The Atlantic Council of the United States
Will the East Dominate the West in the 21st Century?
Welcome and Moderator:
Director, Asia Program and Strategic Foresight Project,
The Atlantic Council
Professor of History,
U.S. National Intelligence Council
Director, Smart Strategy Initiative,
The New America Foundation
Location: Washington, D.C.
Time: 11:00 a.m. EDT
Date: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Federal News Service
BANNING GARRETT: Anyway. Well, listen, I’d like to welcome everybody here to this joint event with the New America Foundation, Atlantic Council. And I’m really pleased about this event. I’ll explain that in a minute, but this is really unusual and a really great honor and privilege for me.
And I’d like to start by saying, first of all, we have bios for all the participants, so I won’t go into great length about people’s background in this introduction. I urge you to do that. And our format is, Ian’s going to talk for maybe 20 minutes or so and then Matt (sp), and then Patrick will comment.
Just a kind of introduction here – I mean, this is an extraordinary gathering of people who are trying to understand (a ?) foresight about the future. I guess I should introduce myself too. I’m Banning Garrett, director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative and the Asia Program at the Atlantic Council. So I’m – been very involved with working with Matt (sp) and the National Intelligence Council on global trends for about six years. And so that’s – this is one of the reasons I’m so excited about this event, because you have three people here who are really looking to the – try to understand the future and how do we even analyze it, what tools do we use.
Patrick Doherty on the left there, who I want to thank for helping to arrange this thing – and he’s bold and daring because he had the flu yesterday; he was on his back and managed to drag himself in here – so thank you very much, Patrick, for joining us. And he is the director of the Smart Strategy Initiative within the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He is preparing a pathbreaking report on – it is pathbreaking, Patrick; don’t be too modest – (laughter) – on – really trying to develop a U.S. grand strategy. And it addresses a lot of the issues that we’ll be talking about today, and I hope you will comment more on that.
And Matt (sp) Burrows is counselor at the National Intelligence Council, was the principal drafter of the NIC Global Trends 2020 Report and transformed – or that was the, you know, “Mapping the Global Future”; and then the 2025 report, world – “A Transformed World” came out in 2008; and the Global Governance 2025, which was done jointly with the EU Institute of Strategic Studies – Security Studies, excuse me – 2025. And we had the great pleasure of working with Matt and taking him around the world to produce the 2025 reports –both of them. So this has been, you know, quite extraordinary. He’s now working on the Global Trends 2030 Report, which will be released right after the presidential elections. These reports are always released after the presidential election to provide guidance to the new administration and perhaps to not be seen as partisan, because you know – (inaudible) – win the election. So this 2030 report will be out in November 2012.
And one more point here is that, like Ian, Matt (sp) is a – is an historian; in this case, with a Ph.D. from Cambridge. And I think it’s rather indicative – it takes an historian to look at the future, so I think there’s something to be said there.
So I’m especially pleased that – and honored to have with us today a historian and archaeologist, Stanford professor Ian Morris, and author of this bestselling work, “Why the West Rules – for Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future,” which is really amazing. And it’s gotten rave reviews. We have some of them that we’ve printed for you from The Economist and Niall Ferguson. And I gather Ian is working out a book with Niall. And it compares the East and West across the last 15,000 years – just a small time frame there – arguing that physical geography rather than culture, religion, politics, genetics or great leaders explain Western domination of the globe. “Why the West Rules” also looks forward nearly 100 years, drawing on the lessons of – and trajectory of historical development. Professor Morris argues the next 40 years will be the most important in history, based on his assessment that either we will soon – and – (inaudible) – “soon” means perhaps before 2050 – you get a transformation even more profound than the industrial revolution or we will stagger into a collapse like no other. And perhaps Ian will even give a brief glimpse a little farther into the future like 25,000 years. (Laughter.)
So before I turn it to you, Ian, I just want to thank – (name inaudible) – works with me and helped arrange this. And where is – (inaudible) – so people – and another thing – I don’t know who else at the – (inaudible) – New America Foundation, but there were a lot of staff people who helped put this together, and I certainly want to thank them.
So, please, Ian.
IAN MORRIS: Well, thank you. And thank you, Banning, for inviting me to come here today and speak. And thanks again to everybody who organized it and made it possible and to all of you for coming out on such a beautiful, warm morning. Yeah, it’s a little – I mean, we – it gets hot in California, but it’s just not like this. I don’t know how you all cope.
But anyway, here I am, so thank you very much for coming out.
Could we have the next picture, please?
MR. GARRET: I think you have to – you make –
MR. MORRIS: Oh, I – is this – oh, I think I was told – (inaudible) – got to ask for pictures.
MR. GARRET: This is the (commercial ?).
MR. MORRIS: (Chuckles.) OK. So yes – so here – I wrote this book that Banning was just telling you about. It came out last year. Now, my background – like he mentioned, my background – I’m a historian and archaeologist. I’m – my training was working in ancient Greece and the Mediterranean basin. So in a lot of ways, you’re very distant from some of the things we’re talking about today, but one of the reasons I got interested in this – the questions in the title of the book, you know, why the West rules, is that this has been fundamental to these fields that I came out of, the classical studies field.
About 200 years ago, this new idea started bubbling up in intellectual circles of Europe, this new idea that Europeans were finding that they were beginning to be able to project their power around the world in ways they’d never been able to do before. And they asked themselves, you know, how does this happen?
So the idea that started to bubble up was that – if you look back two-and-a-half thousand years – next one – to the time of ancient Greece, a unique culture, unique civilization gets invented in ancient Greece, the idea was. This unique civilization then gets picked up by the Romans. And Romans spread it around Europe, dispersing it out to all these people. It’s passed down through the Renaissance, the Reformation and so on until you finally come to the pinnacle of civilization. This is the pinnacle of civilization, in case you were wondering. This is the town I was born in, taken in the month I was born. And it’s kind of hard to tell much through the smog, but I believe the hospital I was born in is just off the picture to the left – so the pinnacle there. Of course I jest.
Could we have the next one?
Here is the pinnacle of civilization. (Laughter.) So this is the theory. Anyway, this theory gets very popular starting in the 18th century. And sort of the implication of this theory is that there’s something unique about Western European culture and because of this, your Western domination of the world is sort of locked in for the long run because of its unique culture.
Now – I’m sure many of you will notice – this theory kind of broke down in the course of the 20th century, basically as we got to know more and more about the history of the world. It just seemed less and less plausible. And in recent years, especially starting in the 1990s, there’s been huge debates about what exactly accounts for the domination of the world by, you know, a relatively small part of the world, nations clustered around the north Atlantic? Why is it in the last couple of hundred years, they’ve gone on to dominate so much of the planet? And the recent rather angry debates about this among historians have been driven – I think pretty clearly driven by the economic explosion of China since the 1990s. This has very much been the motive behind this.
So I’ve been interested in these debates for quite a while and have been reading these things, but I found it hard to avoid the impression that a lot of the time, the experts involved in the discussions were really talking past to one another. They were defining terms in different ways, focusing on different things and just not really coming to grips. So it seemed to me that what we need if we’re going to make any progress on, you know, explaining in a long-term way the rise of Western dominance, we need some way to get everybody looking at the same set of problems.
So I felt – you know, looking at the evidence available, I felt that the debate that was going on was really about what in the book I call “social development.” And what I mean by that is basically just the ability of societies to get things done in the world, for groups of people to impose their will on the world and extract stuff from it, get other people to do what they say. What we needed was a way, a simple numerical way, to measure this social development. And this was what the debate was largely about, the people who felt that Western dominance had been locked in deep in the distant past – they were saying that the West had had more of this social development than other parts of the world for a long time. Other people are saying, well, it’s just some kind of accident or something that the West became dominant. They were saying, no, the West hasn’t had more of this social development.
We needed a way to get people looking at the same kinds of things. And so the debates could be made – I mean, not necessarily more objective but certainly more explicit.
So I dreamed up an index of social development and measure social development across the 15,000 years since the end of the Ice Age. And that kept me busy for a couple of years doing that. And a lot of – a lot of assumptions and methodological steps involved in doing this – they’re all controversial. I would – could happily talk all day about this. So, if you have a lot of time to spare, please feel free to ask me, and I would go on and on about it. But I won’t do that right now.
So what I did was come up with this index to try to measure social development across the last 15,000 years since the end of the Ice Age. And what I came up with was – could I have the next picture – this graph – the whole of history is embodied in this graph. And everybody chuckles when I show them my graph that I spent so long on. (Laughter.) I think – you know, it’s fairly obviously to look at this graph and say, what on earth is going on here? We can’t see anything in this graph.
What we’re looking at here across the bottom chronology, 14,000 B.C. to – I come up to 2000 A.D., this convenient, round number – on the vertical axis, on my index of social development – and as I said, I’d be happy to talk about what exactly I mean by all these things after if people want to ask about it, but the – on the index, it’s theoretically possible to score up to a thousand points. And there’s only two lines on the graph. I took the story back to the end of the last Ice Age, because that’s the point at which we start to see really distinctive, regional ways of life emerging around the world. And I focus on just two regions in the world – again, you know, great definitional problems involved here, which I’m happy to talk about, but the Western and the Eastern regions, to test this idea that there’s been something unique about Western development, going back far into the past.
Just looking at two regions was enough to test this, though of course you could make a much richer and complex story by looking at the entire planet. But so what this graph shows you is the Western and Eastern social development scores since the end of the Ice Age. You can’t see a lot in this picture. For – the main reason for that is that the scores go so high starting in the last couple of hundred years, starting around 1800; they goes so high, up over 900 points, that to get the 900 points on the graph, of course, you’ve got to squish everything down on the vertical axis. So, all the earlier periods become kind of indistinguishable.
Can we have the next picture?
This shows you exactly the same data but simply cutting off the score for the year 2000. So now we’ve just pulled everything up so you can see what’s going on in earlier periods. And there’s a bunch of interesting stuff going on, but to keep it quick, the main three things I would say that are interesting and important that we see in this graph is first that the Western score, the blue line, has been higher than the score in any other part of the world for 90 percent of the time since the end of the Ice Age. Second point I would make is that the Western score there has not been higher all the time, as is very clear here between about roughly 550 and 1750 A.D., over the right-hand side of the graph, where you can see the red line is clearly much higher; the Eastern line much higher than the Western.
And then the very right-hand side of the graph what we see – just starting on this one because we cut off the score for the year 2000 – this enormous explosion in score since roughly the year 1750 or so.
Now, to appreciate all the full pleasure and joy of my graphs, you will of course need to buy the book and read it carefully from cover to cover. But since we don’t have time for me to do that today, I just want to wrap up by drawing out sort of four points, four things which I think are interesting about the data that I gathered and what I thought it said to me about this.
The first – the main thing I do in this book is basically talk a little bit about this quantitative approach and then try to explain the patterns that I found. So the bulk of the book is trying to figure out the explanation. And the explanation for the patterns we see, I suggest, like Banning mentioned in the introduction, is that the real driver here is geography, that one of the things that’s become very, very clear in the last 50 years or so from the contributions particularly of genetics and archaeology is that people really are much the same all over the world. There continue to be some people who say this is not the case, but the differences, the biological differences between the animal from one part of the world to another are really very, very superficial and small. The people are all much the same everywhere.
Another thing we’ve learned from archaeology and comparative history over the last 50 years or so – become very clear – societies develop along much the same paths all over the world, from hunter-gathering stages to farming stages, to industrial stages and post-industrial. It’s been broadly the same path all over the world. So the people are much the same; the patterns of development are all much the same.
The big difference is geography. This is what makes social development rise much faster in some places than others. This is sort of the main argument I try to make in the book. The reason there’s such a long – because obviously I can’t say that fairly quickly: geography – that’s the answer – the reason it’s such a long book is that geography, I suggest, is kind of a messy process. It’s like a two-way street. On one hand, geography drives social development. Where you live in the world determines how that society is going to perform. But at the same time, social development determines what geography means. So as social development changes, the meaning of the physical environment that you live in changes with it.
And just, you know, one quick, rather obvious example – could I have the next picture – and since this is the – oh – (inaudible) – next one after that – since this is the Atlantic Council, we have to have at least one picture of the Atlantic Ocean, I felt. And the Atlantic Ocean is the classic example of the interaction between geography and social development. Through most of human history up until about the year 1400 A.D. or C.E., the Atlantic is basically a barrier. It’s a barrier between the Old World and the New World. It is occasionally crossed, but very, very rarely. The societies that exist, the levels of maritime technology they’ve got are such that the Atlantic is a barrier.
Rapidly after about the year 1400, the Atlantic is transformed from a barrier into a highway, as new kinds of societies develop in Europe, new kinds of technologies develop to allow you to zip around the Atlantic. And this map shows you the classic triangular trades that historians love to talk about in the 17th and 18th century, Europeans being able to realize profits in West Africa, Western Europe and North America and the Caribbean, by moving goods between them. The Atlantic, because of the technologies and the kinds of societies that appear, the Atlantic becomes a kind of Goldilocks ocean: just the right size. It’s big enough that there are serious differences between the continents that abut it, small enough that 17th and 18th century ships can reliably zip around it. The meaning of geography gets transformed. And that goes on to transform everything else about social development as well, constant back and forth.
In the same kind of way, I would say, the meaning of the Pacific Ocean has been transformed since about 1850, and particularly, I think, since the mid-20th century on. The Pacific, again, has gone from being a barrier to being a highway. So there’s constant back-and-forth between geography and social development. That, I would say, is the major motor driving human history.
So that, again, is kind of the first big conclusion I make in the book. Having drawn this conclusion – I mean, if that is vaguely correct that geography is the major motor driving things forward, if this is sort of a reasonable approximation of the shape of history, it seems to me that the next thing we could do, the second of the points I’d like to make is that we can project these trends forward, perhaps. Can we have the next picture please?
This is just – in this graph, I’ve taken the social development scores of the 20th century in the Eastern and Western areas, the rate of increase across the 20th century and simply projected them forward in a linear way across the 21st century. So if the same rates of change continue, what will happen in the 21st century? Obviously these assumptions – I looked at all kinds of obvious challenges. No particular reason to assume 21st century change will be at the same rate at 20th; lots of reasons to assume it won’t. But if it were to be at the same rate as in the 20th century, what we see here is the Eastern line, the red line, catching up with the Western line, the blue line, in the year 2103.
Now, I like a nice, precise prediction. I was always told, if you’re going to predict, make it precise and make it come true after you’re dead. (Laughter.) So 2103. Now – and obviously there’s lots of good reasons to think that’s sort of silly to pluck out a specific number, but the implication of the patterns of history seem to be that we should expect the gap between Western and Eastern development to close across the course of the 21st century if the conclusion that geography is the thing in the driving seat is broadly true.
We should also suspect that this is a process that we cannot control; the active decisions of human beings are unlikely to change this general, broad pattern. So things like revaluing the renminbi or finally figuring out how to raise the debt ceiling or what happens to the euro – these are not going to change this outcome. These are symptoms of what’s happening rather than the causes. Now, of course, you might well point out that if you get sick from some disease, it’s the symptoms that kill you, not the causes. And that may well turn out to be the case. But I think the second point that I would draw out from the work I’ve been doing is that we should expect the 21st century to see Western lead eroding. And this is going to be something that’s driven by forces which are very, very difficult for human beings to control.
The third observation I’d want to make, going to this graph again – I’ve been talking so far about basically what happens on the bottom axis. On the year 2103 in the chronological timeline, we see the lines cross. The third point is about what happens on the vertical axis, the point in which the lines cross is at about 5,000 points on my social development index. Social development on this index has risen by about 900 points between the end of the Ice Age and now.
The implication of continuing change just at 20th century rates is that we should expect to see four times as much change in the 21st century as in the whole of human history since the end of the Ice Age. That – again, that’s probably a conservative estimate, because all the indications in the 11 years we’ve had since the 20th century ended are, of course, that the rate of change is accelerating.
So if this were to come to pass, what would a world at 5,000 points look like? Well, I think it’s – I don’t think it’s a cop-out to say, “I cannot begin to imagine what a world at 5,000 points would look like.” I mean, one of the nice things about this new – (inaudible) – index is it does allow you to just sort of quintuple everything, basically, and say, “Wow, five times a day – boy, that’s a lot of stuff.” (Chuckles.) And I think some of the – the implication of this is that some of the – of what seem on the face of it to be rather wild predictions that get made by futurists, and I mean particularly the technological futurists.
I talk in my book a bit about some of Ray Kurzweil’s suggestions. Some of these are really not so wild. If we end up in a world of 5,000 points, the idea that humanity is going to be transformed completely in the coming century is not so wild – the idea that we might merge with our machines, that carbon-based life forms will merge with silicon-based forms of existence that you may or may not want to call life – these things start to seem really not so wild.
OK, last point (on ?) – a fourth point I want to make. Could – (queue up ?) the next slide, please. This is, again, going back to this picture from the Ice Age to the year 1900, so we can see the shape of the curves in a bit more detail. When we look back at these earlier periods, there’s been periods of where the rate of change of social development has accelerated sharply, where the numbers are – sort of zipped up.
Often, though, as you see just looking at the graph, when there’s a period of zipping up numbers, this is often followed by stagnation and then even a decline, like a social collapse – Dark Ages of various kinds set in. This is something I’ve been very interested in, in my own academic research, even before I started writing this book. And what I found looking at the periods when you got really big collapses in social development, the same set of factors is involved every single time.
Can we have the next slide? What – in my book, an attempt to be dramatic, I call it the “five horsemen of the Apocalypse.” You will always get periods of massive – really, really massive, uncontrollable population movements. You get great increases in epidemic disease, often tightly connected to the population movements. Often, these diseases come from the merging of previously distinct disease pools, creating new mutations that nobody’s had to encounter before. Basically, everybody becomes an epidemiological virgin, as the historians like to call them – completely vulnerable to all these new diseases.
They are always accompanied by the collapse and failure of state systems – it just cannot cope with these new forces; always accompanied by massive famines. Because even though ancient writers like – (inaudible) – like to complain about the inefficiencies and corruption of the bureaucracy in the state they live in, these states did get stuff done: food got moved around; people got fed. That stops when these states collapse.
And then, finally, they are always involved – yet a very complicated relationship was always entangled with climate change. Now, you obviously – I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that these are five of the major forces that people worry about in the world we live in today. And it seems to me that the implication of the history I looked at is that we may be moving toward a world of 5,000 points, but there’s no guarantee of that. We may be moving toward a collapse like the many social collapses that have happened before, but a collapse on a whole new scale.
Could I have the next picture?
For the obvious reason – that the kind of forces that allow you to move toward 5,000 points allow you to destroy things in a way no one has ever been able to do before. One of the claims I make in my book is that throughout history, great men and great women have never had as much importance in history as they like to think that they have. That has changed; we now have a small number of people who decided to destroy all life on the planet.
Since – I mean, perhaps not since 1945, but certainly since the 1970s, there’s been enough nuclear weapons out there to kill everything. There’s a lot less nuclear weapons now than there were 25 years ago; there’s still enough to pretty much wipe us out.
This is, by the way, a picture of the biggest above-ground nuclear explosion in history, a Soviet nuclear test in 1961. But that’s kind of depressing, so could we have the next picture, please, and move on quickly from there?
OK, so – (inaudible) – conclusion, then: I think that the 21st century – in some ways, that what’s going to happen in the 21st century is going to be like all previous human history; the same kinds of paths and forces will continue. But at the same time, it’s kind of not going to be like previous history – the scale and speed of the forces is so much bigger than ever before, and the scale and the speed of change is just accelerating.
One of the conclusions I came to at the end of the book, which my editor – (chuckles) – was actually slightly uncomfortable with, (was ?) my self-defeating conclusion: Write a – you write a book on why the West rules for now, and comes to the conclusion at the end that actually, maybe this whole thing about East and West, that really isn’t very important anymore, frankly. It doesn’t matter that much what the outcome – it doesn’t matter sort of when these lines cross. What really matters is the numbers at which they cross.
And so I suggest at the end of the book that the East-West thing may not be the most important part of what’s going on. The change in the balance of power around the world is being driven by forces that we largely cannot control, as it always has been throughout history – largely beyond our control.
But having said that, they’re not completely unmanageable forces, just as – again, you’re going back in history – (inaudible) – see this happening again and again, there are things that can be done to manage and shape the way the transformations happen.
But perhaps the big thing, I think, is that the 21st century is a kind of race, and not a race between East and West the way we often tend to think of it, but between the transformation of humanity into something that we would currently find it very difficult even to imagine – and a disaster that will strike us all down permanently.
So, well, there you have it. There, I’ll stop and – (chuckles).
MR. GARRETT: A cheery view. (Laughter.)
MR. DOHERTY (?): He’s really an optimist – (inaudible, cross talk).
MR. MORRIS: It’s all – it’s all –
MR. DOHERTY (?): He’s really – (inaudible, cross talk).
MR. MORRIS: It’s all going to be fine. Everything’s going to be fine.
MR. GARRETT: It’s all going to work out fine. We’ll avoid the five horsemen; we’ll keep them all locked up and – and we’re doing so well on that right now.
Matt (sp), would you like to comment?
MATHEW BURROWS: Well, Ian, as ever, I mean, it’s a real delight to engage in this, and particularly in a town that is so immersed in the deficit that you wouldn’t think that there’s life after the deficit – I mean, that we’re living this day to day. And so it’s useful, and certainly for, I think, even for those who have to work in the day-to-day world to think about the bigger problems and the bigger issues. So I thank you first for raising those.
The second thing I – from my perspective that has been extremely useful in your – in the book and also your presentation is really questioning the assumption that I think a lot of Americans and a lot of Westerners have, and that this is some innate superiority that is based upon the Greco-Roman legacy. And I think that gets translated – you know, if you’re in the U.S., it’s into American exceptionalism – is a variant of that. There are other – we talked, you know, last night and the day before – in the 19th century, it’s British imperialism that – in some ways, that legacy is the one that marks us off.
And I would say that even though we may snicker about, you know, 19th-century versions of it, you know, currently we’re debating whether China has the capacity for innovation that we do. And you find a lot of Americans looking forward – you know, finding some solance (ph) in the – in the fact that, no, they couldn’t possibly because they don’t have this legacy from the Renaissance, the individualism, and so on. Questioning that, I think, is extremely useful and something that when we are doing our work on forecasting, that we’re looking out.
The second thing I would draw attention to is your work on global challenges and how you conceptualize those as being the drivers for, really, social development and progress. And I think – you know, involved in that, how you set that up, is also the idea that in some ways governance is a lagging indicator that catches up. And from my own work, looking forward, you know, even a short 15, 20 years, it seems to me that that’s one of the crucial challenges that we face – is to – is to bring governance up in line with what we see as increasing global challenges, and in a world where East is probably catching up with West, and that you have – the old great powers don’t have quite the capacity that they did.
And I think, again, for me, that that’s going to be the pivotal issue. And it’s governance broadly defined: so it’s governance on how you – how the cyberworld is going to develop; what kind of controls, you know, can be state but also can be non-state; how – and I think as you alluded to with the fact that individual small groups can have as much lethal force now as some states do, that that’s even a more important issue, if not a quandary of how to regulate that, of how to make sure that it’s – that the end result is positive and not negative.
And then the final thing that I’d like to draw everybody(‘s) attention to is the concept of geography. And I think, you know, for me, that – I mean, you’ve explained with the Atlantic, the Pacific and so on – those are physical barriers, and then – that were turned into, really, pluses, particularly in the Atlantic case for Britain and France and so on.
But we appear to be in a world where those physical barriers are really taking second place now to, I’d say, a world where there is no essential barriers, and that in some ways – I guess this is a question for you – are we getting beyond geography, or is the geography, you know, the virtual – is it a virtual geography? But even there, I mean, we talk about a world shrinking; we talk about people being in constant communication, that those kind of barriers that geography represented are – no longer exist.
So I’ll leave that as a question mark, and maybe something that we can discuss a little bit more. And then, maybe Patrick wants to pick up the slack and pose some more issues and (perhaps ?) –
PATRICK DOHERTY: Sure. Well, thank you, Banning, and thank you again, Matt. Thanks to all of you for coming. I’m Patrick Doherty; I’m at the New America Foundation, as Banning mentioned.
My own, you know, question – actually, to pick up on what Matt (sp) was just saying – is whether or not we’re at a point where the challenges that we’re facing globally are becoming recognized globally. And are we at a point in terms of our global governance where we can potentially even change geography in a way – but not physical geography – as a way of solving the challenges? It’s about changing legal geography.
That right now, you know, as Ian mentioned in his – in his presentation, as he explains in the book, the Atlantic and the Pacific were real barriers, physical barriers to trade, to commerce, to exploration. Right now, the barriers that exist in the world today that shape our patterns of commerce, our social development are more likely legal barriers. They’re state-based barriers. Sometimes those barriers can be useful; sometimes they can be detrimental.
What my question is, is as we engage this – kind of this period, I think, of four great challenges – of rapid economic inclusion and bringing 4 billion people into the formal sector of the global economy; ecological depletion; the sustainability challenge – not only the climate change, but so much more; kind of increasing middle-class challenges and recessions – stagnant growth; and the problem of resilience, the problem of very brittle infrastructure systems, supply chains that are vulnerable to capture, shock and disruption.
That – nations – great powers are coming to realize that those are the great challenges facing each country independently, and are therefore collective challenges. And what I would put out is whether or not there might be an opportunity to shape the legal geography of the international system in such a way as to address some of those challenges.
And the particular idea that we’re exploring at the New America Foundation is looking at whether a shift towards regional economic – continental-scale economic systems that are essentially creating redundant industrial ecosystems would allow – would shape global geography in such a way as to allow Africa to get on its own sustainable development path, to deal with the great global challenge of labor arbitrage created by these massive – billion-person pools of both China and India of low-skill, low-wage labor that are creating this race to the bottom.
Could we – recognizing that Europe is facing a real challenge to its regional idea right now as we speak – could we actually explore the idea of regionalism instead of this kind of very ill-executed global multilateralism that allows – that because of the GATT agreements allows developing countries – China and India – to protect their economies at will? Could we actually – is there – is part of the solution going to be shaping legal geography in a way that is strategic and in the interest of the great powers of the world? And I think that – and are we actually at a point where Ian’s narrative of history becomes a shared – could become a shared narrative of our history, allow us to increasingly get on the same page with our counterparts in Beijing, in Delhi, in Brussels, and move together forward on solving these great four problems with inclusion, depletion, recession and resilience?
And I – and I think – I think understanding the role of geography and understanding that we actually also have the ability to create permeable but legal, artificial barriers, could we actually harness that great force of geography in our – for the common good?
So I just leave that out on the table and turn it back over to Banning.
MR. GARRETT: OK, well, I’ll take the prerogative – (laughter) – (of ?) asking a question, following on the leadership of Jack Janes, who always takes that prerogative to ask the first question. But I think that all this kind of comes down to question of leadership. I mean, if you look at the – I share your deep concern that, as I put it, we’re sort of headed to the cliff as a civilization. And I’d like to say we won’t go over the cliff because nobody saw the cliff. If, you know, the experts are all telling you, you included – and Matt (sp) – there’s some real challenges out there – resource depletion, climate change and – (inaudible) – they’re all this.
So we know what the challenges are, but you know, so far we don’t really seem to be as a civilization or as a nation here, or a unity of – (inaudible) – the U.S., Europe and China kind of confronting this and saying, “Hey, we’ve got to change course; let’s find ways, whether it’s” – part of it is the legal geography question that’s raised by Patrick.
But I mean, if we’re going to avoid the collapse, the nightfall, and have this – reach the singularity, that’s going to take leadership. That’s going to take a lot of decisions, a lot of hard choices, a lot of special interests that are going to be – not have their will realized.
And I wonder how that is going to happen, and so I pose that question because I – my tendency is to think that we’re going to need a great crisis before people pull together. We saw it in 2008 with the financial crisis that – it wasn’t even a given; there was a lot of centrifugal forces pulling us apart. But actually, China and the United States especially pulled together, coordinated, and we got through that without a – what could have been a really terrible depression. But the challenges that we face going forward are much greater – I mean, the five horsemen that are – should we say, they’re running wild.
And so how do you think the – you know, civilization based on history, which you’ve (read ?) – you know, even though these forces are greater than any individual – and you point out now that leaders can make a difference in, you know, pushing the button and setting off the Holocaust. But how do we take the other side of it? What’s at work, and what forces might drive us to actually choosing to change course in a way that we avoid the collapse and we find the way to this nirvana of the – (inaudible) – a great singularity? (Self-titled ?) – (laughter).
MR. MORRIS: Well – (chuckles) – you have a great question, and great comments. Thank you very much for the very interesting suggestions and – yeah, I mean, I guess if I knew the answer to your question, I would have sort of mentioned – (inaudible, laughter) – by now, and the government would have sorted itself out, and we would be having – (chuckles) – probably very different conversation.
But yeah, I think – I mean, there’s some – at least sort of interesting ways to think about the question that you’re raising, you know, by looking at what has already happened in the past. And I think there’s sort of, you know, two ways – like a happy way and a not-so-happy way – to think about the previous examples of these sorts of challenges.
And I mean, it seems to me that, you know, most of the big things that have happened in history have been where people have been responding to a very concrete, very real challenge. And that’s sort of driven things, people have found ways to resolve their problems, move forward in all kinds of ways. And, you know, the record of human ingenuity and ability to work together to solve problems is fairly amazing. Humans have accomplished amazing things. So that’s all great. And, you know, we should all go home and feel good about this.
But having said that, when you – when you look at, over the – sort of the long stretch of what’s going on in some ways, in a kind of abstract level, you can see that the kind of problems we’re facing now are similar to problems that people have faced over and over again in the past, which is why I think it makes sense to talk about something like the five horseman of the apocalypse that recur in different forms again and again and again.
I mean, if you go back, say, right to the end of the Ice Age, there’s a world of hunter-gathers, the population grows as the world warms up, more food becomes available. Population outruns the food supply. A solution is found is shifting from hunting and gathering wild foods to domesticating plants and animals – releases much larger supplies of food.
Enormous changes have to be made to make that happen. People have to learn to live together in permanent, sedentary villages. Whereas a hunter-gather band might be dozen – couple dozen people moving around the countryside meeting up with other bands on occasion, now you’ve got hundreds of people living in one village all the time. You’ve got to completely overhaul social organization. Hierarchy begins to get much more important; gender relations change enormously – everything changes. But people figured it out. So they did it.
And if you sort of fast forward through the rest of history, crisis comes up. When village-level organizations can no longer cope – again, population one of the big drivers – they figure out state-level organizations with permanent, centralized governments; these turn themselves to larger empires; and on it goes. People keep finding solutions.
But what – we were talking – this – about this a little bit yesterday. I mean, it seems to me that the way the process has always worked has been a little bit like Darwinian biological evolution. People generate random ideas – I mean, rather like mutations on genes – random ideas about how to solve problems. Some of these ideas are terrible. The people who follow these ideas – rapidly their group moves into extinction, basically it goes out of business.
Some of the ideas are good, but because of the complexities of the way societies work they don’t get taken up. The people fail to adapt. They go out of business too. Some of the ideas are good and they get taken up and acted upon, in which case people find solutions to their problems and move forward. In the past, there’s always been hundreds of thousands or millions of separate groups of people trying to respond to these crises.
And, say, in the first millennium B.C., empire-states getting bigger and more complex. The old way of organizing these societies isn’t working anymore. Some societies – probably the first in the world is the Assyrian empire in Southwest Asia – they figure out a new way to organize states. It becomes very successful. Some of their neighbors are a little bit slower moving toward the new model, either because they don’t think of it; they don’t like it or whatever. The Assyrians stab them all and enslave them. Things didn’t turn out so well for them.
But – I mean, rather callously – but to take in here the large picture, long term – it doesn’t really matter that some of the other groups failed to adapt because there were so many experiments going on, so much diversity out there that some people do find a solution. I think we might say the way things are different now from all previous human history is that in a way we’re ironing out the diversity as the whole planet begins to integrate into a single system.
It’s like if we mess up and fail to resolve some of the big problems that are facing us, there isn’t a plan B. I mean, there isn’t another experiment being run off in some other parts of the world that’s not affected by our choices. So if we completely mess up and it turns out that the direst predictions of climate change are correct, we do nothing about it and the world sort of starts to melt in 40 or 50 years or something – well, hey, that’s just too bad. And there is not going to be a rerun of that experiment.
So that’s why I say, sort of, you know, in some ways what we’re doing is just the same process that’s been going on for thousands of years and there are many reasons to be optimistic. In other ways, I think everything has become so much more worrying as we moved progressively toward a one-shot deal on all of these things. So this is like everything else in my book; there’s a happy face and a not-so-happy face.
MR. GARRETT: Well, maybe Matt (sp) could comment on that from the sort of leadership, governance question. I don’t know. (Chuckles.) Not to put you on the spot –
MR. BURROWS: Well, yeah, I mean, I think Ian actually is posing a far larger question, which you talked about a little bit before – is that some of this is not contingent. I mean, in some ways you have grand plan here. At the same time, I mean, that – certainly, the deficiencies – you know, either they are somehow through this broader social organization and they are the gaps filled in or as you say the stakes are so high that failure here is going to propel us into a much steeper decline than we have seen before.
I mean, I’m not – I guess I’m not quite as deterministic in – I mean, I do – and maybe that’s because I’m looking at – you know, we’re looking at 15, 20 year segments so this is a very small period. But what I do agree with you – I mean, I guess what I would worry about, and this allied to the leadership question, is not so much just political leadership but it’s what I said earlier – is you have small number of individuals or individuals themselves who have – they have access now to really lethal technologies. And that is something new that we haven’t seen. And that is something that certainly bothers a lot of us, even though we’re – we can be optimistic.
But those people – some of them you don’t have the deterrence over. I mean, the – and I’m not sure how you get that deterrence.
MR. GARRETT: That’s right.
MR. BURROWS: I mean, we know – and at the state case – I mean, how states want to survive – so in a sense you have mutual destruction kind of proviso. But I’m not sure how we do that on –
MR. GARRETT: It’s hard to deter a suicide bomber.
MR. : Yeah.
MR. : Yeah.
MR. GARRETT: Jack?
Q: Can I ask a question about the European Union in the sense that you have 450 million people that are trying to put together – (off mic) – in way they just need to sense this outrage – (inaudible). And I wondered if you could tell whether or not that’s a benchmark or where do we see it not being a benchmark? (Inaudible) – how Europe’s going to groups can – (inaudible). So I think I would be interested to know how you see that, particularly your segment on the world population trying to deal with the problems – (inaudible) – even though they’re an island amidst a sea of – (inaudible) –
MR. GARRETT: Everybody, please identify yourself and your affiliation when you ask a question. That’s Jack Janes, the president of the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies.
MR. MORRIS: Yeah. Good question. And of course there’s a lot of people in this room who know a lot more about the European Union than I do. So this will probably – (chuckles) – sound very naïve, I’m sure. But I think, you know, in some ways the European Union – it’s just – it’s a fascinating experiment in what might be possible – the ability to move beyond the nation-state framework. And the European Union has accomplished things which – if people a hundred years ago had been told that this is what Europe is going to look like in 2011, they wouldn’t have believed it. I mean, it’s just – it’s extraordinary the changes that have been wrought.
On the other hand, I think, there are very specific things about the case of the European Union. I think, you know, it’s easy to forget that the European Union starts getting formed very much in the context of the Cold War under the American military umbrella and in the context of the confrontation with the Soviet Union. And, you know, states – partly from the experience of just coming out of World War II, party from the experience of having to face up to the Soviet Union – states, I think, their leaders were more willing to think about compromising sovereignty than leaders in many parts of the world are willing to do.
And they’ve – you know, they’ve managed to keep that going really well. And my feeling is that it’s just an obvious thing for the Europeans to be doing is moving toward a much more integrated unit. Whether that’s something, though, that can be replicated around the world – you know, the conditions are just so different. And, like, in Europe a lot of people are constantly, you know, whinging (ph) about Americans – about how Americans don’t want to compromise their sovereignty over anything and what’s wrong with Americans. Well, you know, what’s wrong – these people are terrible people.
But because the attitudes you see expressed in the American press, they are – what politicians say – they are strikingly like what Europeans were saying a century ago. And, you know, nobody thought – in Britain a hundred years ago, nobody for a moment thought the British Empire would start compromising its own sovereignty. Why on earth would it? It’s the greatest power in the world, except maybe for Germany and the United States. But the Brits thought they were the greatest power in the world. And the British became much more willing – well, they’re still not super willing – to compromise on their sovereignty when that changed.
So I think these things are very context dependent. I think the EU path, to my mind – you know, in spite of its current problems – has worked tremendously well in that context. Whether that is repeatable somewhere else, I don’t know. I suspect not. But it would have to be a very different set of mechanisms used.
But I think that one of the things that I suspect most of us would agree on is that the kind of problems we’re facing now – clearly we are dealing with problems that are very difficult for single nation-states, no matter how powerful, to really solve these problems. And so there’s got to be some sort of mechanism allowing us to act together – both in the larger multistate scale and on a smaller, below the state-level scale.
MR. GARRETT: Matt (sp) or Patrick, do you want to comment on that?
MR. BURROWS (?): I think we – you got a lot of questions out there.
MR. GARRETT: Yeah, sure, please.
MR. BURROWS (?): Why don’t you –
Q: I’m Jim Burnside (ph). I’m with an economic development group that’s working in Pakistan. I come to these meetings frequently to try to get my thinking straightened out. And I’d like to just throw a few things at you just to – trying to be provocative.
So I just finished on Sunday watching the Women’s World Cup, OK, and there were a bunch of women kicking a ball around completing on the field. And then there were four or five people like yourself on the television screen opining about the game, OK? So they were spectators and they had no influence on the players on the field. They just had all sorts of expert opinion about the game.
So my first point is that you gentlemen are experts, each in your own way. And I would posit the notion that there is an explosion of experts in the world with the Internet and that the problem that experts have is they’re spectators and not participants. And the world increasingly, in the body politic, doesn’t listen to experts. God know, I know I’ve talked to enough political leaders and experts to know that they’re as frustrated as all of us are that the world doesn’t seem to be going the way we want it to go.
So my first question is how do the four of you, as experts who think that you going to write reports and advise presidents, how in the world do you really think you’re going to get involved in the game instead of commenting – being a commentator on the game? That’s the first thing.
Second thing is, I’d like to sort of position the game in very sharp, existential terms. The United States is entering into a period of geographic aridness, not drought, of permanent dryness in the Southeast. Twenty million people losing their homes in Pakistan did not change the government, but it did change the world in a funny kind of way. Pakistan is running out of water. We are going to run out of energy. Just look at the paper this morning – the amount of energy that Mumbai needs to run air conditioners is 25 percent of the full supply of the world going forward.
So there are all these things happening which opining about isn’t going to change. So I guess my fundamental question to you four experts is what is your own personal game plan for getting on the field instead of being a spectator?
MR. GARRETT: (Laughter.) Who wants to start on that one? Patrick?
MR. DOHERTY: I’ll go for it.
MR. GARRETT: He’s got a game plan to get in the game.
MR. DOHERTY: Part of it is I think understanding the marketplace of ideas in Washington and how the marketplace of ideas in Washington works to either directly or indirectly influence decisions made by those people holding public office. The people holding public office generally are making decisions that are brought to them by their staffs. Their staffs come up with ideas based on talking amongst themselves and talking with experts out here about what to do. They also talk to people on the field: businessmen, people in business, military leaders, diplomats, other folks.
But new ideas are, A, necessary; and B, very difficult to get out of traditional organizations. So one of the things that at least our organization tries to do is generate – provide the space in which new and transformative ideas can be pulled together; can bring in – where we can bring an evidentiary basis to those ideas and then get them out to those decision makers in this town and in world capitals around the – around the country or leaders in industry or in commerce so that they can push those ideas into decision makers’ hands, they can take them at the right moment when either the crisis – either by crisis or by leadership there is an opportunity to make a change.
So that’s my theory of the game. That’s why we get paid to do what we do. And in – and when I look at it that way, at least – I’m outside government; Matt (sp) is in – we’re on the playing field just as much as anybody else. We’re just – we’re on the playing in business the same way McKinsey’s on the – we’re on the playing field of politics and political ideas in the same what that McKinsey’s on the playing field in business.
They’re having – we’re having an impact. It is sometimes indirect. Sometimes it is extraordinarily direct; as was the case with the Project for a New American Century in September of 2000, when a small group of public intellectuals came together with an idea that, hey, we – if we had a new Pearl Harbor it would be a great moment to attack Iraq. The idea was ready, the people were ready and the leadership was ready to (form ?) a new idea in the wake of 9/11.
So I sense that we’re not all just kind of spinning our wheels here in Washington. We’re working hard, we’ve got our own communication strategies; we’ve got our own influence strategies. And that’s – otherwise we would – I would – I would – I’d be an architect probably. So – but that’s – and I’ll stop on that question. If any of my colleagues want to answer it the Pakistan –
MR. GARRETT: Do you want to comment on that?
MR. BURROWS: Well, I mean, you know, I think the answer – I mean, I can say – I mean, we’re – you know, I’m part of the intelligence community. The intelligence community is sitting right there with the decision makers. So, I mean, in that sense we’re in the game. But I would actually – I think that’s a little parochial. And, I mean, if you – if you believe what Ian is saying about social development, which is really a Darwinian struggle to come up with a better idea, it’s not necessarily going to happen inside government during any period in that, you know, the groups that come up with the better idea – and they can be, you know, completely outside government, they can be in the think-tank world, they can be anywhere – that’s going to be the one that makes the difference.
So I guess I am, even though I practice inside government and you could say I am on the playing field, I would say that the – that the vitality of really – you know, this is what I would believe – Western society is that you do have the play of ideas openly and that there is the constant search for better ideas; and that in that in that sense that which you write on the universal playing field part of, you know, the commentary, opining and so on, is part of that process. They’re obviously times when you want less of the commentary – (laughter) – maybe than – and maybe it’s not always helpful. But I do believe that that’s the way forward.
MR. MORRIS: Yeah, well, I – since I wrote this book it’s a really interesting experience – the kinds of people who are interested in hearing about it. There’s a – I was invited yesterday to come and talk to the National Intelligence Council, which was really cool. As an ancient Greek historian I don’t normally spend a lot of my time doing that. And I found a lot of the interest has been from financial and military groups. And I guess I’ve just been really impressed with the seriousness with which people are looking for new ideas, and I say, in a way that makes me and my colleagues within universities look a little bit parochial.
That people are constantly dredging the ocean floor for new ideas. And they are willing even to listen to people like me to see if there’s anything useful – any useable in that. And I guess – I mean, you’re quite right about me sitting there like the commentators on the soccer match. I mean, the soccer commentators, of course, tend either to be people who are not very good at soccer or – (laughter) – who are broken-down former soccer players. If they went out on the fields – you wouldn’t them out there anymore.
And I remember once when we were digging in Italy, I was having dinner with one of the neighbors at the dig house and there’s a soccer game on. And this voice starts up that sounds sort of familiar. And I think, who’s the heck’s that? And I turn around and it’s Giulio Andreotti, the former prime minister – president – whichever one it was. But he’s currently – at that point he’s out of political life because he’s under trial for his involvement with the Mafia. But the former prime minister had been brought back to comment on the football match, with no apparent reason whatsoever – bizarre sort of thing.
But, I mean, I think, you know, there’s room for division of labor here. You wouldn’t want me trying to implement my policies in the world, believe me; that would not go very well with anybody.
But I’ve been very impressed with the seriousness with which people who actually are involved in making things happen are engaging with, you know, all manner of ideas regardless of where they come from.
MR. GARRETT: I’d add in here that one of my perhaps models is the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And I think it is actually rather extraordinary because here you several thousand scientists who are not policymakers and not actors and they’re not in that game – political game, but they come together – they come up with this report or series of reports that says, you know, Houston, we’ve got a problem; and by the way, nothing that you do about it today will make a damn bit of difference for 20 years, but if you don’t start acting today, in 20 years you’re going to have a big problem.
And, you know, we could look at the failure to really move forward on climate change mitigation as we – those who take it seriously think we need to, but the half-full side of the glass is that you actually brought 192 countries together that all agreed that we got a problem and we got to do something about it.
Now, fighting over what we do and all that is another story, but you really did influence public opinion and leadership on a big problem that’s far in the future in a sense that, in other words, what you do isn’t going to make much difference for quite a long time because anthropogenic climate change is already under way from what is in the atmosphere now, and we can only hope to mitigate it later.
But I think in terms of our work, one of the things we want to do is create a kind of global trends community. We had a – Matt (sp) and I and Carlos (sp) worked on it – a conference we had in May bringing together people from 80 countries – I mean, 19 – 80 people from about 19 countries, 17 think tanks around the world, World Bank, U.N., people from places like the Santa Fe Institute who are into complexity theory; a lot of government planners; a lot of people from the intelligence community – but all concerned to look at global trends out to 2030, and – whether it’s demographics, it’s resources, et cetera – but not only was it interesting to get people together and get their wisdom, but trying to form the basis of a community that will continue to work with each other, share ideas.
As we’ve gone around the world with the National Intelligence Council, we’ve stimulated others to do their own global trends work that’s being done at – 2030 study is being done in China. The Russians did one that was published recently. There are other people in other countries trying now to look at these long-term trends.
And our idea is that, let’s see if can find a global consensus on these trends. Can we sit down and agree? We got a real problem on, you know, food and water and natural resources, energy, state failure, all these issues. Do we see a kind of common set of challenges and threats out there that we can kind of agree what they are and we can say, well, we need to change course and here are some ideas on what we need to do; and then, like, the IPCC – get that out in front of the international community? It might then influence change and a change of course on a very big scale to defeat the five horsemen.
So that’s what we can do, perhaps, as intellectuals, because we’re not political leaders and you wouldn’t want me as a political leader either out there, I don’t think; and I don’t think I can stomach it, not in this town. But in any case, we have a role that is not necessarily inconsequential. There’s evidence that it’s made a difference in the past, as Patrick has suggested. And you do see – even like climate change, you’ve – you know, the military has produced reports on the national security implications of climate change, and so has the intelligence community. It’s a lot of work.
There’s a lot of very smart people in the U.S. government, for example, who are thinking – trying to think long term. It’s very hard. As one person we had at our conference who is involved with strategy at the Pentagon – he said, our long-term horizon right now is three days. But he was dealing with Libya. So, I mean, they’re pressed by events, but it doesn’t mean they don’t see the need to do this. But it’s very hard getting the political will in this town to just deal with the debt ceiling; it’s obviously becoming almost cataclysmically difficult. But in any case, so I think we need to –
Here – please?
Q: Hi. I’m Kim Ghattas with the BBC. I was wondering if you could answer the questions, really, about geography and whether geography was indeed no longer relevant and no longer a barrier and whether it was just turning a legal barrier. I mean, I assume that if you’re living in the Congo or North Korea, the barrier with the West is still enormous and very difficult to cross. I mean, if you’re – even in North Africa, you’re trying to get to Lampedusa, that barrier does not seem to be shrinking. And I don’t whether my perspective is very narrow or short-term or whether, for people who are not in the West, that barrier still remains. In fact, I almost feel as though perhaps the barriers are becoming even more insurmountable because, on some level, the West feels perhaps that its system is under attack and is trying to protect itself from the flood of refugees. And I was wondering if you could address that.
MR. MORRIS: Yes, yes, thank you, yeah.
Yeah, I think – I was showing graphs and stuff earlier and talking about a world of 5,000 points, and I – when you start thinking about what a world like that might look like, then the sword of geographical barriers that we’ve been used to for the whole of human history, really – it becomes very difficult to imagine how those could exist in anything like the form that we are currently used to in a world of that kind.
But the issue, of course, is that we are not in a world of that kind; we are in a world of this kind. And how do you get from A to B, because, you know, it’s very nice to talk about a world in which physical geographies simply cease to have meaning, and it’s very easy to find a lot of pointers indicating of just how much geography has changed its meanings in the last couple centuries – many pointers indicating that, yes, this does seem to be the trend toward a shrinking and flattening of the world, as some people like to put it – instantaneous, near instantaneous communication compared to people were used to for millennia – (inaudible) – travel. I mean, I don’t particularly enjoy getting in an airplane and schlepping back to California tonight, but compared to you getting in a wagon train, you know, this is pretty good.
But, that said, obviously, yeah, the geographical barriers in the world right now are enormous. And I think the physical and the legal and the economic geographies all sort of go together on this in that a lot of what we are talking about when imagining a world in which – arguing about whether, well, is the East on top or is the West on top; for that to become irrelevant, we obviously need to be dealing with the world not only where technology has made it that physical space is just less of a constraint than it ever was before but also one where the institutional space has been changed dramatically.
And again, obviously, the good news is that you look back over history; this has been done over and over again in the past that, you know, if we’d been having this conversation, say, 2,000 years ago – it’s – (inaudible) – strange thing to imagine, but if we had, we might have been sitting there – let’s say you’re in Italy or something having this conversation 2,000 years ago – you would worry very deeply about, as a Roman administrators in fact did, about some of the barriers in the East Mediterranean, the need to dissolve the barriers between these Hellenistic kingdoms that are making it possible for people to move food supplies around because of all the pirates that can flourish in the space. This was a very, very serious issue, and they resolved them. I mean resolved them by conquering everybody – (laughter) – but they did resolve these barriers; they did change things.
So – and people have done this over and over again through history, creating larger geographical units when circumstances created pressures that made this a good solution to problems. But – I mean, like I was saying earlier, this – it doesn’t always work out. There’s also plenty of examples where people failed to do this.
And so, I think, in a lot of ways, it seems to me the great problem is that, you know, it’s hardly news to anybody to say we’ve got all these challenges facing us which are operating on a global scale – the sort of things you were talking about: you know, moving people from chaotic, very poor areas, to wealthier parts of the world where often the wealthier parts of the world are – really, are crying out for immigrants to come and work there, but they won’t admit this and put every barrier they can imagine in the way of these people. How do you get from the institutions that we currently have, which really are the legacy of the 18th and 19th centuries? You know, the nation-states that we’re dealing with remain the most powerful institutions on earth, but they were created in the 18th and 19th centuries.
If we are going to move to a world of 5,000 points, it seems to me the place of the nation-state in the world is going to have to change dramatically. And whether that means some kind of world government, which is, you know, very difficult to imagine, or whether it means something entirely different, I think it’s very hard to say.
But, yes, I mean, the short – the short answer, yes. These are – the problems you identify, I think, are very real enormous ones. And it’s difficult to see how we’re going to succeed in changing our institutions to respond to them. But there have been plenty of times in the past – difficult to see how the Romans were going to do this. They found ways.
Q: Wally Walters, Project on National Security Reform.
The geography still has some limits, as NASA has obviously discovered, that it’s still very hard to go up.
MR. MORRIS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q: I’d like to take – I’d like to come to the question in the book of your last chapter, which I – I really enjoyed your book.
MR. MORRIS: Thank you.
Q: And my question, the alternative hypothesis that you could’ve taken by how you treated Rome – that they had hit a hard ceiling – you talk about hard ceiling in several – in several other points in the book.
MR. MORRIS: Yes.
Q: Yet you didn’t apply the construct of a hard ceiling to what’s possible in the 21st century and beyond. Yet there are many others who would say, be it resources, you know, we’re reaching the end the planet’s petri dish with the massive population, et cetera, that the real challenges are coming at a hard ceiling with institutions and systems that are going to crash because they don’t have that capacity to anticipate and adequately adapt. Did you consider that hypothesis? And if so, why did you reject it in favor of something that zooms off the 5,000 points? (Inaudible.)
MR. MORRIS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean – yeah, I – one of the images I use throughout the book is this idea that there are points at which development kind of gets trapped against this ceiling, which is very difficult to break through. And we see this, say, with – before the Industrial Revolution, the kind of organizations in the history of the world that raised social developments highest in the agrarian world had been these empires like the Roman Empire; the Song Dynasty, China. They – they seem to be – it’s possible for them to see social development raised to a certain level.
But then you just can’t go beyond that. There’s a limit, given the sorts of technologies available, to how big these empires can be, a limit to how good they are in transmitting information, pooling ideas, solving collective action problems – very difficult to break through that in an agrarian lifestyle. And eventually, that ceiling gets broken basically almost simultaneously with people learning to tap into the power of fossil fuels. And then going back earlier in history, you see the same kind of thing. There’s a limit to what’s possible to do in a village level of organization; you’ve got to bring people together in larger cities to break through that sort barrier.
And, yes, I think it’s entirely possible that in the 21st century, we are now approaching the hard ceiling of what’s possible in a fossil fuel-driven economy. And, you know, many, many indicators suggest that may well be the case.
And I think if – out of my two scenarios, if we end up following something like the one that zooms up to the world of 5,000 points, then – I think it’s not rocket science to see what sort of things need to change. I mean, the institutional change has come up a number of times already. I think that a lot of our institutions have been extraordinarily successful at operating in the 19th and 20th century world but seem to be less successful for the world we’ve moving into now. Energy sources: Again, obviously many costs to the fossil fuel economy, but it’s allowed human numbers to increase and standards of living to increase to levels that simply would have seemed like magic 500 years ago. (They’ve been ?) very, very successful.
But if would appear that we may be running up against the limit of what’s possible for that kind of energy base to do, in which case, like, say, when you are hunter-gatherer or like when you’re living in an ancient agrarian empire, either somebody transforms that energy base into something wild and new, or they fail. And if they fail, then it will turn that we’ve hit a hard ceiling and the consequences hardly bear thinking about.
And again, I think we can see enough of the things going on out there that we can get, you know, a faint idea of where we might get potential alternative sources of energy which will simply make the problems of the fossil fuel economy seem obsolete, like the way, once you’ve got fossil fuel economies in the 19th century, a lot of the old problems become obsolete. The great problem of feed for horses – this is the problem in the 18th-century economies, that horses just eat so damn much. And I’ll probably get all the numbers wrong, but I think in the – like, in the 19th century, something like a quarter of all the farmland in the U.S. at one point was being used to feed the animals that are providing the traction power that keep the economy going. The minute that you can – for 500 horses, you can substitute one steam engine – the steam engine eats coal – the entire problem sort of disappears.
So, you know, either we come up with these sorts of solutions or we don’t. If we don’t, then, yes, it will turn out that we hit a hard ceiling. The consequences will be catastrophic. If we do, the hard ceiling, I imagine, will be dissolved. And I’m sure we can – in the 22nd century, we’ll find a whole new set of problems to worry about. At this point we are not worrying about too much because they don’t exist. But yeah, we may well be running up against some kind of hard ceiling.
Q: Hi. I’m Margaret Nols (ph) and I work for a large Japan-based company. And I’d like to ask you to make some more immediate predictions before your own death. (Laughter.) Talk about what –
MR. MORRIS: Not too immediate, I hope.
Q: – what the patterns of history mean for the U.S. and China in the next 50 years.
MR. MORRIS: Aha. Yeah. Yeah. Great question.
Yeah, I mean – Banning was saying something – no, Matt (sp) was saying something a moment ago about how he’s rather less deterministic about history than I am. And that might be because he’s working at a shorter time scale. And, you know, one of the conclusions I felt I reached in my book is that we can really be very deterministic and very materialist about history when we’re operating at the 15,000-year time scale.
And when you’re doing that – or even longer scales – when you’re doing that, human history does begin to look more and more like biology, that, like – (inaudible) – say, if you’re an ant biologist – one of my friends at Stanford is an ant biologist – you study ants and you go out and you – she spends 20 years getting back every summer in Arizona to watch these ant colonies – it’s just so great the stuff she does, putting little dots they paint on these ants and tracking them, and she watches these ant colonies – and the ant colony has its own history – it’s fascinating all the traumas an ant colony has been through – but what she does as a biologist is about, of course, the large-scale evolution of this species. What she does when she’s out there in the summer putting dots on ants; that is very contingent what happens out there. This colony may get run over by an 18 wheeler at any moment, just wiped out completely, and that’s just the way it is. But that isn’t going to have that much impact on the larger ant story unless millions of these colonies all get run over at once, in which case it becomes a big – a bigger issue.
And I guess I feel very much that way about the history. As you narrow the focus, come down to shorter time scales, the role of contingency and of human decisions starts to increase more and more and more. And say, I mean, if you really narrow it out to, say, something really important like me – say you analyze the history of me – I can make decisions will which have catastrophic effects on the history of me. I mean, when we were talking at NIC yesterday, I suggested, I can get up now and decide I’m – enough of this professor nonsense; I’m going to become a hunter-gatherer and I’m going to out there and hunt and gather in the District of Columbia. By about the fourth day, I will be dead, because I will have eaten something that I won’t know what it is, it’ll poison me; I’ll be dead. So this will have a – my choice will have a catastrophic impact on my life history. But at the larger scale, it’s not going to have very much impact on anything else that’s going on.
So, anyway –
MR. : Your editor may not like it either.
MR. MORRIS: Well, I don’t know. Actually he might be quite keen. (Laughter.)
But so when you think about – you know, for the sort of thinking I’ve been doing about things, that does make it – this sort of thinking is very much the view from – (inaudible) – it’s very difficult to zero down say – well, OK, so having said all that in your book, what shall we do about the Spratley Islands? I mean, that’s – (laughter) – you know, sort of – I’m as much in the dark as anybody else on that. I mean, I do feel that the implication of the work I’ve been doing is that we should expect this shift in wealth and power from North America toward East Asia to continue for at least the short term, by which, I would say, you know, at least the next 50 years; we should expect to see this as a continuing process.
This is something that – if policymakers and politicians in the West feel that they can turn this around, they are as deluded as Europeans were a hundred years ago when they thought they could stop the power and wealth shifting toward North America. This is not going to happen. There was nothing European governments could do in 1911 that was going to stop this, and there is nothing an American government can do in 2011 that’s going to stop this.
Having said that, there were an awful lot of things that European governments could have done differently a hundred years ago which would have let the process to unfold in very different ways. They could, for instance, not have fought two world wars. That would have been a really good idea right there. (Laughter.) And yet they –
MR. : Who knows what wealth in Europe may be now.
MR. MORRIS: Yeah, and the process would have continued to unfold, but it would have gone much more slowly and been probably much less violent.
And, of course, the minute you start moving into these counterfactual assertions, then you start saying, well, yeah, well, what do you mean, by fighting two world wars? If they hadn’t fought – if war hadn’t broken out in 1939, then quite possibly it would have broken out later under a different – you know, the ramifications would multiply enormously.
But I think it’s a very plausible argument can be made that the shift in wealth and power from Europe to North America could have been handled very, very differently in ways that probably would have been better for the Europeans, less traumatic, less – fewer people killed by violence – would have different outcomes for the rest of the world. I mean, I tend – I feel pretty strongly that if it hadn’t been for the world wars, the European empires would still have unraveled, but they would have unraveled in a more managed kind of way. The European colonial powers wouldn’t have gone so abruptly bankrupt as they did, and wouldn’t have leapt and fled from empire with quite the sometimes rather disgraceful haste that they did. It would have unraveled more slowly, which might have been a bad outcome for colonized parts of the world; it might have been a better outcome.
With the U.S. dealing with China, I mean, I guess, I – you know, I have opinions about how the U.S./East Asia relationship should be played out, but I don’t think that I can claim that they have any special strength drawn from the larger picture of history. I mean, it seems to me – I would say that one of the lessons to draw here is that we should neither be trying to block everything that the Chinese do and to oppose their rise as a regional power in East Asia. We should not be trying to do that because it’s just insane.
Then, on the other hand, nor should we be running away from America’s obligations in the West Pacific area either. These need to be managed by the U.S. with the awareness that we are dealing with a long-term strategic shift in power. It’s one that needs to be handled very carefully so that it doesn’t turn catastrophic.
And why I am – to list – to wrap up, I mean, one of – one of the things that I find scary is in comparing the current situation with what was happening at about a hundred years ago is that – I mean, one of the – it’s certainly not the only cause. But one of the major causes of the – (inaudible) – war in 1914 was the perception that the old Pax Britannica was breaking up, that Britain – (inaudible) – the 1860s. It was very difficult for anybody to go to war unless you knew what the British were going to do. I mean, and they – it’s extraordinary reading; a new book just came out on this – reading of the level of anxiety in the U.S. during the Civil War over, what are the British going to do? Because this could have been a game-changer. And you know, when Bismarck is trying to unify Germany, what are the British going to do? This was one of the biggest concerns. Are they are going to basically bankrupt us because they can do this? By the 1910s, that’s no longer a given that Britain could do this anymore. And there’s great uncertainty over what the great powers are able to do anymore in the world.
And I think we’re in a situation which is in some ways analogous to that. The U.S. is the great power in the world by a margin that is just mind-boggling, and everybody knows this. But it’s not quite the sort of dominance it was 20 years ago. And I think the uncertainty is the problem. People say, well, what’s going to happen if we push this a little bit harder than we might have done? You know, though, what’s going to happen if we do decide to build a military base on the Spratly Islands? You know, what’s going to happen? Maybe we’ll get away this; maybe we won’t.
So this is, you know, one of the things that I worry about a little bit is the uncertainty of it.
MR. : (Off mic.)
MR. GARRETT: Oh, sorry, back here. Somebody has a question.
Q: Hi, I’m – (off mic) – University. So I wanted to ask about – (off mic) – between the East and the West? And are you more – (off mic) – we will work this out and in relation to Africa, do you see that – are they sort of going in their own fits and gaps? Do you – are you optimistic about them having to – (off mic) – in the sort of civilization sphere, or are they – I mean, they’re experiencing all their – (off mic) – may be a sign of the – (off mic) – the end of sort of the global disaster? (Inaudible) – I’m sorry, could you – (off mic)?
MR. MORRIS: Yeah, yeah, a good – great question – (inaudible) – how does Africa figure into this story? I mean, it’s a fair summation, yes. And how do Africa figure into this story and where do I think things are going there? And yeah, because, of course, you know, if you just sit and watch on the evening news, you get this impression of just unrelieved, unmitigated disaster after disaster in Africa, which I think is a pretty misleading picture of the continent.
Now, obviously there, you know, all kinds of terrible things are going on, the continuing fighting in the Congo perhaps the most extreme case of this. But, you know, even with malaria and the AIDS epidemic – you know, compared to, say, where Africa was a hundred years ago, standards of living have increased enormously, life expectancies has increased enormously. I mean, I’m fairly optimistic about the African situation, and you know the picture of the Africa in this much bigger story is really fascinating.
And when I originally started writing this book I wanted to do it as a much more global kind of thing rather than the rather narrowly focused East-West comparison. But I discovered very quickly that, if I did that, it would have to be a totally different book because I – if I’m trying to treat the entire world, I couldn’t possibly go into all that much detail about it. But – so I – I’m trying to give a little bit of thought to the – and Africa in the large historics. Of course, I mean, Africa is the place where modern human beings evolved, spread out from there. Africa in many ways with, you know, tens, hundreds of thousands years, Africa has the highest social development in the world. And this continues probably right up till the end of the Ice Age. It – the differences between each of them very small, (but ?) probably African social development is marginally higher than anywhere else in the world.
That begins to change because of geographical reasons and, as the world warms up, you can domesticate plants and animals in only a very limited number of places, and none of the major centers is within Africa. And so then Africa sort of – is always going to, say, lagged position that complex societies come into Africa initially from outside into Egypt.
There are plants and animals that can be domesticated south of the Sahara, and they are domesticated. But as happens in many parts of the world, the process, because of geography, gets done later. African societies are less complex and less powerful than Eurasian ones for a long period. That, I think, is why Africa has the history of the coast and then the interior being colonized as much as they are.
And I think if you’d somehow built a gigantic wall around Africa, around 1000 B.C., I’m pretty certain that what you would see going on in Africa would be basically the same as what happened in Eurasia, but with the time lag behind it. And I – of course, again, the counterfactual immediately becomes absurd because a lot of what happens in Eurasia consists of traveling to other parts of the world. So if you build a big wall, Africa couldn’t do that. But anyway, imagine that away.
I’m sure Africa would have followed down the same path of development had it not been for the fact that it was in such close proximity to much more powerful societies.
And I think, you know, now that that the meaning of the geography has changed again so much, I think we are seeing catch-up going on in Africa. And I think there are many reasons to be optimistic. Africa’s recent history doesn’t have to be a template for its future.
MR. : I think –
MR. GARRETT: Well, we have one more question. I think we just proved, though, that when you ask Ian a question, you get a reply.
MR. MORRIS: Well, this is one of the risks in inviting a professor – (inaudible).
MR. GARRETT: (This is ?) really interesting (to watch ?). You learn so much in every sentence; it’s kind of mind-boggling.
Yes, (please ?).
Q: I mean, I’ve been listening to all this and this is –
MR. GARRETT: Identify yourself please.
Q: I’m Raymond Doyle (sp). I work at the U.S. State Department, but I also – I taught at CMU and lived in Asia for 10 years. And listening to all your answers, it seems to me – I’ve lived in Asia, collectively the fastest growing region of the world, and I also think it’s also the “canary in the mine shaft” type of thing where you’ll get countries with very different degrees of governance and varying degrees of – (inaudible) – of economic development, of demand and so forth.
At the same point, though, you have a region, especially China, that’s very much of Westphalian mentality of sovereignty, not nation-changing – things that, you know, America’s going to stop (what they’re doing ?) in the past 10, 15 years, 20 years. And what concerns me is, is that all these transnational issues that you brought (up ?) at the beginning of your talks – especially with energy, food, pollution – (inaudible) – immigration – there’s very little coordination within this region.
And so I look at this region and, (you know ?), look at these countries individually and all these problems that we’re talking about – very significant problems on the horizon – and what concerns me is, is that if Europe, which has (half ?) the degree of – (inaudible) – integration than Asia particularly, what does this hold for the world? What does it hold for – it doesn’t seem to be – because you mentioned earlier, Mr. Kareoto (ph), that unless there’s a cataclysmic event somehow sobers us all up at the same time to deal with some particular issue or issues, I really – I really worry about some kind of coordinated vision or strategy or whatever for the world on these huge issues you guys are talking about. If you can’t get it done in the prosperous and wealthy regions of the world, how in the world are you going to deal with it (without ?) some kind of leadership or vision from the rest of the world on these issues?
MR. MORRIS: Well – (chuckles) – another great question. Yeah, I think one of the big question marks, (of course ?), at the moment is what kind of regional groupings are going to emerge in East and South Asia over the next 20, 30 years as seems likely – if as seems likely China starts to exert more and more influence out there. And again, you know, there’s lots of people in this room who know a whole lot more about this than I do. So I’ll keep the – (inaudible) – comment very, very short.
I mean, I’ve been very impressed with the way the Chinese have handled their position so far. I mean, they – you know, as they came out of the immediate post-Mao period, they were very aware of the fact that they were not really in a position to challenge the Americans in – for dominance in the region, I mean, sort of working with American power rather than trying to run directly against it. And I guess I tend to be fairly optimistic about the possibilities for East Asian – the different nation-states working together there. But, again, as I say, there are a lot of people here who know a lot more about this than I do.
Q: I only bring that up because – and (in ?) the region you’ve become very profoundly aware how history – and some people have even mentioned geography – but how history and culture really matters in that part of the world, and (there’s ?) a great degree of suspicion. I remember I was talking to Bob Hawke, the prime minister of Australia – former prime minister of Australia – and he said, why isn’t – Asia especially – you know, they all seem incredibly – seem to be moving in the same direction of prosperity and development. Why haven’t they come together or even talked about coming together like a European Union or a NAFTA or something like that? And he said, well, maybe, he goes, the way they look at it is everybody’s making money; what’s the purpose? What’s the purpose of all joining on one team or one blueprint when basically they’re all doing their own thing like a jazz band?
The problem is, is that with diminishing energy sources, like fossil fuels and stuff, dicey food supply, things of this sort, this might be the perfect time for some kind of an integrated and a collective thinking in the region. And yet, because history and culture is so profound in that region, there’s a great (theory ?) of suspicion that prevents, I think, the region itself from working together. I mean, it’s (sincere ?) and long-term strategies that you guys were all talking about today. So that’s how – that’s the things that I (got from living over there ?).
MR. MORRIS: Yeah. And again, this may be a bit sort of Pollyanna-ish, but I guess what I would say, again, to look at Europe a hundred years ago: I mean, who would have thought that the Germans and the French would get together and start – oh, yeah, get together and talk about coal and steel, how we can share the coal and steel. But, of course, as you say, it took a gigantic trauma to make that possible.
MR. : World War I.
MR. MORRIS: Yeah.
MR. GARRETT: And II.
Matt (sp) or – and Patrick, either one of you – we have some final comments. (Here are ?) – keeping people, you know, past what we promised.
MR. BURROWS: Just to thank Ian again for raising the level of discussion –
MR. MORRIS: Yes. (Chuckles.)
MR. BURROWS: – provoking a lot of, I think, very useful thinking and –
MR. MORRIS: Thank you.
MR. BURROWS: So, hats off to you.
MR. MORRIS: Thank you. And thank you for inviting me out here. This is a great business – (off mic).
MR. DOHERTY: And thanks to Banning for hosting this event. It’s been great.
MR. GARRETT: This has been great, guys, for helping put it together. I think it’s been a truly extraordinary learning process, and I love these events where your learning curve goes like that. So thank you so much, Ian. It’s been a great – (inaudible, applause).
MR. MORRIS: Well, thanks – (off mic). (Applause.)