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Razib next asks Shapiro for his take on globalization in the context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Shapiro argues that we are truly moving into a multipolar world that is more similar to what occurred in the 1890’s when there was a balance of power in Europe. Shapiro points out that that too was a time of economic and cultural tumult and creativity, Europe’s “Belle Epoque.” For him, this earlier period of globalization illustrates both the promise and peril of a geopolitically balanced world where fates were interlaced by complex networks of free trade. Shapiro’s main worry is a “Black Swan” event with the power to trigger a global conflict, a freak event analogous to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian radical that ignited World War I. He cautions that a world with more balance of power between nations and leaders, unpredictable decisions grow more likely.
Shapiro also argues strongly that the US is under a misimpression in terms of its power and influence in a world where other powers are rising. He also greets the idea that demographics is destiny with skepticism, pointing out that in the 1930’s Germany’s demographic profile did not indicate youthful bellicosity. Though Shapiro acknowledges the headwinds that demographics will present to both China and Europe, he argues we shouldn’t underestimate their future possibilities.
The conversation closes with the possibility that instability and reorganization will result in a ferment of cultural creativity that might match the decades around 1900. Though we are in for a great geopolitical shift, Shapiro sees opportunities and promise in the US, which still remains a dynamic society and a magnet for talent. Finally, he tells us to keep an eye on Central Asia as a locus for instability and change due to both location and authoritarian governments.