Us Versus Them

A Book Review

If you can’t solve a problem you can at least make money writing a book about it.

Ian Bremmer is, his Web site explains, “president and founder of Eurasia Group, the leading global political risk research and consulting firm.” That means he does what the rest of us do: He looks at the world and tries to figure out what the Hell is happening. He’s just better paid for his efforts.

One such effort is his book, “Us vs. Them.” As the title implies, the book attempts to explain how international geopolitics is changing in the 21st Century. Apparently, it’s not changing all that much.

Consider: Over the years, American political observers wrestled with the divide between the “First world” and “Third world.” The “Second world” was the former Soviet bloc, and many of its countries would now be demoted to the Third world, if we still used that terminology.

But we don’t. Since we keep finding ourselves unable to solve “Third world” problems, we renamed the system. It became the “Developed world” against the “Developing world.” That had a nice tinge of inevitability.

When finished “developing,” the rest of the planet would be “developed” and we’d all be happy. Except that didn’t seem to be happening, either. So we went forward by going back. Now it’s “North vs. South,” with the former First world north of the equator and the former Third world south of it. Much as in the United States before 1861, the North is industrial and successful, the South less so and less so.

In any event, somebody told Ian Bremmer he ought to write a book explaining his insights into the divide, which he breaks down in his title, “Us vs. Them.” He’s got a handful of interesting observations, particularly about American politics.

“American democracy itself is eroding,” he writes. “Donald Trump was elected president with votes from 26.3 percent of eligible voters.” That means that in 2016, “Nearly 45 percent of eligible American voters didn’t vote at all.” It’s a good warning; if people weren’t engaged in that year, with all the hype surrounding the vote, they’ll probably never be engaged.

But maybe that’s good. As columnist Jonah Goldberg writes, “millions of Americans just don’t care about politics, much the same way that I don’t care about cricket: They think it’s boring.”

Perhaps it’s better if people who don’t care to be informed don’t vote. We could force them to cast a ballot (as Australia does), but that’s just forcing them to make choices about things they’re not interested in. And it dilutes the votes of people who actually pay attention to what’s going on in the world.

Still, Bremmer has a good point — democracy may be in danger here. “Fewer than one in three young Americans say that it’s important to live in a democracy,” he writes. “In 1995, just one in sixteen Americans agreed that it would be ‘good’ or ‘very good’ to have military rule in the United States. In 2016, it was one in six.” It’s fair enough to consider that a dangerous trend, one worth keeping an eye on.

But the U.S. isn’t alone in facing challenges. Bremmer also points to problems elsewhere. “Failure to protect rising middle classes from crime, corruption, and contaminated food, air, and water, along with failure to care for the unemployed, sick, and elderly, creates a profoundly dangerous situation for China,” he writes.

That said, “[China’s] the one government that, at least for now, can afford to spend huge amounts of money to create unnecessary jobs to avoid political unrest.” Doesn’t sound like much of a long-term solution. But things better not change right away because, “the entire global economy is becoming more dependent on China’s continued stability and growth.” So China’s policy boils down to “fake it and hope to make it”? That doesn’t sound promising.

That’s a problem with Us vs. Them. It reads like an Atlantic article that got pumped up on steroids. It’s shaped like a book, but doesn’t have the heft of a book. It identifies soft spots in the global economy, but not solutions. In short, it’s a good start, but more of a preface to a book than a primer on today’s geopolitical situation.

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