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The Limits of Peter Zeihan’s Analysis

As ATS readers know, I frequently post commentary by Peter Zeihan here. A reader offers the following insightful criticisms of Zeihan’s work.

Keith, that is an interesting article by Peter Zeihan you shared today. Although he is the data and trends expert (and I am not), one thing I can’t help but feel he may be underestimating is the amount of debt people are already living with in the U.S. He does throw in a few lines about concerns re: growing economic inequality, but he also says “most” American citizens will be able to afford the coming price inflations (because of all the COVID money that was handed out, presumably). I’m not sure about that. For some number of Americans (maybe not most, but not a small amount either), it largely went into servicing debt and bills that they were already behind on, pre-COVID. I could easily see price inflation being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And then we will see pressure build for either some kind of long-term UBI or debt relief, either of which the system may opt to carry out if the alternative is widespread economic collapse. Perhaps Zeihan is factoring that in here, in which case, okay — but his declaration that “most” Americans can afford coming inflation struck me as out of touch. Though, he has his ideological blinders as much as anyone does, as evidenced by his full-throated parroting of the line that Jeremy Corbyn really was this hugely anti-Semitic force within the UK Labour Party (iirc, I believe he’s actually called him a Nazi) — as opposed to a rather meek social democrat that nonetheless did voice opposition to aspects of the Atlanticist imperial project, of which Israel is a key part. I can imagine Zeihan’s take on the Israel-Palestine situation.

My response:

You have pointed out what I think is the main weakness in Peter Zeihan’s thinking. He is such an establishmentarian (a self-described GWH Bush globalist) that he is completely blinkered about things on the economic bottom or political margins. He used to work for Stratfor. He’s great at analyzing mainstream (i.e. ruling class, upper-middle-class) economics. He is an advisor to big-shot investors. A lot of his YouTube speeches were recorded at investor summits. Zeihan is also good at analyzing mainstream international relations (relationships between governments) and mainstream politics (the two parties).

But when it comes to economics outside the affluent classes, fringe/radical politics, or insurgencies within countries, he is out of his league. Zeihan obviously knows very little about that because he doesn’t think it’s important. He thinks upper strata power brokers are where the action is so he ignores what is happening on the ground. His comments about Corbyn (which I have also seen) were ignorant beyond belief. Obviously, he doesn’t appreciate the full impact of widening class divisions in the US on the economy. I don’t think he appreciates how deeply entrenched present-day political polarization is, either. When it comes to international relations, he doesn’t appreciate bottom-up insurgencies and ground-level actions. His analysis is totally fixated on statecraft. I’m sure he is pro-Israel and regards Israel as merely defending itself against Hamas terrorists. I doubt he appreciates the degree to which Israel is losing legitimacy even in the USA.

Ironically, his work would be strengthened considerably if he paid more attention to insurgencies in different parts of the world (like the Palestinians). He also needs to examine the work of guys like Michael Lind and Joel Kotkin on domestic issues, particularly economics. And he needs to pay more attention to Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of the culture war/political polarization. I do appreciate Zeihan in part because he is an establishmentarian, but a realist, and he makes for an interesting contrast to all the radical and semi-radical commentators I follow.

 

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