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Winners and Losers in the G-Zero World

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It's always very encouraging to see a thoughtful response to a book I've written, and I welcome a good debate. Alexandre Kateb makes some interesting refutations of my G-Zero thesis, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to address them.

One of Alexandre's main concerns is my supposition that, today, states are the preeminent global actors. Under U.S.-led globalization in the post-World War II era, multinational corporations and NGOs both were thriving. As they got more important, states were getting less so. But that all changed with the 2008 financial crisis -- the birth of the G-Zero -- which brought the state back into the forefront with a vengeance.

Where are we seeing a growing role for states as actors in international politics and the global economy? A better question might be: where aren't we? China's leaders are more directly involved in China's economy than they were ten years ago. The same goes for Russia's state capitalist system. China's rise makes the state much more important in the global economy... and this will only increase as its economy becomes the world's largest. This trend isn't limited to emerging markets. European leaders are more directly involved in Europe's regional economy than they were before 2008: global markets are hanging on everything European leaders say and do, lest there be Eurogeddon. Whether it's buying auto companies in response to the financial crisis or addressing the fiscal cliff (or not), the White House and U.S. lawmakers are more involved in the US economy today as well. State-run companies and investment vehicles the world over are increasingly important on the international stage. Bottom line: in general, decisions made by governments in both the developed and developing worlds are moving markets much more than they did five years ago.

We don't know how long the new prominence of the state will last, but it will be with us for at least the next few years -- along with the G-Zero. Losers in the G-Zero world include corporations that don't get this, many of which were built to thrive in the bygone era of U.S.-led globalization. NGOs that act as referees or standard bearers for the old order are in trouble, too. When there isn't one set of rules, but many, local rules become much more important... hence the principal importance of states today. Alexandre's idea that "grassroots movements" like Occupy Wall Street and demonstrations in Russia "taken together constitute a global civil society in the making" is unfortunately not yet in sight. Similarly, I agree that it's a fallacy to think "a top-down 'G-something' can rule the world." So if we don't have 'top-down' or 'bottom-up' global leadership, what's left? None at all. G-Zero.

Alexandre is right that this state of flux can't last and it's not yet clear what comes next -- but my book lays out the most likely possibilities. The likeliest of all: a world where regions matter much more, in which we find "coalitions of the willing" not just fighting wars, but working in small, like-minded groups on climate, economic statecraft, trade -- even cyber security. And while those initiatives will surely be led by states, they could ultimately be more hodgepodge and include a variety of other actors. But that's a long way off.

Interestingly, one group that is particularly emboldened in the G-Zero is neither the MNCs nor the NGOs; rather, exceptionally wealthy individuals can benefit as they arbitrage differences in legal, regulatory, standards, and environmental frameworks around the world. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's the more powerful non-state actor that Alexandre was hoping for.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World.