Demand as Power in a Resilient Global Order

Demand as Power in a Resilient Global Order

One of the most revealing features of today's international system is that only two nations, America and China, possess sufficient power to truly disrupt it -- either directly, through the application of military force, or indirectly, by unleashing an uncontainable economic crisis. In fact, to truly derail globalization in its current trajectory, the two would need to act in concert, either by fighting each other directly or experiencing simultaneous economic collapses. Short of those two scenarios, modern globalization remains highly resilient to shocks of all sorts. That resilience is the only power that really matters in this world. It defines our global present, and it enables a global future worth attaining.

Globalization still suffers all manner of system-perturbing events, such as the impact of Libya's civil war on oil prices and that of Japan's recent mega-disaster on the future of nuclear power. But these are primarily problems of supply, not demand. And in today's globalization, true power is expressed by demand -- for energy, materials, goods and services -- and not by provision. Some may still imagine that the world dances according to whoever has "cornered" the supply of some precious resource, with "rare earths" being the latest buzzword. But in reality, absent access to consumers, the value of even a supply monopoly remains completely unrealizable. In a world experiencing explosive growth of its middle class, controlling access to consumption is far more crucial than controlling access to supply.

Indeed, the true power grab exemplified by China's "rise" is its growing demand for everything. America has been the global economy's demand center on so many goods for so long that most Americans cannot remember when that wasn't the case. When you're the global demand center, the entire world revolves around your desires, tastes and manias. It is an intoxicating, hubris-inducing condition, one that America had especially bad during the just-now-ebbing consumer reign of the Boomers, who served as a sort of global demand center squared -- the generational demand center within the global economy's demand center nation. Little wonder they fell deeply in love with themselves and imagined the world as their oyster.

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