like we saw a lot of cracks in the global system, especially in terms of cooperation between major powers like China and the US. Did COVID cause these cracks or did it just shine a light on the cracks themselves and expose it?
[00:10:02] Ian Bremmer: No, it shined a light on the cracks. And of course, it also made the cracks worse. When India, a Quad member in good standing, Prime Minister Modi, you know, absolutely supporter of the United States, support of Trump, supporter of Biden, you name it. And they're doing their damnedest to put out vaccines and export them. Then, suddenly they have a massive COVID crisis and not enough vaccines for their own country. And they beg the Americans for one plane load and we say, "Talk to the hand."
[00:10:33] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:10:33] Ian Bremmer: You know, I mean it's just not a priority. I mean, Trump said, "America first," Biden says, "the US foreign policy for the American middle class," they are different. But from the perspective, if you're an Indian citizen, if you're a South African citizen, if you're a Brazilian citizen, they look very similar.
[00:10:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:50] Ian Bremmer: They sound very similar. They sound like we don't care a lot about you.
[00:10:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:55] Ian Bremmer: America's Afghanistan policy looked very similar to most people around the world through many administrations. And Americans don't usually think much about how other countries perceive us, but we should.
[00:11:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:07] Ian Bremmer: Because that's most of the people on the planet and it's actually most of the wealth on the planet. And I know we're the most powerful, but the gap is shrinking a bit.
[00:11:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:16] Ian Bremmer: So, you know, all of this stuff is stuff that we need to pay attention to. But the funny thing, I want to bring you back to hope for a second, we can stew in malaise afterwards, but I did say in the opening that despite the fact that the US is going to continue to be politically dysfunctional domestically, we're not going to have a kumbaya moment between Democrats and Republicans. And since I wrote the book, I mean, we've seen Biden speeches.
[00:11:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:11:40] Ian Bremmer: We've seen MAGA after the raid on Mar-a-Lago. I mean, that's fairly obvious that we're not heading for a great unification in the US and China. And, again, since I wrote the book, we've seen on Taiwan, we've seen with the CHIPS Act. The US and China, I mean, actually we barely have any direct connections in terms of high-level bilats in the last few months. They're not even talking to each other. But I say that despite that, I've been asked by publishers now for 15 years, "Ian, you got to write something that explains how we can get through this, something hopeful." And I said, "If I'm going to do that, It has to be realistic. It can't be academic, idealistic stuff."
[00:12:22] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:22] Ian Bremmer: It has to be something we can do. And so what's interesting, as I said, I opened the book by talking about the fact that we can't fix those things. And I say, despite that, despite that baseline reality of the next decade, we actually can still use these crises to make meaningful progress, to create new institutions, new leadership that actually will more reflect the needs of a 21st-century society. Because our institutions today are largely 20th-century institutions.
[00:12:58] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:59] Ian Bremmer: And they reflect 20th-century problems and challenges. And they would respond well to them, but that's not what we have today.
[00:13:05] Jordan Harbinger: Right, clearly not. So it sounds like you're saying we need a crisis big enough to galvanize the major powers. Not necessarily become friends, but we have to join together to overcome with the future inevitably holds. But if we couldn't galvanize for COVID or for unilateral aggression against Ukraine, and we did okay with Ukraine, but I mean, Xi's meeting with Putin. I saw that today.
[00:13:28] Ian Bremmer: I think we've done very well with Ukraine, number one very well.
[00:13:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I would agree with that.
[00:13:33] Ian Bremmer: By the way, I mean, I look at Xi Jinping is going to meet with Putin, and by the time this airs, he will have just met with Putin in all likelihood. But he was going to Kazakhstan first. The Russians are getting arms from Iran and from North Korea.
[00:13:48] Jordan Harbinger: I know. Yeah.
[00:13:48] Ian Bremmer: You don't do that if the Chinese will sell you arms, right?
[00:13:52] Jordan Harbinger: That's true. That's true.
[00:13:53] Ian Bremmer: If you look at the last six months, I'd argue that India's relationship with Russia is just as closest as China's relationship with Russia, in the sense that they're buying a whole bunch of stuff from them.
[00:14:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:05] Ian Bremmer: They're not carrying any water for them strategically.
[00:14:07] Jordan Harbinger: That's true. Yeah. And those North Korean shells, I mean, look, North Korea can't make food, but they can make shells. But it's questionable how effective all that stuff is. I've read a lot of — you're right. I mean, to your point, you don't buy stuff from North Korea if you can get them literally anywhere else on the planet. That's like asking for a Syrian computer.
[00:14:24] Ian Bremmer: I think it's just about that.
[00:14:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:14:28] Ian Bremmer: I mean, who knows? Maybe the Syrians are making computers and you and I are just being completely—
[00:14:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:14:32] Ian Bremmer: —ethnocentric.
[00:14:33] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:14:34] Ian Bremmer: But nonetheless, I suspect you're right. I agree with you that COVID was a huge missed opportunity and yet, it wasn't for everyone. I mean, I hate to talk about Europe because, you know, we're Americans and so we don't like to talk about Europe.
[00:14:49] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:14:50] Ian Bremmer: But the Europeans actually are stronger because of COVID.
[00:14:55] Jordan Harbinger: How so? Say more about that.
[00:14:56] Ian Bremmer: Two ways. First of all, you will remember the Eurozone crisis when Germany backed Greece onto a cliff edge and said, "We're going to basically force you to experience a depression worse than the Americans because you're lazy, you don't pay taxes, and we're going to ensure austerity." Well, this time around the Europeans, the European leaders, the wealthy Europeans saw how bad the economic crisis was from COVID. And they said, "We're going to do a Marshall plan that's going to redistribute wealth from the wealthiest, the richest countries, the most austere countries in Europe. And we're going to give it to the Greeks. We're going to give it to the Italians. We're going to give it to the Spaniards, and we're going to actually ensure a stronger EU." And that was even true for countries that are more Euroskeptic like Hungary and Poland. That made them less Euroskeptic. It made them say, "Wow, well, we're going to have to like actually pay more attention to Brussels because when the sh*t hits the fan, these guys are actually important for us."
[00:15:55] Furthermore, it took them longer to actually get vaccines because the Americans with operation warp speed, we were willing to pay any price. They're more bureaucratic in Europe and they wanted cheaper vaccines, so we did a better job. But once, they actually had the vaccines, they created an EU-wide mechanism to distribute them to poor and rich countries, poor, rich people at the same time. So more credibility for the world's largest common market, for the most important piece of supranational governance that we actually have today because of COVID. Because of COVID, which is kind of interesting.
[00:16:30] So then you say, "Well, how come the Americans got it so wrong? How come the Chinese got it so wrong when the Europeans actually did a much better job?" It turns out for very different reasons, the Chinese got it wrong because they did so well in the early months and the disease changed and they didn't recognize it.
[00:16:50] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-huh.
[00:16:50] Ian Bremmer: Remember back in it was April, May of 2020, the Chinese were back open. They actually, like, literally, there were dance clubs and everyone was going back to work.
[00:17:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:03] Ian Bremmer: And it felt like, and they were the only G20 economy to grow back in 2020, the only one. And that's because they were able to crack down and track and trace the early variant of coronavirus, which of course, was transmissible, but not radically transmissible.
[00:17:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It wasn't Omicron.
[00:17:22] Ian Bremmer: Right. And they felt like, "Okay, we're watching the Europeans. The Americans let all these people die. Their hospitals get overwhelmed. We're just going to keep shutting it down," which was fine, until basically, COVID became measles and the Chinese didn't, they didn't change their vaccine regimen. They didn't require people to get vaccines because they thought that tracking and testing and locking down would be enough. They didn't actually authorize Western vaccines. So now here they are two years in with 65 million people under various stages of lockdown facing a two handle on their growth this year. So that's how they screwed up because they got overconfident.
[00:18:00] The Americans screwed up because we were very scared and we got the economics right in the early days and we provided the massive relief that was required, not just for the fat cats and the bankers, but also for the small businesses and the average every day working in middle class but what we got vaccines fast. And once we had those vaccines in the middle of an election cycle, we suddenly thought, "Okay, well this is really about old people and fat people and if you don't want to take a vaccine, we don't really care about you."
[00:18:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:37] Ian Bremmer: And it got all blue versus red state because we decided it wasn't a big enough deal for us to care. So it's not just that you need a crisis, Jordan. You need a crisis that is big enough to get you off your ass. Not so huge that it destroys humanity. And you know, we see this all the time. We see, you know, gun violence in the United States, and the responses are purely performative. Why? Because the people in power don't think it's a very big crisis. It's not affecting their kids. It's not affecting their core donors and their constituents' kids either.
[00:19:07] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:19:08] Ian Bremmer: And so they just don't need to deal with it. And COVID, I hate to say it, but for most Americans, COVID essentially became in relatively short order, not in the first months, but certainly by the end of the first year, became a manageable crisis without doing very much.
[00:19:27] Jordan Harbinger: This makes sense. And now, we see, I saw when I was reading the book, you'd written like, "China handled this pretty well," and I was like, "Ah, that was sent to the printer before locking down to Shanghai, Chengdu, and a bunch of other cities. I mean, even now, I think in Sichuan, there's like 21 million people on lockdown.
[00:19:44] Ian Bremmer: Lockdown, yeah.
[00:19:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I take Chinese in the morning and I've got teachers on Skype and they live in these different cities, so I get a flavor — I remember when there was, I can't remember exactly which was this Shanghai or one of the cities, they couldn't get any food and there was a truck convoy outside the city and they wouldn't let anybody in.
[00:20:01] Ian Bremmer: Yeah, it was Shanghai.
[00:20:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. My teacher was talking about how people who were doing well were growing food on their balcony and people were sharing things you could make out of things you could grow on a balcony and how to get plants delivered or how to grow plants from seeds of other plants that your neighbors maybe have. And it was just like when you're growing food on your balcony in a major city, the equivalent of New York, you're in trouble, man. If that's what you're using to survive, imagine growing food, all your own food, Ian in Manhattan.
[00:20:29] Ian Bremmer: I mean, in Brooklyn, of course, everyone does it, but it is the wealthiest city in China, I mean, Shanghai. Part of the reason that you saw that was because these are pretty, they're fairly entitled Chinese at this point. They kind of feel like we're not like these down market Chinese, like with Shanghai is world class. Their per capita income I think is higher than Portugal. And they're educated and suddenly the fact that their government couldn't get it done for them. And yet, here's an interesting point. China's life expectancy has just passed that of the United States.
[00:21:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:21:02] Ian Bremmer: Just now. And that's because the American life expectancy because of COVID and because of the opioid epidemic has deteriorated by a couple of years over the last three years of COVID.
[00:21:14] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:21:14] Ian Bremmer: And China's of course has not. And China's zero COVID policy, as horrible as it is for growth and frankly for the human condition because we see what these lockdowns do for kids' education and the rest. So believe me, I am not promoting the Chinese model at all. You and I do not want to live in anything like that.
[00:21:33] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:21:33] Ian Bremmer: But they are immensely proud of the fact that they didn't have a million people. We did. I think we have to at least listen to that.
[00:21:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting. Nobody wants to live in an authoritarian regime like that, including the Chinese for the most part. We'll see if they learn from this particular thing. I mean, authoritarian regimes led by one guy typically don't do great with learning lessons, but who knows? I mean, the Chinese are an exception to a lot of things.
[00:21:58] On this show, we've talked a lot about disinformation, the dangers of social media, the dangers of money in politics, in our regulatory industry, big pharma, big agriculture, and what all that does to the country, sewing division, et cetera. This show's a big barrel of laughs a lot of the time. We like to keep it light over here.
[00:22:13] Ian Bremmer: Okay, that's good.
[00:22:13] Jordan Harbinger: But how can, how can other countries expect America to take the reins in leadership on global pandemics, climate change, or any other crazy existential threat if we are potentially headed for a much more nationalist or even an isolationist United States?
[00:22:30] Ian Bremmer: Well, I mean, the question is, does America have to take the lead in everything? I mean, when the world is dominated by a single superpower or two superpowers, back when was the US and Soviet Union, I mean, all of the institutions in architecture are going to be aligned to that.
[00:22:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:48] Ian Bremmer: So the US builds the UN and the US builds the IMF and the US builds the World Trade Organization. When the Americans are less interested in doing that, not because we're not a superpower anymore, but because we're just much more divided. We're much more inward-focused. There's a lot more, you know, sort of questions about what America even stands for, what our national values are. That doesn't mean that you don't have leadership, but it does mean you don't have a singular global order.
[00:23:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:17] Ian Bremmer: It means that different global orders will emerge to respond to different issues and the leadership will be very different as well. So for example, if we're going to talk about Russia and Ukraine, or we were going to talk about the global security order, the United States is still by far the dominant power militarily in the world. The US outspends the next nine countries combined, and that means that if something is going to get done from a global military perspective if the Americans don't lead it, you ain't getting a global response.
[00:23:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:55] Ian Bremmer: You might get a regional response, you might get a local response, but you can't get, they would be, Ukraine would not be happening if it wasn't for the Americans. The US are providing by far the most military equipment, training material to Ukraine. And if it wasn't for that, it'd be a very, very different outcome. Okay. But if you want to talk about leadership on climate, you're not talking about the United States, you might be talking about California—
[00:24:25] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:25] Ian Bremmer: —for some regulatory pieces. You might be talking about Texas for some others. You'd be talking about some of the banks that are taking the lead in shifting away from fossil fuels to renewables, and a lot of those are American institutions. But you wouldn't be talking about Washington and the US federal government, nor would you be talking about China and the Chinese national government. You'd be talking about the European Union, for example, which is doing far more in setting the rules for how we think about the future of global carbon emissions and global energy. The Saudis used to be much more important. They won't be in 20, 30 years. That's pretty clear. If we were to talk about global trade, the United States doesn't have a global trade policy anymore because most Americans, Democrats and Republicans oppose free trade in this environment, which means that the trade environment is becoming much more fragmented and multipolar. China's leading some of it, America's leading other pieces, Europe's leading others, Japan, you name it.
[00:25:30] So it doesn't mean that you can't get leadership, but the leadership will be much more messy and it'll be much more differentiated depending on what we're talking. People aren't used to talking about the idea that we could be living simultaneously in worlds with radically different types and forms of leadership on the basis of what we're talking about. They assume, "Well, it's either the US," or, "Okay, now, it's China." No.
[00:25:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:55] Ian Bremmer: It used to be the US and the Soviets. Then, it was the US and now, it's a whole bunch of stuff. And it depends on what you're talking about. That's what's so fascinating about the future of the world that we're heading into.
[00:26:10] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ian Bremmer. We'll be right back.
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[00:28:38] Now back to Ian Bremmer.
[00:28:41] None of us has ever lived in a world where the largest economy, so in this case, China, is governed by authoritarians, but it seems like that's where we're headed. Do you think this necessarily puts us on a collision course for conflict or war?
[00:28:54] Ian Bremmer: So number one, China is not yet the largest economy.
[00:28:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Not yet.
[00:28:59] Ian Bremmer: They were expected to be the largest economy in 2028. That was before the pandemic. Now it looks more like 2030, 2032.
[00:29:10] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:29:11] Ian Bremmer: But if it turns out that China's sustainable growth patterns for the next 10, 20 years aren't five six percent, but because of massive corporate debt and challenges in attracting international investment and massive demographic challenges, that population has already maxed out. It's now decreasing which, you know, happens in South Korea and Japan, but they're already rich. China's not.
[00:29:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right. They're aging like crazy.
[00:29:38] Ian Bremmer: Yeah.
[00:29:38] Jordan Harbinger: Not having enough kids. Can't come back from that. You can have a 10-child policy, but it's not going to matter at this point.
[00:29:42] Ian Bremmer: Doesn't matter. So, I mean, if Shanghai, the Shanghai report that came out back in May is correct, and China by 2100 is going to be sub 600 million in population.
[00:29:54] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:29:54] Ian Bremmer: As opposed to 1.4 billion now. Maybe China gets to be the largest economy in the world for five or 10 or 20 years, but then it won't be. And it's possible if China only grows at two or three percent on average, that they never actually become the largest economy in the world. But let's assume they become the largest economy in the world, that still doesn't mean that they're the biggest military in the world or have the most capacity or willing to spend on that, because there's still a poor country that is going to have demands of a middle class that will be outsized.
[00:30:25] Now, there's another question to ask, which is, who controls the commanding heights of the world's advanced technologies? Now, right now, there are only two countries that really matter, the US and China.
[00:30:39] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:39] Ian Bremmer: But a lot of the biggest actors in technology aren't actually government actors. They're private sector actors, and some of those are aligned with governments, but some of them aren't. I mean, Apple is much more of a global company than it's an American company. Microsoft is much more an American and democracy's company than it's a global company. That's interesting. How would we think about that in China in five or 10 years' time? Probably more aligned with the government, but if the government desperately needs these companies to make money and they'll lose talent, if they try to control them, well then maybe they have to balance a little bit.
[00:31:14] So even here, this becomes a much more complicated question than just a world where the only thing that matters is whose economy is number one and that government will therefore have all the power, and they're the ones that get to drive the future of the world. That's not where we're heading.
[00:31:31] Jordan Harbinger: That's actually quite a relief. And look, a lot of folks rightly argue that China's military is not up to the task of projecting power very far from its shores. Even the Chinese navy can barely make it past Vietnam, which I'll spare everyone the Google map search, pretty damn close to China. So China can't project hard power by land or sea very well.
[00:31:50] But I think what a lot of people overlook, I'm not saying you're overlooking this. I think you got this in the book. A lot of people forget about cyber warfare and the massive role that's going to play in any future conflict. You note correctly that cyber weapons can't be photographed from space. They're hard to take inventory of or deny access to and take down their capabilities. And you spook me when you wrote this, you said, "Conflict becomes more likely when the balance of power is unclear." What do you mean by this?
[00:32:19] Ian Bremmer: I mean that it's harder to understand how you deter someone from taking action, dangerous action.
[00:32:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:32:28] Ian Bremmer: If neither of you are really sure who the more powerful actor is.
[00:32:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Okay.
[00:32:32] Ian Bremmer: Right? I mean, because deterrence is really based on, I'm going to bloody your nose pretty damn hard. The Russians invaded Ukraine, which turns out to have been a massive mistake because they believe that the balance of power actually favored them in a way that it did and does not.
[00:32:47] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:32:48] Ian Bremmer: And that made conflict in Ukraine more likely. If the Russians had understood that the Europeans and Americans were capable of actually putting such a hurt on them for an extended period of time, I feel fairly confident that Putin wouldn't have done that. Now, when we talk about cyber, one of the advantages is that the US and the Chinese do have a level of mutually assured destruction. The Chinese do need the American economy to function for their own success and stability. The same thing is true for us. The only thing worse than China succeeding is China failing because of the massive amount of exposure we have to our investments in China, China's investments in the US dollar and US Treasuries, and of course, to our purchasing of Chinese relatively inexpensive goods. Now, that is starting to shift. The Chinese are buying slightly fewer Treasuries than they used to. Japan is the largest foreign holder of US debt now, not the Chinese anymore.
[00:33:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:33:46] Ian Bremmer: And we are doing more insourcing than we used to. We don't need to produce quite as much in China, but these are marginal moves. Overwhelmingly, the interdependence of the US and Chinese economies are massive, and that's even more true for our allies like Japan and South Korea and the Germans, for example. And none of those countries want this kind of confrontation. It is certainly possible that you could have accidents that could spiral into uncontained conflict that would ultimately damage all players in unacceptable ways, but the idea that the Chinese or the Americans would launch preemptive offensive cyber assault, that strikes me as quite unlikely.
[00:34:28] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:34:29] Ian Bremmer: Because we'd be punching ourselves in the face. Now, the big question I have is, as the developing world, the poorest part of the world, Nigeria now facing potential famine, the horn of Africa, as these are countries that have human capital, educated human capital, online digital educated human capital. What happens if that creates real radicalism and cyber capabilities? Then, you don't have people that are worried about what happens if I blow them up, they're going to blow me up. No, you're going to have really angry people that are just prepared to blow stuff up.
[00:35:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:35:08] Ian Bremmer: And that makes the Americans and the Chinese system much more vulnerable. The US and the Chinese have a mutual interest. In ensuring that offensive cyber capabilities do not proliferate into the hands of radicals around the world. And yet right now, there's really no cooperation on that front. And that's something we desperately need.
[00:35:32] Jordan Harbinger: This makes sense. Before I was thinking, I hate that I'm about to say this, but if we know that they don't know and they know that we don't know, that nobody knows each size capabilities, then that's the deterrent, but really the deterrent is — I just pulled a Donald Rumsfeld there.
[00:35:43] Ian Bremmer: I see a young Rumsfeld doing that.
[00:35:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. The real deterrent is if they screw us up or we screw them up, all we're doing is shooting ourselves in the foot because they're knocking out their biggest customer and we're knocking out the hand that feeds us in many ways, at least as far as a lot of our devices and cheap stuff and commerce is concerned. And so before I thought, okay, if nobody knows each side's capabilities and we know that we don't know, that's the deterrent. It's better that we have a real deterrent that's not just like somebody's best-educated guess that could be, who could change their mind. I never thought about the Middle East, North Africa region, or even just Africa, period, being the cyber threat. Because when I think Nigeria, I don't think of Al-Shabaab, but with laptops.
[00:36:27] Ian Bremmer: When I think Nigeria and I've been there, but one of the things, so, I mean, I think about a lot of stuff in terms of my experiences on the ground, but as an American, when I think about Nigeria, I think about a whole bunch of folks that are trying to rip you off with malware scams, right? So I mean, like, clearly — and by the way, by far, you also think about Nollywood and you think about the most exciting digital startups in Africa, in big urban populations. So clearly, now to the extent that they're going to have massive famine that'll largely be in the Muslim north, which is much poor, much more rural, and they won't have the same access to the same technology. But again, this is coming soon to a theater near you.
[00:37:11] I mean, I remember it was Al-Qaeda that took over Mosul, and they got a bank that had 800 million hard currency and gold.
[00:37:22] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:37:22] Ian Bremmer: And I was just thinking to myself, I hope these guys don't have access to serious hackers. I just hope they don't. And it turned out that they really didn't. They just didn't have that level of sophistication. But you're just not going to continue to be that lucky with state failure because the access to these disruptive technologies is going up and up and up. And so we need a much more active willingness to monitor and to contain the proliferation of those technologies.
[00:37:49] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard a lot of experts postulate that Taiwan might get invaded in the next five years. And I'm always paying attention to this because my wife's family is from Taiwan. First, tell me what you think, but also why the hell is Taiwan, this little island so important to China? People ask me this all the time and I don't, It's hard to explain concisely.
[00:38:07] Ian Bremmer: I mean, historically, when you believe that part of you, that this territory is fundamentally yours, it's a one-China policy and it's a consequence. They've drawn a serious red line around it.
[00:38:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:38:18] Ian Bremmer: They don't consider it foreign policy. They consider domestic policy. They consider it the way the Americans would consider Texas or other Americans would consider California, I guess depends on the Americans you're talking to right now.
[00:38:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah. I was going to say.
[00:38:29] Ian Bremmer: The Heartland.
[00:38:30] Jordan Harbinger: Chinese Communist Party was never in control of Taiwan, but I guess if they're willing to draw their history all the way back through ancient China, then that's what they're doing.
[00:38:37] Ian Bremmer: And that's exactly what they're doing. And look, it's very similar in the sense that, first of all, The Chinese understand that they have not been tested militarily the way the Russians have been in recent years. This would be an amphibious assault across a 100-mile straight, which makes it incredibly difficult to do against western weaponry, if not direct soldiers that would inflict a lot of damage. So there's a huge risk with the Chinese doing that. Not to mention the fact that TSMC, which is the world's most important semiconductor producer, is utterly critical to Chinese advanced industry, and the Chinese manufacturers themselves are two to three generations behind the west—
[00:39:24] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:25] Ian Bremmer: —in semiconductors. So the likelihood that the Chinese would willingly risk that in the foreseeable future is close to zero, but that doesn't mean that they won't nibble around the edges.
[00:39:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:39] Ian Bremmer: And that's exactly what you saw after Pelosi. They said, "This is important." And so what did they do? They didn't provoke war, but they absolutely changed the status quo. And they will do that again and again and again. Anytime they see the Americans or others providing them opportunity to shift the balance of power towards them, they're playing the long game. They're going to do that.
[00:39:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. They killed a lot of fish in the Taiwan Strait with their missile launches. I mean, I guess—
[00:40:04] Ian Bremmer: They put some sanctions on too, some agricultural sanctions, sand, nothing strategically important, but very clearly drawing a line saying, "This is the path we're going to go down and every time you do this, we're going to make it hurt a little bit more." It was calibrated, it didn't risk war. The timing was very obvious. They knew the Americans weren't going to do anything, in particular, to respond because the Americans ostensibly were the ones causing offense with the Pelosi trip that Biden didn't support. I mean, this was a gift to the hardliners in China. No question.
[00:40:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:40:36] Ian Bremmer: And there will be others. There will be others.
[00:40:39] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned sanctions on sand. A lot of people are probably confused about that. I actually did a whole show about it. I can't remember the episode number. Vince Beiser was the expert about how sand is — it's not as critical as oil. I'm not going to go that far, but sand is pirated, stolen. There are sand mafias. Sand is dredged up and stolen and transported on the black market and you think, well, what the hell? We have tons of sand. Look at Saudi Arabia, it's the wrong kind of sand apparently. You need sand with rough edges, not sand that's been blown around for 10 or hundreds of thousands of years or millions of years. You need the right kind of sand. And so sanctions on sand is actually kind of a big deal because you can't make concrete or asphalt or other things without it, which means you can't build things. So sand turns out to be like this low-key critical resource that's almost like, it's almost without comparison. I mean, again, it's not oil or rare earth metals or lithium or whatever, but it's up there.
[00:41:32] Ian Bremmer: And apparently, the Chinese targeted sand specifically because cement was critical for the ag sector producers in Taiwan. And so for some reason that was the sector they decided that they wanted to hit and make an example of after Pelosi's trip.
[00:41:50] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense. So if people are interested in sand search, my site for sand, and the guy's name is Vince Beiser, B-E-I-S-E-R. That episode is a runaway success because nobody thinks about sand and I love doing stuff like that. Hey, here's this thing you don't care about.
[00:42:02] Ian Bremmer: It's you and it's Sam Kinison. I think that's it.
[00:42:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:42:05] Ian Bremmer: Do you remember that?
[00:42:06] Jordan Harbinger: Barely. Yeah, barely.
[00:42:08] Ian Bremmer: People don't live in sand. What is the sand? You're going to give people U-Haul luggage, going to move people to where the food is. That was his whole thing. I remember that like in the '80s.
[00:42:18] Jordan Harbinger: I just remember the hat and the screaming.
[00:42:20] Ian Bremmer: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's about it. Yeah, and he's dead.
[00:42:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, there's that too. RIP.
[00:42:24] Ian Bremmer: Yeah.
[00:42:24] Jordan Harbinger: So you don't think the US will go to war with China over Taiwan anytime soon? What do you think about the United States' red versus blue? A couple of weeks ago we had a show with Barbara F. Walter saying, "A civil war in the United States could be a thing that happened." And the day I released that, or the day after, Biden did his, like super awkwardly staged red, definitely not a fire and brimstone//World War II. The staging on that was baffling.
[00:42:50] Ian Bremmer: It was weird. The staging was weird. I agree. Yeah.
[00:42:52] Jordan Harbinger: What was going on? I don't even want to analyze that. But that was so bizarre. Where do you think the United States stands on this or is this sort of outside your area of focus?
[00:43:00] Ian Bremmer: I mean, I care a lot. At Eurasia Group, we have an entire practice that focuses on the United States. When I started the firm in 1998, we never would have, because people that invest in the United States didn't think that politics mattered very much to them.
[00:43:13] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:43:13] Ian Bremmer: As long as their business model was good, but that's not true anymore when blue versus red state actually affects the way you need to invest, right? When you have ETFs that are like based on the basis of whether they're blue state or red state investments, like suddenly you go, "Whoa, whoa. Maybe we need to talk to these politics, people."
[00:43:30] Clearly, I am not someone who believes that the United States is headed for civil war. I really don't, but I absolutely believe that we could have a repeat of 1876 when our election is broken. When you have an outcome that is contested because it's not a national election, it's election that's actually certified as state by state level. The electors are sent to Congress and Congress can decide—
[00:44:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:00] Ian Bremmer: —both, you know, and there are parties in Congress, right? So in the same way that impeachment has been broken. We had two impeachments of the president. They were overwhelmingly along partisan lines. Republicans voted one way. Democrats voted the other. It obviously had nothing to do with the merits of the case. Impeachment has now been broken as a political mechanism in the US and that makes the American political system weaker. Well, that is also in the process of happening in our electoral system.
[00:44:32] When 2000 Bush versus Gore, we had a bit of that, but you know, Gore conceded immediately. The Supreme Court rebounded relatively quickly and people got past it. 2016, Hillary Clinton conceded, but there was a lot of skepticism and questions around, you know, whether the Russians really are the ones that elected Trump. He colluded. No, we didn't collude. He's not my president. Of course, he's your president. He's voted and elected president of the United States.
[00:45:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:02] Ian Bremmer: So that made it worse. And then in 2020, of course, when Trump himself said that this election is fake and rigged. And if he becomes the nominee for 2024 and he loses a relatively close election, but you have active Trump supporters who are election deniers from 2020 in positions of power, a governorship, and secretary of state ships in core states, that would swing the outcome. And this has happened again before, after, during the reconstruction, after civil war. You could have a constitutional crisis in the United States, I think, and then you would have a lot of violence—
[00:45:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:41] Ian Bremmer: —in red and blue states. I don't see this as the end of American democracy. I don't think this is a dictatorship. I don't think it's a civil war, but it would absolutely degrade American democracy well beyond anything we've experienced in our lifetime. So it would make the US closer to Brazil in terms of its political stability, closer to Eastern European democracy—
[00:46:08] Jordan Harbinger: Hungary, maybe.
[00:46:09] Ian Bremmer: Not as bad.
[00:46:09] Jordan Harbinger: Not as bad.
[00:46:10] Ian Bremmer: Not as bad as Hungary. But you know, in that ballpark, right? You just don't want that in your country. You don't want that in the most powerful country in the world. That's a dangerous thing. Frankly, that's more dangerous for people outside the US than it is for the US.
[00:46:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:28] Ian Bremmer: Because the outsized import is on all of the countries that kind of rely on a stable, a more stable global order and a more stable superpower that increasingly can't.
[00:46:38] Jordan Harbinger: Would you agree that we're in a technology cold war right now, especially with respect to China? You mentioned in the book these different information and media spaces. This is a really interesting concept that I have not really heard discussed elsewhere, and I brought it up in a conversation and everybody thought I was really smart, so I appreciate that too.
[00:46:56] Ian Bremmer: Oh, cool. Okay.
[00:46:57] Jordan Harbinger: Thinking about different information in media spaces, right? Fox News versus NBC, but on steroids when you're talking about technology use, you know, people say Huawei 5G over here and United States, or whoever's making the other side of that 5G elsewhere, Verizon or AT&T or whatever it is, each side's ideal outcome, in this case, is eliminating the other side completely in terms of media and information, to be clear.
[00:47:21] Ian Bremmer: Yep.
[00:47:21] Jordan Harbinger: So most Americans and those in the West, in general, don't realize that China, they don't have Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, TikTok, they have their own Chinese, even though TikTok is owned by the Chinese, they have their own Chinese versions that are highly monitored, highly censored versions of these apps. Only Chinese people really use it. So is the idea of these two spaces that China would do the same thing, but for all of the other territories that use Chinese technology. Are we going to see Africa using, not TikTok, but the Chinese international version of TikTok where they cannot see and cannot say certain things or do certain things?
[00:47:57] Ian Bremmer: Yeah, I mean, I was in favor of the Chinese investing through Belt and Road and things like railways and roads because ultimately you build those things and everyone can use them. You build those things and it creates more wealth and more jobs. So I'd rather the Americans invest in those countries, but if we are not going to do it adequately, better the Chinese do it than nobody does it.
[00:48:20] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:48:20] Ian Bremmer: But when you talk about, you know, sort of sophisticated surveillance and data and monopoly platforms that actually influence people's behavior and surveil—
[00:48:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:48:32] Ian Bremmer: —and nudge their behavior, the fact that the digital Chinese Belt and Road, which is investing in these programs in Pakistan and the DRC and Zimbabwe, yes, the Chinese government potentially will have vastly more influence over those societies, perhaps even more than they would if they had military bases on the ground, the way the Americans do.
[00:48:59] That's a very important point. I mean, when you and I are growing up and okay, I'm older than you are, but still, it still applies, you would focus on, in terms of our various emotional and intellectual challenges, you'd say, well, some of that is nature and some of that is nurture. Some of that is your genes, and some of that's how you were raised. I mean, you know your community, your parents, your family. Increasingly today, it's nature, nurture, and algorithm.
[00:49:27] Jordan Harbinger: Huh.
[00:49:27] Ian Bremmer: And that young kids who are spending so much of their social life intermediated by digital platforms that they do not understand, that does not have their interests at heart, but are radically different depending on the platform and depending on the country of the platform, well, yeah, I mean, you're talking about creating different societies. That actually don't necessarily play well together.
[00:49:52] We all know that the way you better understand people around the world is through long-form interpersonal contact. When you do that, you realize, "Oh yeah, we're actually pretty similar. Oh, he's actually a pretty good guy. I could hang out with him." We're doing the exact opposite of that at a global level with these technologies, both geopolitically and from a technopolar perspective, in terms of what the tech companies are doing.
[00:50:17] Again, it's not all about countries because some of this is being done by corporations.
[00:50:22] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:50:22] Ian Bremmer: The governments don't even know what the hell they're doing.
[00:50:24] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:50:25] Ian Bremmer: So it would be wrong to say this is just the tech Cold War because that implies that the US government and the Chinese government are doing the driving. It's actually much more complicated than that.
[00:50:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that makes, that actually makes a lot of sense. And I hope people know, I was joking about bringing this up and sounding smart, I mean, no, that actually did happen, but, you know, I wouldn't say my entire game is bringing up things that I read for a clout, but this is one of those points that I think you can make in smart company. Most people have not thought about this. You know, most people have not thought about the idea that there are two or potentially two separate technological spaces between, say, China and the US and the countries that use gear such as whatever Internet of things, 5G and other electronics made in either of these countries may raise completely different kids, which that is, it's a little scary to think nature and nurture versus algorithm. That's a PhD waiting to happen for a sociology—
[00:51:19] Ian Bremmer: I want to see that book. I really do.
[00:51:20] Jordan Harbinger: Me too.
[00:51:21] Ian Bremmer: I mean, I think that some of that was the book on surveillance capitalism that was written a couple of years ago, kind of a real tone for this stuff. There's also the possibility — we're talking about, again, US versus China, two separate spaces. Red state versus blue state increasingly two separate information spaces, even within the same apps. But you know, increasingly, if inequality continues to grow the way it has, you can imagine that wealthy people will demand and pay for much more privacy, right? Applications that are much more suited to them being able to live with liberties and security simultaneously. And that poorer people will have very different platforms and what happens. When you actually don't just separate people from gated communities and from their private schools as opposed to public schools, but literally all their communication only happens within societies that are of means or not of means that then you have — I mean, I don't know if you saw Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story.
[00:52:33] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-uh.
[00:52:34] Ian Bremmer: Which is a must-read, the most harrowing, near-term dystopia that is plausible that I've read in a decade, but actually talks about what kind of the implications of that kind of fragmentation of society on the basis of technologically empowered platforms that exert sovereignty in the digital space.
[00:53:00] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ian Bremmer. We'll be right.
[00:53:04] This episode is sponsored in part by Pluralsight. If you lead or manage a software team, you know that setting your team up for success isn't easy. Employee turnover, the speed of innovation, timeline delays, and security concerns are constantly clouding our vision. Leading technology teams around the world trust Pluralsight to bring skill development and engineering insights to the forefront of the developer experience increasing productivity, efficiency, satisfaction, and retention. It's the clarity teams need to tackle mission-critical projects, drive cloud transformation, or simply ship scalable and secure code. Harness the collective power of hindsight, foresight, and insight with Pluralsight. Check them out today at pluralsight.com/vision.
[00:53:42] This episode is sponsored in part by Sleep Cove podcast. Getting high-quality sleep is so important. I track my sleep and monitor how much deep sleep I'm getting. Not only does it improve your mood and productivity for the next day, of course. It changes your long-term health and reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke. The power of a good night's risk can likely help you live longer, and that is why I'm excited to share this podcast, Sleep Cove. While most podcasts require your attention, Sleep Cove is the podcast that wants you to fall asleep on it. Sleep Cove's host Chris uses his years of experience as a hypnotherapist to bring you relaxing sleep hypnosis, meditation, bedtime stories, all designed to help you relax and get a peaceful night's sleep. Chris's voice is soothing. And so the next time you're lying in bed, staring up the freaking ceiling, play one of their relaxing bedtime stories like their retellings of classic Greek myths, or listen to one of their sleep hypnosis episodes. They're once focused on reducing anxiety, improving your confidence, and more. Go follow Sleep Cove now wherever you listen to podcasts. You can easily find it whenever you're ready to wind down your day.
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[00:54:59] Now for the rest of my conversation with Ian Bremmer.
[00:55:03] I assume in your mind there's a world in which China and the United States compete in a healthy way while also banding together to fight things that affect the entire globe. So, you know, space aliens, climate change, pandemics, you write about in the book. It seems like China and the US for that matter view a lot of this right now as zero-sum. We kind of talked about this at the top of the show. You know, the more people that die in the US from COVID, the better China looks. If we agree to lower emissions in the United States, the more the other side can — or in China, the more the other side can cheat on the agreement and get ahead. You mentioned this in the book as well, the problem with COVID is that it's pushing people back into poverty with developing countries obviously suffering the worst.
[00:55:42] Ian Bremmer: Yes.
[00:55:43] Jordan Harbinger: Scientists have discovered something like 40-plus pathogens that have traveled from animals to humans in recent decades. So there is definitely more of this to come. It's foolish to think that COVID was the lucky one that jumped from animals to humans.
[00:55:55] Ian Bremmer: Yeah.
[00:55:55] Jordan Harbinger: It's only a matter of time, but placing blame on one country or another like China and the United States are currently doing. It was the white-tailed deer. It was an American soldier. It's the Wuhan lab, you know, whatever that China has, that's going to result in even less cooperation and transparency in the future, especially in countries that are battling for hearts, minds, and algorithms or whatever we want to call it.
[00:56:16] Ian Bremmer: Sometimes if the structure of the system is oriented towards cooperation—
[00:56:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:56:23] Ian Bremmer: —you don't necessarily need people to proactively cooperate to get good outcomes.
[00:56:30] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:56:30] Ian Bremmer: I'm thinking about climate change. The Chinese, for decades now have been investing massive amounts of money into solar, into rare earths, into wind, into nuclear. So much so that a lot of Americans that are concerned about national security, who don't spend a lot of time hugging trees and saving whales, are looking at China and saying, "Oh my god, if we don't invest massively in renewable technologies, China's going to become the energy superpower. They're going to dominate in the 21st century."
[00:57:03] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:03] Ian Bremmer: So we need to do that. So actually competition with an absence of coordination has led to a faster ramp-up in the United States and China in new technologies that will ultimately abate global warming. Now, that's a really positive development that is occurring in part because in the climate space we've finally gotten to the point where everyone understands the basic facts.
[00:57:31] We all know that we have 1.2 degrees centigrade of warming. We all know how many particles per million of carbon and methane there are in the atmosphere. We understand the implications of that even though the Chinese and Americans aren't sitting down and coordinating very well on a carbon tax or pricing mechanism, or even on plans for carbon neutrality net zero by 2050 for the US or 2060 for China.
[00:57:57] Despite that, you're still actually seeing that level of investment and policy movement structurally. Unfortunately, there are many challenges in the world today where you don't have that agreement in baseline understanding of what the problems are, and then a lack of coordination, a lack of trust will really hurt you.
[00:58:20] Jordan Harbinger: Let's talk about water, speaking of climate change, not a problem to we think—
[00:58:24] Ian Bremmer: This is a whole beach episode. You're starting with sand.
[00:58:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:58:27] Ian Bremmer: And now you're going to water.
[00:58:28] Jordan Harbinger: That's right. Speaking of beaches, yeah, it's not a problem. We think about a lot here in the United States, but it is critical for countries like, I want to say, India, Pakistan. Israel comes to mind. I'm sure there's a bunch more. Kirabati, which nobody's heard of. That whole country's going to be gone. I think they've got another foot or two. I'm not even sure. Basically, there's already islands in that island chain that are just gone. We have sinking cities in Indonesia. I think Jakarta is sinking.
[00:58:55] Ian Bremmer: Jakarta is sinking, and that has nothing to do with climate change. That's due just too much stress on the water system that—
[00:59:00] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't realize that.
[00:59:00] Ian Bremmer: —population. But in Jakarta, they're moving the entire capital. Yeah, it's amazing. And hopefully, it works because it's a massive, massive undertaking.
[00:59:08] Jordan Harbinger: But there's still going to be people living in a city that's sinking. I don't know how that's going to work. I mean, that just seems like a huge mess waiting to happen.
[00:59:15] Ian Bremmer: If you ever waited in traffic in Jakarta, you understand just how horrifying the infrastructure in that city is, yeah.
[00:59:20] Jordan Harbinger: And also where are those people going to go? It's going to be like freaking water, I mean, whatever, that's a whole different show. Refugees are going to be created, refugee crises are going to be created as a result of water flooding your city or your island, or lack thereof as well. I mean, if we don't have water, you got to move. And I think in the book, one of your examples is Bangladesh, which has — and correct me if I'm wrong, this almost sounds horrifically wrong — 145 million people, where are they going to go? Pakistan or India? I mean, those places are already crowded.
[00:59:52] Ian Bremmer: Again, since I wrote the book, I mean the stuff you know happens pretty quickly. Pakistan, one-third of which was underwater with the most recent floods—
[01:00:02] Jordan Harbinger: Right now, yeah.
[01:00:02] Ian Bremmer: —50 million people displaced affected by these floods. These are extraordinary numbers. These are numbers comparable to the total number of international refugees that we've had in previous decades. And those numbers are going to go up. You're talking about 10X to 20X—
[01:00:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:00:24] Ian Bremmer: —of the climate refugees that we will see in the next generation, just on the basis of what's already baked into the system. The movement from 1.2 degrees centigrade to two degrees centigrade, which we're clearly going to have. And you're right. For the last 50 years, we've lived in a world where life on balance for the average human was getting better year after year after year. And for the last three years, that has not been true. Now, the pandemic is the biggest driver of that immediately, but climate is an underlying condition that is massively significant and going to get much worse.
[01:01:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:01:07] Ian Bremmer: And all of this acts as attacks, attacks on the planet, attacks on globalization, attacks on human development and sustainability that we are going to have to pay for. We all want more growth. We all want our kids to do better, but we're going to be doing that in a world for the next couple of generations that is going to actually have a lot more sand in the gears, if you want me to use that analogy.
[01:01:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:01:35] Ian Bremmer: And that's going to lead to angrier people, but it's also going to lead to crises that will stimulate smarter policies and actions. That's what creates the opportunity and hope.
[01:01:44] Jordan Harbinger: What about quantum computing AI? Quantum supremacy, I think is what some people are calling it. What worries me about this, and I know you share these concerns, if we think one side is getting ahead of the other, you know, if we think China is just right on the cusp because our intelligence sources tell us that and we're further away, or vice versa, it almost seems like the only option we have is to preemptively strike possibly in a military fashion, because anybody who masters quantum and AI or both, they can dominate the world order, and there's possibly no coming back from that. You know, we saw this movie with Skynet, right?
[01:02:21] Ian Bremmer: Yeah.
[01:02:21] Jordan Harbinger: Do you see this as a possibility at all?
[01:02:24] Ian Bremmer: The danger of, say, quantum computing, is that a level of breakthrough that a lot of people believe will come within a decade.
[01:02:32] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:02:32] Ian Bremmer: You would completely obliterate the ability to have cryptographic security. The good news is that these are pretty exotic technologies. They are expensive, and only a small number of actors in the US and China are capable of developing them. And even though they're not working together, they are all aware of that danger. So the hope would be that as you're getting closer to that, that those actors, like the Americans and Soviets during our nuclear buildup, will work to ensure that there is not a sudden breakout capability of one side or the other that would lead to the necessity, or the compelling necessity is a very strong term—
[01:03:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:03:19] Ian Bremmer: —of a preemptive strike because otherwise, you know that you'll never be able to have influence at the table again. That's a very dangerous position to be in, but it's one that we will have the ability to respond to in advance. I think it's very important to sound that alarm. The ones that are more dangerous, frankly, like the offensive cyber capabilities you warned about earlier, like the AI bots that are inferable increasingly from sentient human beings like lethal autonomous drones, is that once these are developed, these are very quickly in the hands of large numbers of diffuse organizations, states, and even individuals, who are not as easily punished, not as easily contained as those big organizations in the US and China developing quantum. And that's why you have to create the organizations that will track down police, deter and punish those, that traffic in those sorts of disruptive technologies. That is an utterly, utterly priority policy need for the Americans and for our allies around the world, and for the Chinese right now, we just don't have it.
[01:04:35] Jordan Harbinger: This makes sense because we can prevent countries from developing a nuclear bomb, but we really can't prevent them from coming up with cyber weapons or autonomous lethal drug. It's just too hard. I mean, it's really hard to clamp down on that kind of technology before the cat's out of the bag.
[01:04:50] Ian Bremmer: That's right.
[01:04:51] Jordan Harbinger: Or even from just stealing a bunch of them on a boat. I don't know. I mean, and then rebuilding them, I think. Didn't Iran get a huge leap in drone technology because they shot down a US drone and then suddenly a few years later they had something that was kind of similar? Or am I imagining this?
[01:05:04] Ian Bremmer: Yes. And the Russians, also Operation Shamoon, which was this US malware against the Iranian centrifuges, and they reversed-engineered it and used it against Saudi Aramco a few years later.
[01:05:19] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[01:05:19] Ian Bremmer: The NotPetya attacks by the Russians against Ukraine, reversed-engineered by the NSA. Spyware that was stolen, that the Russians got their hands on. I mean, this happens all the time. It's not like you send a missile and it blows up and it's hard to recreate. This stuff is, you know, that leaves tracks.
[01:05:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yikes. Switching gears a little bit. Recently, we've heard that Russia's just not going to turn Nord Stream. Is it Nord Stream 2?
[01:05:45] Ian Bremmer: Nord Stream 1.
[01:05:46] Jordan Harbinger: Nord Stream 1, right. Nord Stream two is not — they're just not going to turn it back on because of something-something maintenance, blah, blah, blah, sanctions aren't letting us get the parts, which everybody kind of knows is BS, and it's just designed to punish Europe and stop them from getting gas, I suppose, during the winter. How do you think that's going to shake out? It looks like Europe's resolve to keep sanctions going against Russia is not going to be shaken necessarily, but man, talk about an expensive and cold winter, like we mentioned at the top of the show. What are we going to do? You still got to keep people warm.
[01:06:18] Ian Bremmer: Part of me is surprised that the Russians have waited this long to take that step.
[01:06:22] Jordan Harbinger: I agree.
[01:06:23] Ian Bremmer: Because they've given the Europeans an opportunity to really diversify their sources, to create greater efficiencies, to expand the lifespan of nuclear. I mean, a whole bunch of things. We're at the point right now that even if the Russians cut off all the energy, the Germans should be able to avoid the severe restrictions of what they call this level three that would basically prevent the free and open market purchasing of gas, energy on the market. They can probably avoid it. And that means that next year, basically, they're free of Russian energy.
[01:07:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:07:05] Ian Bremmer: The EU is mostly going to be free of all Russian energy by the end of 2023.
[01:07:10] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:07:10] Ian Bremmer: So on the one hand, you've got a serious economic downturn likely coming in Europe, because I do think the Russians are likely to cut off the energy, and that probably means an economic contraction in the EU of two to three percent, the UK as well. So this is going to hurt, this is a significant recession. On the other hand, Russia is going to go down in history as the first G20 economy that's ever been completely cut off from all the rich countries in the world.
[01:07:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:07:39] Ian Bremmer: And they're going to be made into a rogue, They're going to, they're going to go from a strategic competitor like China with more military capacity, but smaller economy to a rogue state like Iran but with 6,000 nuclear warheads. I got to tell you—
[01:07:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's scary.
[01:07:54] Ian Bremmer: You know, having Russia in that position with Putin facing an economy that will collapse over five or 10 years, but he's still in charge. And he's angry. And he's humiliated.
[01:08:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:08:08] Ian Bremmer: And NATO has expanded and it's got all these troops forward deployed on his borders, and Ukraine is now becoming a member of the EU. What has Russia gained? Some burnt-out territory in Southeast Ukraine. They fly the flag over like this is not going to work for them at all.
[01:08:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:08:24] Ian Bremmer: I do worry that we are entering a new cold war with elements of hot war, not with the Chinese at all, but with the Russians. And the Russians have virtually no one on their side. Belarus, you know, maybe North Korea on good days. That's about it. And that's not a good position to be in.
[01:08:40] Jordan Harbinger: What do we think happens? I know early on some people said, "Hey, Russia's not going to stop." Peter Zeihan was on this show, who I know you know.
[01:08:48] Ian Bremmer: Yeah, I know Peter. Peter's a good guy.
[01:08:49] Jordan Harbinger: It's like they're not going to stop. They're going to try and get Romania and Moldova and the Baltic states because of Russian history saying that how they need to seal things off. And then guys like Mearsheimer who was sort of like, "Well, this NATO's fault. They're not necessarily going to do that. This is more of an encroachment thing." What do we think is going to happen if Russia, when Russia can't necessarily get what they want in Ukraine? Or they get what they say they want, which is like you said, a burned-out husk of Southeastern Ukraine. What are they going to do? Because typically authoritarian states that are flailing around, they've caused damage to other people wherever they can.
[01:09:24] Ian Bremmer: If Putin were taken out or suddenly die, you know, which is very, very unlikely until immediately after it happens.
[01:09:32] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:09:32] Ian Bremmer: Right. So, I mean, there's no use in trying to predict it, but I mean, if that were to happen after the Russians had taken a piece of Ukraine, but while their economy is in free fall, a new Russian leader might well with more consensus and more engagement with a larger group of Russian security forces around the country, and might well be willing to sit down and negotiate reduction of sanctions for some sort of peace deal with the Ukrainians that affords them their territory back. And that would be the best possible scenario.
[01:10:10] But short of that, what you have is a Putin who is likely to engage in all sorts of cyber attacks against critical infrastructure like he had been doing, and had been allowed to occur before all of this Ukraine stuff was going on. Much more espionage with weapons of mass destruction that have been used by the Syrians, provided by the Russians that could be used on Ukraine. And with military forces that are not really well trained, that are operating in regular proximity to NATO.
[01:10:44] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:10:44] Ian Bremmer: So the potential for accidents, the potential for a new Cuban missile crisis, which for 30 years we haven't had to worry about it all. We had a piece dividend suddenly is back with us. That's the reality. It's that we are in a significantly more dangerous transatlantic environment because of Putin's decision to take this incredible, incredibly badly judged decision.
[01:11:09] Jordan Harbinger: Can you leave us with something positive? Is that even on the menu at this point? I hate to end shows with negative stuff, even if the topic itself is a little bit fraught or just, you know, a tough pill to swallow. Is there anything where you saying, "Look, here's the upside to this"? Especially with respect to Ukraine, but if we can't find anything there, I'll take something with China and US cooperation as well.
[01:11:29] Ian Bremmer: Well, let's stick with Ukraine because it's interesting. Despite the fact that the Russians and Ukrainians are blowing the crap out of each other—
[01:11:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:11:37] Ian Bremmer: —we actually just got a deal on the ground that allowed the Ukrainians to export food from Odesa, which had been blockaded by the Russians. That was facilitated by the UN Secretary-General and the Turkish president, and allowed the Russians to export fertilizer, both of which are desperately needed by the poorest countries in the world—
[01:11:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:11:59] Ian Bremmer: —or millions and millions of people will starve. And that happened with quiet diplomacy because both countries understood that they had something to gain.
[01:12:09] We just got international inspectors from the IAEA to a nuclear plant in South Croatia that was being shelled, and those inspectors have stayed. Now, hopefully, we can kind of make that a no-go zone in terms of war. You may say, "Well, that's not exactly good news, Ian," but hey, I got to tell you that Chernobyl happening in an active war zone—
[01:12:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:12:33] Ian Bremmer: —is not a good idea right now. So I mean, the fact that we still have, even with the Americans and the Chinese, they're not leading the charge in peacemaking right now. This was done almost completely separately for them, it still got done. The fact is that these crises create leaders because leaders are required and there are a lot of people that are trying very desperately to build better, newer institutions and leadership that reflects the needs of our people and of young people in the world today.
[01:13:10] That, of course, is what has to give you the hope, and that's why ultimately The Power of Crisis is the most hopeful book that I personally have ever written. It's out of all of this uncertainty, volatility, and concern that gets you what Americans and people around the world are really capable of.
[01:13:28] Jordan Harbinger: Ian Bremmer, thank you so much. This is really, it's fascinating stuff and I think a lot of people — you know, I go after China a lot, I feel like this one was a lot more balanced and a lot more hopeful. I agree with you. The book was quite hopeful, even though it outlined a lot of the threats. It outlined what we can do to make sure that we don't kill ourselves or the planet, or both.
[01:13:48] Ian Bremmer: A lot of fun being on your show. I really enjoyed it. First-time caller, as they say, but you know—
[01:13:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:13:53] Ian Bremmer: —don't be a stranger.
[01:13:56] Jordan Harbinger: If you're looking for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to sink your teeth into. Here's a trailer with General Spalding recorded a few years back.
[01:14:03] Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding: Underneath everything that's going on in our peacetime environment, our democracy is being undermined at nearly every connection with the Chinese Communist Party. The techniques that they use and the strategies they use to acquire technology are so diverse and so widespread. The entire economy is driven by the Communist Party, and they can force entire industries to do exactly what they say.
[01:14:30] What you're seeing is the actual execution of a document called Unrestricted Warfare, and it was written by two PLA colonels back in 1999. I read it when it came out. It didn't pertain to the way at the time I thought about warfare. You use military forces to take territory. This was pervasive across the society in such a way that you could see the elements of an air strike using bombs, except you were using ones and zeros and dollars and cents, data in finance to essentially—
[01:15:00] Jordan Harbinger: Displace the United States on the world stage and force us to submit.
[01:15:04] Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding: You think, "Wow. This is 1984. This is a science fiction movie. It can't be real." A country can't actually be doing this. Yet, there it is.
[01:15:12] Jordan Harbinger: This was all so surprising to me how deep this all goes. We are actually financing the construction of the Chinese military, the government, all of their cities, their whole country that they are now using to try to control the behavior of the rest of the world. It's just outright insane.
[01:15:30] To hear more about how the Chinese Communist Party has quietly been at war with United States and the West for years, check out episode 268 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:15:43] Solid conversation will definitely be having Ian back. I love the way that he thinks.
[01:15:47] Pandemics often show that government needs the private sector, and the private sector often suffers because of bad government planning, so greater cooperation between them needs to take place. There's a lot in the book that discusses pandemics, climate change, rising sea levels. A lot of really interesting topics are covered more deeply in the book.
[01:16:04] I think another problem is even if many of us wholeheartedly agree with the general concept and policy of America First that we discussed here on this episode, you have to realize that the other half of that equation, like ignoring major global issues such as a war in Europe and other pandemics that maybe haven't made it to the US yet, those could have dire consequences for the entire planet, naturally, including the United States.
[01:16:28] For example, geoengineering for places that are too dry, can't grow food, et cetera. Geoengineering could make the problem of climate change even worse. For example, one country could make it rain at the expense of other countries by cloud spraying. A real-world example, Brazil's President Bolsonaro has removed legal protections for the rainforest, which has resulted in massive deforestation at just incredibly depressing levels. That is released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. And of course, we kind of need the rainforest for, I don't know, purifying our environment and atmosphere and all the species that we're killing in there. So of course, when people criticize that, when we say, "Hey, stop doing that," we are told by that regime to, you know, mind your own business. This is Brazil's concern. It's no one else's concern. But I think we know that the environment is everyone's concern at this point. And yes, it's easier for us to say that on the outside, but come on.
[01:17:19] You know, when I start talking about things like the destruction of our environment happening at just a massive industrial scale, maybe we didn't detect life elsewhere in the universe because the time that it takes to develop a civilization to the point where it can send a signal into space, and then the time that that civilization takes to destroy itself and the environment that the civilization lives in, maybe that amount of time just happens to be really small. Like by the time you get to broadcasting things into space mode, you're at a scale where you just end up killing yourselves. Then again, that sounds like the beginning of a different episode of this podcast entirely. If anyone knows an expert on that, I'm all ears. It might be a really interesting, if not a little bit of kind of a crazy interesting conversation.
[01:18:00] Links to all things Ian Bremmer will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos are up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. I've said it once, I'll say it again. Please consider supporting those who support this show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. I love talking with most of you there.
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[01:18:44] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's interested in world affairs, interested in the relations between China and the United States, definitely share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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