Ian Bremmer

Too much of a good thing: the risks of information

Ian Bremmer
Jan 23, 2013 17:53 UTC

Another year, another Davos. Last year’s World Economic Forum was overwhelmingly about Europe’s existential crisis. But Europe has quieted down, at least for now, and so we’re entering the first non-crisis Davos in years. But that doesn’t mean things have settled into, as Mohamed El-Erian puts it, a ‘new normal.’ It remains difficult to find markets with good risk/return, or an area of the world without serious geopolitical tensions. 

Faced with this ‘new abnormal,’ where the only certainty is that shocks will arise from unexpected places, what is this year’s Davos about? 

Everything and nothing. The United States, the Middle East, emerging markets, Japan – all of these are on the agenda, but they’re not all necessarily connected. The emissaries at Davos are in the midst of their own locavore movement – their agendas are remarkably domestic.

Faced with this, the World Economic Forum has made its 2013 theme “resilient dynamism.” According to the WEF, in the wake of turmoil, successful organizations “demonstrate strategic agility” and “possess risk resilience,” prepared for whatever new risks might emerge. The idea is that when there’s too much uncertainty in the world, too much volatility, too much new, you should be sure you can adapt quickly to the unknown. At least, this is what good institutions – be they companies, countries, etc. – should strive for. 

This idea of “resilient dynamism” is strikingly similar to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of “antifragility,” which I wrote about last week. As emerging markets lead us into the future, they’re leaving questions in their wake about just how antifragile, or resiliently dynamic, they are. How flexible and assertive can developing countries be when many of them are saddled with paranoid, foundering, or challenged regimes?

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jan 18, 2013 18:58 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.


Beijing is choking (and can’t hide it anymore)

Avinash Godbole, Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses

The pollution in China’s capital is off the charts; it’s an issue that unites China’s wealthy and poor against the government. What can Beijing do about it? 

Gaffe-prone Merkel rival drags down centre-left as vote looms

Erik Kirschbaum, Reuters

Angela Merkel has done an outstanding job juggling the demands of her constituents and the crisis-riddled eurozone at large. It’s no wonder her approval ratings are sky-high and her reelection prospects are bright.  Opposition candidate Peer Steinbrueck? Not so much. His amusing gaffes make headaches for his party – and life easier for Merkel.  

What doesn’t kill emerging markets makes them stronger… right?

Ian Bremmer
Jan 17, 2013 12:45 UTC

Isn’t it nice to finally emerge from the last four years of financial crisis? Oh, you didn’t notice? Are all the pundits’ discussions of fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings and deficit emergencies making you think we’re still in the midst of a never-ending crisis? 

Well, they’re wrong. We’ve spent the last four years so conditioned to crisis — The banks are imploding! The dollar is ending! The double-dip recession is coming! — that now, away from crisis, we’re still feeding off it. But note that few of the apocalyptic scenarios came true. The United States didn’t nationalize its banking sector, the primacy of the dollar is unquestioned, and it was England, not the States, that returned to recession. Granted, America did ”suffer” a debt downgrade, but that didn’t lead to disaster: It sent investors scrambling into the safest trade they knew — U.S. treasuries.  

These doomsday scenarios didn’t play out as predicted because the United States is actually much more stable than it initially seemed. But the countries leading the world’s growth — emerging markets such as China, India, South Africa, etc. — are far less stable. These are the countries we should be worried about, not our own. Emerging markets make up two-thirds of the world’s economic growth, but they’re countries in which the politics matter as much as the economics. One revolution, one coup, or one sanction can turn growth into risk. This is the precarious global economy in which we now live.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Jan 11, 2013 15:07 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.


1. “The New Power Map: World Politics After the Boom in Unconventional Energy,” Aviezer Tucker, Foreign Affairs

Unconventional energy plays in North America are fundamentally changing energy markets – and, therefore, international politics. Instead of focusing on the good news for the US and Canada, Tucker makes a compelling case that Russia is in big trouble.

2013′s top 10 political risks

Ian Bremmer
Jan 8, 2013 16:18 UTC

It was a close call at times, but we made it through 2012. Now we’re set to encounter a new set of risks ‑ but not in the world’s advanced industrialized democracies, which are much more resilient than feared. This year, with the global recession on the wane, attention shifts back to emerging markets, the economies that are usually the ones that pose the most political risk. You can read the whole report from my political risk firm, Eurasia Group, here, but an executive summary of this year’s top 10 risks, in video and text, is below:

10.) South Africa: Africa overall looks like it will continue its recent growth. But South Africa, one of the continent’s most complex and important economies, is floundering. Its dominant political party, the African National Congress, is resorting to populism to maintain its base among the urban and rural poor. That means more state intervention, more labor unrest and more assertive unions. We’re not predicting a fundamental political crisis, but the country is moving along a path that offers little reason for optimism.

9.) India: We’ve all read the predictions that India is poised to become the world’s next infinite-growth country. Not so fast. Despite initial optimism, the 2009 election hasn’t freed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reform the country as anticipated, with the tough choices continually being kicked to the next parliamentary session. (Americans should find this familiar.) Corruption continues to reign, and as we’ve seen in the rape protests of the past few weeks, there are fundamental cultural issues that India has yet to resolve. As general elections draw closer, the government’s ability to execute robust economic policies will decline even further.

The world’s most powerful people

Ian Bremmer
Jan 2, 2013 19:46 UTC

A few days ago, I took a quick, informal survey around Eurasia Group, the political risk outfit I lead, on power and global politics. The question: Who are the world’s most powerful people? We defined power as a measure of an individual’s ability to singlehandedly bring about change that significantly affects the lives and fortunes of large numbers of people.

Here’s what we came up with, in descending order:

1- Nobody – In a G-Zero world, everyone is waiting for someone else to shoulder responsibility for the world’s toughest and most dangerous challenges. The leaders you’ll see named further down this list are preoccupied with local and regional problems and don’t have the interest and leverage needed to take on a growing list of transnational problems.

2- Vladimir Putin – In Russia’s personalized system, Putin is still the person who counts. He isn’t as popular as he used to be, and his country has no Soviet-scale clout or influence, but no one on the planet has consolidated more domestic and regional power than Putin.

The three 2012 themes that matter most

Ian Bremmer
Dec 27, 2012 15:47 UTC

2012 – the year of the primary, the election, the Diamond Jubilee, the superstorm, the flying dictator, the escaped dissident, the embassy attack, the empty chair, the tech protest, the Olympics, and dozens of other stories already forgotten. It was a busy year and a terribly volatile one, too. Which of these stories will actually matter five years from now? By my count, three:

1)     China rising

2)     The Middle East in turmoil

3)     Europe muddling along

They’re the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2012.

The Good: For the sake of our listless global economy, thank goodness for China’s rise. The country’s Commerce Minister is promising that China will hit its GDP growth target of 7.5 percent for the year. (In the first three quarters of 2012, it grew 7.7 percent.) China’s ability to power through the financial crisis provided global markets with much-needed energy, and its momentum, despite the crisis in the Eurozone, a key trade partner, has helped limit the damage. If it wasn’t for the resilience of the world’s second-largest economy, we’d all be a lot worse off.

The Bad: In 2012, almost every key story in the Middle East has gotten more complicated and more dangerous. Syria, Israel, Gaza, Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt. Israel has become increasingly isolated within the region, facing Palestinian rockets, a nuclear-driven Iran, and the prime minister of a former ally dubbing it ‘a terrorist state’. Egypt’s president pulled off a power play, and the Syrian nightmare deepened. Iraqis struggled to build a new society in the wake of U.S. withdrawal, and (supposedly allied) Afghans killed a record number of U.S. troops before they could reach the exits. When the Arab Spring first began to take shape, many observers hoped it would be just that – a rebirth. But you can’t spin it now. It’s bad and getting worse.

China is the elephant in the situation room

Ian Bremmer
Dec 24, 2012 17:21 UTC

Earlier this month the National Intelligence Council released its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report — a document that comes out once per presidential administration — mapping out likely geopolitical trends over the next two decades or so. As usual, it’s a must-read, offering comprehensive analysis of the disparate factors that will drive global politics through 2030.

Further, the NIC took bold steps to correct some previous weaknesses in past reports. In the past the report nailed the “what” more often than the “when.” That is particularly the case with its treatment of the United States, for which “past works assumed U.S. centrality.” This time around the NIC sets an increasingly “multi-polar world” — which I call the G-Zero — as the backdrop of its report, acknowledging that the lack of global leadership has accelerated in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008-09. America’s status as a “hegemonic power” is eroding, and no country is likely to take its place.

This multipolar world is the foundation for the rest of the NIC’s predictions. The report is organized around subsections that range in probability: There are the megatrends that are sure to have an effect, the game-changers that could go a number of ways, and the four potential worlds of 2030.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Dec 21, 2012 20:55 UTC

Eurasia Group is posting our favorite political risk articles of the week on Foreign Policy, which I’d like to share here as well.  As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer. This is being reprinted from ForeignPolicy.com.


1. “South Korea’s Presidential Election: A Homecoming”

Banyan Asia blog, The Economist

On Wednesday, Park Geun-hye was named president of South Korea by a small margin, making her the first woman to hold the post in the nation’s history. How will her presidency differ from Lee Myung-bak’s? What are the implications for North-South relations?

2. “The Importance of Shinzo Abe”

Sanjaya Baru, The Hindu

A much more momentous Asian election took place this past weekend, as Shinzo Abe and the LDP returned to power. Many are focusing on the possible conflicts that the election could provoke between China and Japan, but this piece asks: Are Japan and India the “natural partners in Asia?” In light of the conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it seems Japan is pursuing an ABC policy (Anybody But China). Why not India?

In a year of big elections, Japan’s was Godzilla

Ian Bremmer
Dec 20, 2012 05:14 UTC

Entering 2012, we were staring at a host of critical elections and transitions in countries that represent about half the world’s gross domestic product. You would think those elections and political handovers would have been some of the most important events of 2012. Yet they were largely red herrings.

In China, the consensus view is that even with a change of leadership, China is largely the same as it was; if anything, the Chinese leadership has doubled down on the approaches of its former government. In Russia, Vladimir Putin went from running the country as prime minister to running the country as president. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy was voted out and a socialist, François Hollande, voted in, but that hasn’t changed France’s stance toward the European Union, its most important relationship. And in the U.S., Barack Obama swatted aside Mitt Romney while Congress remained divided, making four more years of the status quo likely.

Yet in one major economy an election really did matter, and really will change the way a country behaves in the global arena. That place was … Japan.