The future through a G-Zero lens
We are faced with a “world order in which no single country or durable alliance of countries can meet the challenges of global leadership,” Ian Bremmer, the founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, said.
That sounds like something said in recent weeks; even in the period pre-pandemic when geopolitical tensions reached worrying highs.
It’s actually from June 2012.
It’s not quite correct to say Bremmer saw the current shaky geopolitical landscape coming, but he certainly had a better handle on it than many others.
What is clear is the ingredients of global uncertainty, brought rapidly to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting crisis here in 2020, have been around for some time –and there may be lessons in Bremmer’s thinking for what lies ahead. As they say, there is nothing new under the sun.
“What coronavirus is doing is not creating a new world order but accelerating the trends we were already seeing, both domestically inside our societies, but also internationally and geopolitically,” Bremmer told attendees of the ANZ/Eurasia virtual conference in June.
“Globalisation will unwind to a degree as a consequence of this massive global contraction,” he said. “None of those [changes] are new, they were all happening before coronavirus.”
Bremmer is a regular keynote speaker at the ANZ Finance and Treasury Forum (AFTF), which he will address again in 2020. He first presented in 2018, where he warned the next economic downturn would have significant ramifications.
“When the next economic recession hits, even if it is comparatively mild … then we’re in for trouble,” he said at the time. “The political implications of the next economic down-cycle will be much greater dislocation than anything we’ve experienced in our recent memories.”
While the jury is still out on the ultimate impact, it’s clear the coronavirus crisis is the downturn Bremmer warned of. A lucky guess? Maybe, but that’s doesn’t make any of his insights into the implications any less valuable.
In another prescient move, Bremmer told the ANZ forum that year the then-nascent tensions between the US and China might create opportunities for other markets in Asia, which later played out as supply chains, particularly in technology, shifted more quickly into south-east Asia.
The following year, Bremmer said while supply chains were continuing to globalise at the time, the next big shake up was likely to turn that on its head.
“I think [supply chains are] going to look very different after the next downturn, because so many of these CEOs have comparatively expensive labour footprints in countries like China,” he said in 2019.
“If they could snap their fingers and change them, they would. But they can’t snap their fingers, and don’t want to make those changes right now. They will when they have to, and they’ll all be doing it together.”
A sudden, large-scale disruption forcing large swathes of industry to confront what would otherwise be years of supply-chain restructuring in a very short period of time? Why does that sound so familiar?
“What’s going to happen is suddenly there’ll be a downturn, and suddenly they’ll actually need to make difficult choices in their companies to make those [high] returns,” Bremmer said, about four months before the first global reports of COVID-19.
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On a webinar in June 2020, Bremmer raised the spectre of a ‘goldilocks’ economic crisis – one which is big enough to force a reassessment of what is required for effective global leadership, but not big enough to hamper a recovery.
“You do feel the beginnings of some of that, both domestically and internationally,” he said. Time will tell if he is correct.
What is for certain is the way people do business has changed, and would continue to, Bremmer said.
“That displacement is going to speed up dramatically,” Bremmer said, noting the virtual nature of his presentation was evidence of that.
“I’m not getting on a plane to fly out to see you but we’re still doing the event.”
And he’s still doing AFTF, too. You can hear more from Bremmer at ANZ’s virtual event in October.
Shane White is content manager at ANZ Institutional
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