Ian Morris: “The US Would Probably Not Dominate the World After 2070”
2022-12-26 14:56:00
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 “Brexit, the latest version of 10,000-year-old argument” 
PKU Financial Review: Dear Professor Ian Morris, we have just read your new book "Geography is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000 Year History", in which you explained the phenomenon of "Brexit in 2016". In your opinion, what is the role of the UK in the world now?
Ian Morris: Geography has always driven the destiny of the British Isles. On the one hand, they are islands; on the other, they are very close to the European mainland. Ever since the Isles formed, roughly 10,000 years ago, their people have been arguing over whether the best strategy is to engage as much as possible with the European continent or to try to close it off and pursue other options. Brexit was just the latest version of this 10,000-year-old argument. 
Beginning around the year 1700, Britain’s leaders largely separated themselves from Europe and poured their energy into building a global empire of trade and colonies, but by the 1950s they could no longer maintain that. In its place, they tried to act as the main point of contact between the US and Europe. 
By the 2010s, in large part because of the rise of China, many British people began feeling that this strategy had failed; and in 2016, just over half of them voted to leave the European Union. When historians look back on that decision, the main question they will ask is whether it left Britain in a better position or a worse one to deal with a world in which China is increasingly important.
PKU Financial Review: "Why the West Rules―for Now" explains that the fundamental reason for the western rule is natural geography, not culture, religion, politics or genetic inheritance. But now we found that the world's center is shifting to the Asia-Pacific region. This region is densely populated, and it accounts for an increasing proportion of the world economy. Do you think that we are still in the "era of Western Rules", or do you think that the new digital economic revolution is beneficial to regions with more dense population and willing to accept high-intensity technological learning - just as the invention of agriculture and the stability of rainfall are beneficial to the Fertile Crescent?
Ian Morris: I do think that we’re still in the era of Western rule. My book Why the West Rules—For Now was published in 2010, and at that point I predicted that the US would definitely dominate the world in the generation of 2010-2040, would probably dominate it in the generation of 2040-2070, but would probably not dominate it in the generation of 2070-2100. 
We’re now almost halfway through the generation of 2010-2040. Looking at the problems within the US and Europe, it’s tempting to say that the balance of power is shifting faster than I’d predicted, but no one should exaggerate that. The current challenges to democracy and retreat from free trade in the West are parts of a great since the 2010s internal debate that is largely about how best to respond to the rise of China. We should only expect this to intensify across the 2020s-2040s as people work out whether Western-style liberal democracy or alternatives like the Chinese model are the most effective ways to operate in a more technological world. 
“Is war a ‘constructive’ shape?” 
PKU Financial Review: Do you believe that war breeds factors against war, because war allows nations to rise into powerful societies restraint, thereby eliminating more violence. However, the recent war between Russia and Ukraine seems to prove that war may help eliminate violence within countries, but cannot guarantee the control of violence between countries. Especially recently, some people clamored for the use of "nuclear weapons". How do you think of the role of war in our times?
Ian Morris: We humans are just like most animals in the sense that we have evolved to be able to use force to get what we want. We’re different from other animals, though, in our ability to change the way we organize our societies in response to conditions around us. 
One of the main ways we’ve done this in the last 5,000 years has been for the people who have most force at their disposal to form governments, demanding that everyone else pays them taxes and threatening to use violence against anyone who disrupts the state by using force in their private lives. 
The more force these governments have at their disposal, the easier it is for them to do this; but at the same time, the more force that governments have, the more violent the results will be if they go to war with each other. That’s why the twentieth century saw the lowest rates of violent death in history (globally, a person’s chance of dying violently was less than 1 in 100) but also saw the bloodiest wars in history (the two World Wars probably killed over 100 million people). 
After 1945, there were fewer great wars because no one wanted to risk the use of nuclear weapons; and after 1989, the United States had so much more military power than any other government that wars declined even more. However, since the great financial crisis of 2008, some other governments have begun to wonder whether the USA is capable of controlling the global system any more, and a few, such as Russia, have even been willing to risk going to war to challenge the American-dominated system. 
The great fear is that as doubts increase about American dominance, more and more countries will risk using violence; and once war begins, it’s always very hard to predict what will happen. If any nation starts using nuclear weapons, the twenty-first century could quickly become the most disastrous in history. 

 * This article has been initially published in PKU Financial Review.