Who Will Be Tomorrow’s Superpower?

The geo-political map is set to change. Is the world ready?

There’s a popular geopolitical parlor game called Who will be the next superpower?

While the game excels at triggering a mind-fogging tsunami of nationalistic emotions, it doesn’t shed much light on the really consequential question: What is power?

These are important questions to ponder as, around the world, unsustainable policies from the 20th century are beginning to fail in earnest. What will the future geopolitical landscape look like in their aftermath?

What Is Power?

In geopolitics, the conventional view is that Power is the capacity to coerce others to serve your interests at the detriment of their own.

The greater power than coercion, it turns out, is the power to align others’ interests with one’s own, so they willingly submit to your authority as a means of furthering their own interests. To do this effectively and sustainably, power must organize the transnational flow of capital and labor in ways that offer benefits to all participants.

The great superpower of the ancient world, the Roman Empire, showcased this form of inclusive organizational power: though the Legions were available to suppress outright rebellions, Rome’s long Golden Era was characterized not by perpetual wars of rebellion but by widespread peace and prosperity for even the far-flung members of the Empire.

This is not to gloss over the institutional slavery and oppression that enforced the Ancient Rome’s grip, but the point is that free participants accepted the dominance of Rome because it protected their opportunities to better themselves in relative safety, providing they did not undermine the Empire’s interests.

There is a third form of power that is often overlooked, perhaps because it’s so obvious in functioning systems we don’t even notice it: the power to solve problems. The power to solve problems with the resources at hand is perhaps the greatest power, far greater than coercive power and ultimately more powerful than organizational power, which erodes if power cannot solve problems with the available resources.

How does power solve problems?  Though the answer is complex, we can discern a few generalities:

  1. Power must accumulate capital and invest it productively
  2. Power must invest the capital where it has long-term leverage (i.e. in systems that conserve resources, labor and capital over the lifespan of the system)
  3. Power must enable the free flow of intellectual capital/knowledge and encourage experimentation as a means of solving new or emerging problems

Capital and talent are two forms of wealth that don’t respond well to coercion. Capital and talent both flee dictatorial control; and in today’s world, both are increasingly mobile. So the source of modern power’s wealth is not coercion so much as being more attractive to those with capital and talent than the alternatives.

This has two facets:

  • enabling people to serve their own interests within the dominant power structure, and
  • maintaining an inclusive system that is organized to optimize solutions

If the system is too chaotic or rapacious to enable solutions to be implemented, capital and talent are both fruitlessly squandered.

If capital must be spent suppressing rebellion, there is less available for productive investments.  The empire soon collapses under its own inefficiency. This is why empires based on coercion burn out quickly. And why empires without inclusive, well-organized systems also fail.

The Roman Example

The Roman Empire offers some useful examples of problem-solving via productive investment. Rome’s expansion of durable roadways and fresh water supplies were critical to the growth of trade and the expansion of healthy urban centers that fostered innovation, the sharing of knowledge, and the accumulation of capital.

Rome’s suppression of piracy enabled the free flow of grain from North Africa to Europe, and the extension of trade routes to faraway Britain.

Technologies such as engineered concrete aqueducts and metalworking spread throughout the Empire due to the sharing of technologies and expertise.

Roman coinage enabled low-risk commerce all throughout its boundaries.

Power and Superpower

There is no law or rule that mandates the existence of superpowers.  The world can go on quite well without a dominant global power.  That said, what qualifies a nation or trading bloc to be labeled a superpower?

Within the context outlined above, the answer is: the solutions organized by the superpower become the dominant global system because they are far more effective, efficient, resilient, flexible and sustainable than the solutions organized by other nations and trading blocs.

That long-standing geopolitical relationships are changing is a given at this point. The question is: is the world ready for what’s coming next?

Full article: Who Will Be Tomorrow’s Superpower? (Peak Prosperity)

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