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A World Without Leadership: Ten Questions with Ian Bremmer (Part 1)
Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, has just released his eighth book, Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World (New York: Portfolio: 2012).
When he first floated the idea of a G-Zero world at last year’s World Economic Forum, it stirred enough discussion for the New York Times’s DealBook blog to call it 2011’s “buzziest buzzword.” Bremmer and frequent colleague Nouriel Roubini (or “Brembini,” as they’re sometimes called) formally introduced the term in the March/April 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs: “We are now living in a G-Zero world, one in which no single country or bloc of countries has the political and economic leverage—or the will—to drive a truly international agenda.”
The is-America-in-decline? debate continues to rage, with some arguing that America will continue to lead the world indefinitely, and others speculating that it’s only a matter of time before some other country or coalition replaces it (China being the prime contender). Every Nation for Itself argues that this debate’s missing the point: namely, that no one—not America, not China, not anyone else—can meet the challenges of global leadership right now.
I wanted to unpack that conclusion a bit, so I sent Ian ten questions that came to mind as I read his book. Below is the first part of our conversation. I’ll post part two on Monday.
POWER GAMES: Does a stable international system require a “single country or durable alliance of countries” (p. 1) to lead? What alternative arrangements can you imagine?
IAN BREMMER: It does for the foreseeable future, because strong states and blocs of strong states are the only source of power and legitimacy capable of driving an international agenda in today’s world. International institutions like the Security Council, the General Assembly, the G20, the BRICs, the IMF, etc., continue to be little more than an extension of the (increasingly conflicting) values and interests of member states.
It’s possible to imagine a kind of “G-Subzero” environment in which governments and collections of governments prove obviously unable to respond to various forms of crisis. In this instance, the state itself begins to lose its primacy as an actor on the international stage. We can see glimpses of what this scenario might look like in the improvised economic and security arrangements that have appeared inside some of the world’s largest (and, in many places, most dynamic) slums, places where national and even local governments aren’t particularly relevant. Fortunately, we’re quite far from this sort of world outside those enclaves.
PG: You identify three major factors that brought about the G-Zero, beginning in the 1970s:
What international system(s) might we have today without those factors?
IB: Given America’s long-term debt issues, the United States would still be preparing to do a little less, and governance might be a little less effective. Perhaps the changes in the international order would have been more subtle than what is now underway. That said, different factors would have elevated different sets of countries at different times, and we’d still be talking about an underlying shift in the broader balance of international power. The two world wars boosted American power and devastated potential rivals to an extent that could not have lasted more than a few decades.
PG: Although you predict that the G-Zero will endure “over the next decade and perhaps longer” (p. 5), you conclude that it’s ultimately unsustainable. Looking forward, you imagine four possible post-G-Zero international systems, going from most likely to least:
Assuming that the first of these international systems indeed comes about, will it be fleeting, as you argue that the G-Zero will be? If so, what’ll follow it?
IB: If the “world of regions” scenario is the one that emerges, it’s likely to persist for longer than the others would. That’s in part because this is the status quo that would require the largest amount of focused energy to shift. It’s easier for U.S.-Chinese relations to change or for international cooperation to break down than for a single country or alliance of countries to develop the underlying power, domestic political capital, and will needed to set and drive an international agenda.
But everything today is “transient.” Technology and its ability to empower actors large and small evolve so quickly that we have to get used to living in a world that exists in a more or less constant state of flux. It’s foolish to talk of an “Asian century” or an “emerging market century” because events move at a pace that renders this degree of durability obsolete.
PG: You suspect that “it will probably take another calamity, or at least the credible threat that one is imminent, to give birth to a new [post-G-Zero] international order” (p. 151).
Which calamity’s most likely to do so?
IB: In the nearer term, the likeliest source of this degree of risk is a conflict between China and the U.S. These are now the two largest economies in the world, and the combination of their economic interdependence, the sharp differences in their political and economic values, and the growing divergence in their interests makes this relationship potentially dangerous for everyone who might be affected by it—which means pretty much everyone.
There is always the risk that a conflagration in the Middle East becomes larger and more dangerous. In this scenario, we discover that the Arab Spring was merely the prelude to a deeper and much farther-reaching upheaval in the region that has greater impact on countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Over the medium term, we should watch for a financial or economic crisis that becomes systemic to an extent that the 2008 meltdown did not. Over the longer term, there is climate change.
But volatility creates unpredictability, and we have to invest our forecasts with a healthy dose of humility.
PG: You argue that “in a world where so many challenges transcend borders…the need for international cooperation has never been greater” (pp. 3-4). You doubt, however, that there’s “a crisis larger enough to force lasting cooperation from most of the world’s established and emerging powers” (p. 170).
What then, if anything, could produce such cooperation?
IB: I don’t see a coherent global order anywhere on the horizon. That’s the G-Zero problem. There is too large a divergence at the moment in the interests and values of the world’s most powerful states. When the G-7 gathered to hash out differences, there was no need to debate definitions of democracy or the proper role of government in economic development. Yes, there were differences, but those differences were quite narrow when compared to those we see at any gathering of the G-20. In addition, there was a barrier that effectively separated the economies of the capitalist and communist worlds. No such barrier exists today, which leaves everyone much more vulnerable to events everywhere else.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.