The end of the system of the world

This is a big-think, “sweeping overview” sort of post. I find myself writing more of these recently, not because there aren’t little interesting news items or econ papers or debates to focus on, but because big things are happening very fast in the world right now, and I want to try and keep track of them.

The system of the world, 2001-2021

After the end of the Cold War, the United States forged a new world. The driving, animating idea behind this new world was the belief that global trade integration would restrain international conflict. At first this rested on a Fukuyama-type “end of history” theory that political and economic liberalization would follow globalization, but as it became clear that various bureaucratic one-party oligarchies and petrostates (most notably China and Russia) were resistant to the end of history, the hopes for trade became more modest — at least countries that depended on each other economically would not fall into active conflict.

We didn’t just pay lip service to this theory; we bet the entire world on it. The U.S. and Europe championed the admission of China into the World Trade Organization, and deliberately looked the other way on a number of things that might have given us reason to restrict trade with China (currency manipulation in the 00s, various mercantilist policies, poor labor and environmental standards). As a result, the global economy underwent a titanic shift. Whereas global manufacturing, trading networks, and supply chains had once been dominated by the U.S., Japan, and Germany, China now came to occupy the central place in all of these:

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