CGP’s Kamran Bokhari and Jacob Shapiro of Perch Perspectives touch on an array of topics, including how COVID has set the course for U.S.-China competition, the geopolitics of Black Lives Matter, and the shift toward a multipolar world. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a handful of political forces that existed before the virus spread, Shapiro says, and locked the United States and China into a contentious relationship. Elsewhere in the world, the pandemic has created opportunities for some countries to strengthen their positions and in some cases form blocs with other nations as the world moves away from globalization and away from a situation in which the United States is the global superpower. The United States has abdicated its role as global leader, Shapiro says, and needs to look at internal issues like race relations in order to maintain a certain credibility on the world stage because the United States’ greatest strength is in leading by example rather than leading by coercion.
Kamran Bokhari: Hi everyone. This is Kamran Bokhari from the Center for Global Policy, and welcome to another session of CGP’s podcast series called The Lodestar. My guest today is a dear friend and former colleague, Jacob Shapiro. Jacob and I worked together both at Stratfor and Geopolitical Futures. He has moved on to founding his own company, which is a, you know, a remarkable feat, an ambitious move. And I know that Jacob has what it takes to pull it off. And his company is called Perch Perspectives. He is the founder and chief strategist of that company. Welcome to The Lodestar, Jacob.
Jacob Shapiro: Well, Kamran, thank you so much for that introduction. I’m going to have to try and live up to it.
KB: Well, I’m pretty sure you can live up to it. And you know, I want you to tell our listeners what is it that Perch Perspectives is all about, how does it — how is it different from the, you know, the usual suspects, for a lack of better term, in your space, what’s, you know, what is it that you’re trying to achieve with that — just sort of give us you know, what you’re trying to do in this, you know, moment of your career
JS: Sure. So I’d say that there are two key differentiators. The first is, you know, we worked together at Stratfor and at Geopolitical Futures, and at both of those companies we were sort of half consulting half publishing companies, and I felt like instead of doing either one of those things particularly well, we did both of them kind of in the middle. And I wanted to really focus on consulting and on B2B work. Perch still actually puts out a twice-weekly free newsletter, and we have a free podcast as well, and it’s my intention that those things will stay free. That’s, in a certain sense how Perch is giving back — it’s sort of supplying those high-level perspectives to a people who are interested in them. But the way that we make our money and the way we’re going to do our businesses that we’re going to help businesses figure out how to navigate this increasingly competitive, increasingly multipolar, increasingly geopolitical world. In terms of our approach and what’s different about our approach, we call ourselves a human-centric political and business consulting firm. And the human-centric thing is there by design. That’s not to say that we don’t deal with quantitative data. We do. We’re swimming in data all the time. It’s to say that I don’t think there’s any one overarching methodology that can give you all the secret answers to the questions that the universe poses to us. If anything we don’t have one methodology, we use all methodologies. If you’re familiar with Philip Tetlock or with Isaiah Berlin, we’re not the hedgehog that knows one big thing — we’re the fox that knows lots of different things, that contradicts itself, who changes his mind and is flexible based on what’s going on around them. So we’re trying to supply different methodologies, different ways of thinking, keeping the broadest context in mind, and also understanding on a very granular basis how that affects individuals and how that’s basically a process that goes back and forth and you have to have all those perspectives if you’re going to be able to position yourself going forward,. So that’s kind of in a nutshell where we are, and I think the — one of the distinguishing things for me, I don’t know if you feel this way, Kamran, is that you know, I’m personally in my own mentality. I’m more of that fox than I am a hedgehog. But I was a fox who was working for hedgehogs for his entire life. So for me splitting off and founding my own company is not just about money, although I hope we make tons of money. It was also about embracing that intellectual and analytical freedom to basically say, “You know what? I’m going to apply whatever I need to help my client understand this issue rather than being tied any sort of unique methodology,” which I think sometimes doesn’t always create the analytical content and insights that you need to go forward.
KB: We’d love to hear about your methodology. And I think the probably the best way to do that in this conversation is for me and you both to imagine that I’m a prospective client. And I’d love to be your client. But right now, let’s just imagine that. So think of me as a client and, you know, I’m in X business, and I am worried about you know, and you can break it down. I don’t know much. I know my business, but you’re the expert. Help me navigate this this really complicated and increasingly complex and convoluted world that I’m living in, and there are two things happening. There is the pandemic — COVID-19. The world hasn’t seen something similar, you know, for well over a century. And so anybody alive today doesn’t know how to deal with it. And of course, you know, there’s a new time period in history, even if there were lessons, those lessons are obsolete, and we have to figure out our way as a business. I want to know how I’m going to deal with this, because I’m a businessman that — who has interests around the world. And so, how is the world changing? Am I supposed to be worried about my bottom line? Worse, am I looking at, you know, running out of you know ways to make money and pursue my livelihood and those who work for me? What’s really going on?
JS: Well you started with an incredibly easy question, didn’t you, Kamran? Let me give one caveat by saying that the way I approach any client engagement is a little bit different than how I approach a podcast or any kind of piece of content. Inevitably when you’re in a piece of content some of your — your personal feelings and your opinions come out, but if we’re going to diagnose this very, very clinically and be as sort of objective as possible and stand above it all, I’m going to try and stay on that side of it while we’re in this mode, but understand that I’ll also try to be clear when I slip into what is more my opinions rather than my analysis. But the first question there, Kamran, I wouldn’t be a good Jew if I didn’t respond to a question with a question, which is if you were my client, I would be asking what you’re going to have to be a little bit more specific. You’re going to have to tell me exactly where you are involved in the world and what’s going on. But if we’re going to do the sort of 50,000-foot, highest degree level, what’s happening because of COVID-19 is that some underlying political forces that were already in place where already sort of happening have been accelerated and I think have been locked in place. A really good example is that U.S.-China relations were already trending very badly, very negatively, before COVID-19 broke out. I still thought there was a chance or an opportunity to avert that. I don’t think that there needed to be a long-term strategic confrontation between the United States and China. COVID-19 has in a sense destroyed the off ramps. I don’t think that there’s any avoiding that anymore. I don’t care whether the Trump administration stays in office or Biden supplants him. I think we are locked into a U.S.-China struggle for global power. The second thing that has — that has been accelerated is I think the emergence of a multipolar world. We’re not living in a world anymore where the United States is the clear dominant power. Its influence has been reduced and in its place we are seeing different nodes of power spring up around the world. And COVID-19 has given some opportunities to some of these countries. I think Turkey, for instance, has been very, very aggressive in carving out more of a Mediterranean influence and its position. Other countries, like say Brazil, have not dealt very well with COVID-19 and are seeing some of their positions reduced. The key overarching theme here, though, is that even as globalization is becoming a thing of the past you’re having these emergence of political economic security blocs. And those blocs within themselves actually might become more integrated. You’re seeing that a little bit in the European Union. But between the blocs were seen incredibly rapid changes in trade flows, incredibly rapid change in supply chains. Relationships are really changing in a way overnight — processes that normally take years to play out are playing out in a span of months. So that’s happening as well. The third overarching thing that I would tell you that you sort of need to have in the back of your mind is that part and parcel of that competition is the role of technology. And I don’t think that there’s going to be any major war here in the 2020s. There are scenarios where there could be, but I don’t think that there will be. I think what’s happening now is these different blocs, and these different countries that I just mentioned, they are going to try and increase their relative power versus their rivals. I don’t see any countries … enough out there to fight a war with the United States or to fight a war with China, but you can bet that countries like that are preparing for that eventuality, and the way you prepare for that is you invest in technology and you make sure that your technology and your supply chains and all these other things aren’t dependent on other countries. So if you are in an industry, or if you are in any way exposed to any kind of component or service or technology that a national government could deem a national security concern, and I take a very expansive definition of that, geopolitics could affect you extremely directly. I’m thinking specifically of anything related to space — space technology, anything related to biotechnology, anything related to what I call connectivity — 5G being one of the key examples, but there are others — and then a bunch of ancillary things there as well. So those are sort of the top three overall forces that are playing out, and if we want to — if I’m sitting with my client and they want to know more about that, I’d have to say okay — what specific parts of the world were you exposed to, or what in your business is could technically be affected by some of these processes.
KB: That’s a great, you know, overview, and I want to answer your question although it is in a hypothetical one because I’m not a businessman. But if I was a businessman, ideally I’d like to be, you know have you know, a footprint, you know, in the key areas so I can maximize my utility. So, you know you talk about China. And China is important for you know any company that does business in Asia or even the Middle East, because of — China’s right there. It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. And so, how is Asia, and you can, you know, we can throw in Africa as well, you know, changing the Middle East, Central Asia? There’s a big push by the Chinese to go into Central Asia. I recently had a fascinating webinar conversation with an expert from science at Johns Hopkins and, and who wrote a book on, you know, how Chinese are pushing into the Eurasian landmass. So, you know, what should we expect? And again, you know, how does COVID, you know, affect the existing trend line that you mentioned early on in your intro — that you know, the thing, the interplay between the U.S. and China is pre-COVID, and so tell us where that’s going in the context of code.
JS: Sure. I should also I was remiss in not mentioning in my overall overview climate change in general. Maybe that’s something we can talk about later in the podcast but the intersection between climate change and geopolitics is also a defining feature and that’s what we saw just a — just this week, that 38 multinational companies insisted that the Brazilian government do more on Amazon deforestation. The — the intersection of climate and politics is something else that businesses and corporations need to be thinking about but to your question about China: Look, it’s very, very simple, and I’ve told this to a number of different clients across a number of different verticals, especially in the West — for a long time globalization was basically the dominant framework that people viewed global politics through, and that has changed. As a result, though, a lot of companies based their future growth strategies on being able to sell into the Chinese market. China has made tremendous progress in the last 30 to 40 years, but they are only really now just developing a rich and moderately well-off middle class. Who, as you can imagine, want to consume everything and could be a major source of economic growth whether you’re in the aerospace industry, whether you’re creating personal computers, it doesn’t matter. I mean selling into the Chinese market is the dream. And that’s just not going to happen. As I keep telling folks, if your entire growth strategy is predicated on access to the Chinese market, and if you are headquartered in a country that is having political problems with China, there’s still opportunity in China. I’m not telling you to turn your back on China, but you have to start thinking in terms of any business that you have in China is going to be bonus. So if you’re an Australian company and you’ve been making your money selling barley into China, or selling iron ore, or any of these other things, there will still be opportunities there. But the more dependent you are on China, the more you’re potentially going to get hit down the road because as we are seeing China is becoming more defensive, more nationalistic, more independent, trying to bend the global international system to its own interests, which — we can talk about whether that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s certainly an understandable thing for the Chinese to do. And they are tying politics and economics together. Their economic power is what gives them global position and influence, and over the past couple of years they are showing that they are not afraid to use it. On top of that, and we can talk about this a little bit more, I mean the situation with India came a little bit out of left field for me. I don’t know if it came out of left field for you, Kamran, but it’s accelerating this — this dynamic even more, because India is also turning protectionist. And if you’ve got a nationalist minded, more — I won’t call it protectionist, but protective China that is going to make access to its market based on the political reliability of the company or country that it’s dealing with, that’s a huge structural change. If you have India going protectionist and saying they’re not going to accept anything out of China because of a border spat that has increased Indian nationalism that Modi is capitalizing on, suddenly most of the global supply chains that uphold global business have been overturned overnight. So it’s not — I’m not one of these people who says the Asian century is a joke, or who thinks that China is going to collapse. All I’m saying is that things are changing very, very rapidly, and that instead of thinking in terms of comparative advantage or efficiency or cost structure, companies need to be thinking a lot more about global reputation, about political reliability, about what your national headquarter — where you’re headquartered nationally, or what your national allegiance is, how that’s going to bleed into your business, and even if you don’t want it to affect your business the country that you’re going to try to sell to or build your product in is absolutely going to look at you through that framework.
KB: So that leads me nicely to my next question, which has to do with how the United States is approaching China. So obviously there many issues that, you know, the U.S. and China find each other, you know, entangled with but let’s look at … and this is where we get to talk technology as well, is that in simple terms, the United States is worried that if it does business in the high-tech sector with China — so 5G as an example and Huawei and that whole controversy that we’ve experienced and it’s still in play — is a case in point. The United States, from a national security perspective, is concerned, you know — you see so many people coming out writing about this and advising the government to be cautious. The fear is that if you do business with the Chinese in technology, in especially in communications technology in that space, then you are running the risk of rendering your national security vulnerable to Chinese penetration in an age where, you know, information operations is the way many states are pursuing their foreign policy. We have election interference. We have, you know, eavesdropping into — into conversations, appropriation or illegal appropriation of technology and the whole, you know, that whole gamut of risk. What would you say to an American company or Western company that is fearing that this will be the outcome — at least if they’re not fearing this is what they’re hearing from their home governments?
JS: Yes. There absolutely is a serious national security concern when it comes to 5G, but it’s not the one that probably most folks are thinking of. The problem the real national security concern with 5G is that there are only three companies in the world, really — I mean you can throw in a fourth or a fifth — but the three major companies in the world that create a lot of the infrastructure that you need to roll out a 5G network are Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia. And the problem is not so much Huawei — although we’ll talk about that in a second. The problem is that there’s just three of them. You can’t — you can’t go anywhere if you don’t like the three of them now the issue with Huawei, of course, is that nobody is worried about the Swedes or the Finns taking over the world. People are worried that if you’re on if you Huawei technology, then Huawei’s related to the Chinese government and then China can hack into all your communications or turn off your 5G network at a moment’s notice if you make them angry. Yes, that’s true to a certain degree. But look — anything can be hacked. Ericsson technology can be hacked, Nokia technology can be hacked, all of this stuff has back doors or even back doors that folks haven’t figured out. That’s not the issue. The issue is that there are just three companies that make all these — that make the technology that you need to roll out 5G, and that creates potential pain points. Now going forward you see what the United States is doing. It’s not just dealing with 5G and Huawei at a national security basis concern. It’s trying to undercut Huawei’s influence but it’s trying to undercut Huawei’s influence because Huawei produces some of the best technology in its space in the world. It’s also some of the cheapest in the space. I mean Ericsson is also very, very good. But a lot of countries who are thinking about cost and who want reliable technology want to go to Huawei, and there is no defined U.S. alternative. So what the United States is doing is it’s trying to break the way that telecommunications –telecommunications networks work before, which is that they don’t want they don’t want vendor-specific hardware defining your 5G system. The United States doesn’t have a Huawei in part because the margins on the sort of business that Huawei is in is very small and it has the support of the Chinese government to make sure that its profitable even if the margins aren’t very good. The place that the United States leads in this particular space is in data processing and in places like that. And there you have companies like Microsoft and Amazon and Google and Dell all these different American companies who are basically trying to hone in on the market and to capitalize on it. Now we’re talking about a five- to 10-year process, but you can already hear what I’m talking about that this isn’t just a national security issue. Yes, there’s a national security issue in terms of outright dependence on China. Yes, there’s a national security issue in terms of anybody being able to hack in network. But there are also economic concerns — concerns that if China’s head start on 5G technology it’s going to allow China to write all the standards and to enjoy sort of the first mover basis on the costs. So there’s a lot there to break apart and I would just encourage folks — I mean, it’s very hard to understand 5G, you really have to kind of dive down into an understand how it works, but if you want to understand how this stuff works I wouldn’t read what’s coming out of any government. What I would really do is I’d go sit down and understand exactly how this technology works and then you’ll understand some of the reasons that a country like the United States is basically declaring war on a Huawei or why the United States — why the president of the United States is bringing companies into the White House and insisting that maybe they consider buying Nokia. It’s because the United States doesn’t have that domestic capacity in that specific type of technology, and because in a free market where the margins are low on that, it’s not — a company’s not going to go for that off the bat unless it has tremendous government support. Huawei had that and that’s why it has its lead. You’re not going to catch up there just in a period of a year or two.
KB: Well, you know, you’ve given us a lot to think about. Folks, we’re chatting with Jacob Shapiro who is the founder and chief strategist of a new company that helps businesses navigate risk around the world in a human-centric way called Perch Perspectives, and we’re talking about, you know, what is happening to the globe in the context of COVID and of course, the preexisting dynamics — the U.S.-China struggle, there are, you know, the Europeans are moving in a in a new direction after Brexit; Russia seems like it’s very powerful. But you know if you scratch a little bit deeper, you see that it’s not, and you know, there are tons of other issues. So Jacob, I want to close loop on that on that China conversation by asking you some something specific. Am I correct in understanding that you’re saying that the way the political economic structure of China allows it to have a Huawei that poses a challenge to the West and the political economic structure in the West which is free-market economics is at least in this moment falling behind? Or am I jumping the gun here? Is it — you know, what is it? I hope you understand the question.
JS: Yes, and it’s the five trillion dollar question, or the five trillion yuan question, whatever you want to say. and it’s not about falling behind. It’s just to say that the radio access technology that’s a part of the antennas and the infrastructure that Huawei is really good at, and which gave it such a lead in 5G — it’s not, it’s not a business with large margins. It’s not the sort of thing that people are going to go into and it’s also exactly the sort of thing that China is good at: a major infrastructure project that has to have top-down political support so that it can be applied and installed everywhere and you have a government that is strategically creating an environment where those companies, even if it’s small margins, can survive — whether that’s through outright direct support or market mechanisms, all these other things. The folks who argue for U.S. primacy in the world for good reason argue that the primacy is there because the United States is still the cutting edge of technological innovation. So the idea there is that a free market economy and a more open political environment allows the United States to be ahead of China on a lot of things when it comes to technology even if on this very, very specific thing that happens to be right in China’s wheelhouse because of the way that it’s structured, because it’s not necessarily the most cutting-edge technological thing, because it has more to do with scale and sort of aligning top-down priorities that the United States has fallen behind on the specific thing. But this, and this maybe plays into some of the questions you mentioned wanting to talk about before we started, all depends on the United States remaining that global and central hub of technological innovation. And when you see the United States taking steps like expelling foreign students because they’re going to be online, or some of these other measures that the United States is using, which might block the United States from ascending that position as — or excuse me, maintaining that position as a global technological leader, or if you look at how China is advancing rapidly in a lot of different ways, whether it’s maybe China will be the first one to have a COVID-19 virus, or maybe China will be the first one to have an African swine fever virus, when you look at some of the advances that China has been able to make, even though it’s in this centrally controlled authoritarian communist superstructure, then you have to begin to wonder, you know, how long is the United States’ technological lead going to continue? So I didn’t exactly answer your question there, but I think that specifically in regards to 5G that was just the sweet spot. China identified that it wanted to be ahead there, it had the technological know-how to do it, and it understood that politically it was going to be able to throw more resources at this than other Western countries. For a lot of other technology, China’s not even close, but I guarantee you they want to be. And the sort of — that’s why I say the next 10 to 15 years is all going to be about technology. Can the United States maintain its lead? Can it continue to innovate? Can it continue to draw the best talent from around the world and to capitalize on that environment? Or is China going to surge forward in a more multipolar world, a more protectionist world where global ideas aren’t global ideas anymore, but are isolated in these different blocs?
KB: Well, you know what? We’re running out of time here and you know, I wish we had more time to talk about China because there’s you just sort of opened a can of worms when it comes to, you know, at me asking questions. I want to ask so many questions. But we just don’t have the time. So the last question on this topic, and very quickly, how is COVID enabling, or you know, arresting China and the United States?
JS: Arresting …
KB: In terms of this trend line, where China — you just talked about the trend line where you know, the United States needs to remain, you know, have maintained the innovative edge because China can do things at scale. So COVID is affecting everybody. It’s you know, in a sense, It’s neutral in terms of, you know, how it impacts, so what’s the impact of COVID on this trend line where United States needs to be Innovative and the Chinese need to maintain the ability to make things that scale?
JS: I understand. It’s an indirect impact but it’s a very, very serious one, and it goes back to what we were talking about at the very beginning. I think COVID-19 has made relations between the United States and China much worse, and it is also locked in place, I think, a strategic competition long-term. The United States has a lead in a lot of different ways. One of the things I used to — I used to say in presentations before COVID-19 was one of the reasons I thought that there was a chance that the United States and China could avoid a strategic confrontation was simply because the Chinese still import a lot of their microchips from the U.S. or from U.S. companies or from countries that are allied with the United States. China has been trying to build the domestic chip-making capability, but they’re still, in terms of ability, they’re like three to seven years behind the cutting edge, depending on kind of who you talk to there — that’s a rough number. But it would take them three to seven years to catch up to where the technology is at right now. That, to me, was a reason for China to make accommodations with the United States, for it to try and go for compromise at least in the short term and maybe you could build political reliability on with that. The United States isn’t doing that anymore. The United States is trying to cut off China’s supply of chips. It’s trying to make sure that the Taiwan Semiconductor Company, which is probably the global leader in chip making, not only that it doesn’t sell to Huawei and other Chinese companies, but that it builds a fab in the United States. Which you know, when we talk about that that’s like the most prominent example of reshoring that I can really imagine right now. So I think unfortunately what COVID has done, because it has made U.S.-China relations worse, I think has locked that competition in place. It has increased the urgency inside China to catch up on those strategic technologies that it feels like it needs and which it cannot yet create indigenously, and it’s forcing China to move forward quicker than it wanted. In the short term for the United States, the United States holds all the cards here in the short-term. The question is whether the United States can continue to keep that edge going forward in this less globalized world. Because I think that a lot of the reason the United States had an edge was because of globalization, was because of international supply chains, and I’m not convinced that the United States is going to be able to maintain a lead on China in this much more bifurcated world. China’s not the Soviet Union. It’s, you know, the when the United States was in a cold war with the Soviet Union, it was dealing with a country that was, you know, in terms of population. I guess roughly half its size and economy that struggled mightily across a really difficult geography. China is much different. China’s bigger than the United States. It has technological know-how. It has social discipline. It has become very, very wealthy, even an equal and the last decade two decades. It’s a different kind of rival. So I think folks who are thinking about the Cold War as the lens through which to view this are making a mistake. And the real question going forward is going to be how fast can China catch up and how can the U.S. keep innovating in a world that is less conducive to innovation and creativity?
KB: That’s a great segue way for us to come back home, because in the beginning I told our listeners that we’re going to talk about what’s happening in the United States because ultimately, as you rightfully pointed out, that the United States — it depends all depends on what the United States is doing. The ball is in the U.S. court and that brings us back to the domestic situation where there’s a great deal of turmoil, even before, you know, the George Floyd killing and the unrest that came out. The country was trying to deal with how to just continue with life, you know — collectively, individually, familiarly, under you know in a COVID era, and that also took place in the context of a very polarized political climate. And so, you know, given all the changes that are taking place, you know, how do you see, you know, the U.S. ability to shape the international system based on where things are going right now? And you just, you gave us a hint that you know, there are certain things that are beyond who gets the White House come Nov. 3. So there are broader trend lines than just the 2020 presidential election. But, you know, take that and could you pick that whole complexity apart?
JS: Yeah. It’s the hot potato right there. Some of this really does depend on who gets elected president because right now the United States has abdicated its role as a global leader under the Trump Administration. I think there are some ways in which a Biden administration in practical terms wouldn’t be different from a Trump administration, but there is one massive huge way that it would be very, very different, and that is that a Biden administration would try to rebuild American alliances. A Biden administration would look out at the world and try to undo some of this damage. I don’t think it would put America First quite in the same way that the Trump administration has done. I think one of the key questions for a Biden Administration is would it try and rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership? I think maybe, I don’t know if he will have the congressional support to do so, we’ll see what happens in November, but I think Biden’s impulse would be yes. I think you would see Biden immediately call up Merkel or whoever was leading Germany at the time and try and make relations better there, immediately call up Macron, immediately call up Boris Johnson, immediately called up Scott Morrison and try and reassure them that the last four years was an aberration, that America First has never just been about placing the United States first in a very narrow definition of its natural interest, but on a combination of countries that together try and uphold a system that is for the benefit of all. That said, I think like I said, I still think there’s going to be a competition with China long-term. But as it as it intersects with the domestic issues that you talked about, there are no easy fixes to the domestic issues that were talking about. And there are a lot of different causes for them. I mean we can talk about race and we can talk about Black Lives Matter. We can talk about wealth inequality in the United States. We can talk about the breakdown of social cohesion in the United States and the inability for political compromise to manifest in any meaningful way. Also a lot of this depends not just on Biden’s election, but what the balance of power is going to be in Congress in November and whether how the Trump administration is dealing with COVID — I think this is a small possibility right now, but it’s still a possibility — what if you get a Blue Wave into the White House and the Democrats take the House and the Senate and the presidency? Suddenly, we’re in a very, very different environment and Biden will have a lot more power than he would have if, more likely, the Republicans keep at least one of the different houses of Congress. So I’ll that — I gave you kind of my broadest level foreign policy view, but I’ll let you ask me, sort of hack into the domestic stuff a little more specifically if there’s more you want to dive into there.
KB: So yeah, so I want to get back to sort of Black Lives Matter — not in the sense of the way it’s a — I want to look, treat it geopolitically. What does it mean for the United States on a strategic level? You know, obviously we’re again in a moment that is comparable maybe not the same to the 1960s Civil Rights movement and, and in some ways, you know to the extent that I understand — this is not my area of expertise — but it seems like we’re dealing with the unfinished business of the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement and as things take you know evolution or progress or the lack thereof takes place in gradual steps. So hence we’re there, but how does that affect, you know, the way that the U.S. political economy has been functioning? There is a great pressure on Washington and the political elite and the financial elite in this country to say, “Hey, you know what? You know having health insurance is now, you know, no longer an issue of choice.” You know, it’s a — we can’t continue on this path forever. There are arguments that are very convincing that we need to somehow, you know, incorporate some aspects of you know, socialized healthcare. We saw some of that in Obamacare. We’re also talking about, you know, when you talk about race issues and — and this is a country that’s increasingly demographics, from an ethnic and race point of view, are changing. Brookings put out a report a few years back saying that by 2040-45, were looking at, you know, non-white population being a numerical arithmetic majority. How does that change the way the United States is going to behave are we going to behave? Are we going to be able to sail from this in some shape or form where our foreign policy and our presence in the world will continue to, will be able to deal with that while we address these hot button issues at home?
JS: Yeah, that’s a loaded question and I’ll do my best to hack into it. I’m, I’m of course reminded of the fact that I think about this all the time. Like how would I write about a different country if what was happening in the United States was happening there? This became apparent to me this week with the Supreme Court ruling on that — on that land in Oklahoma where that, I can’t remember the exact details, but there was something about how the — there was somebody who petition to the Supreme Court saying that he couldn’t be tried in Oklahoma, he needed to be Tried by the federal government because of a treaty with the Creek Indian Nation and the Supreme Court ruled yes, parts of Oklahoma are — shouldn’t be under State jurisdiction, they should be under jurisdiction of the federal government because there’s technically a treaty in place with the Native Americans that hasn’t been rescinded. Imagine if we were talking about Russia or China and, you know, a large chunk of Guangdong Province was suddenly ruled not to be part of the jurisdiction of the provincial government because it belonged to some other non-Han Chinese ethnic group. I mean just imagine the kind of reporting that would happen, or imagine if you were in — if it’s Russia and a minority that makes up 15 to 20 percent of the population revolts against police brutality and against, you know, a real structural problem where the system is weighted against them and demands to be respected and is rising up with massive protests in the streets for the government to take them more seriously. You know, some folks might look — if you saw that scenario in Russia, you would say oh well Putin’s position is very uncertain and it’s going to collapse. I think there’s something to that, and I think we should always when I’m approaching these issues I do try to take myself out of sort of I am an American citizen and I try and think about it in those terms. Is a lot going to change? Maybe. I hope so. I mean there are long-standing structural problems with race going back to the founding and they haven’t been worked out. And if you’re an optimist about the United States you talk about how incremental progress and the arc of history, the arc of justice, is slowly bending more in a more just direction. If you’re a pessimist, you say no, look, the system is always been rigged against Black Americans and Americans who are not white, and this is just the latest manifestation. I guess what I would say here is that the overarching theme for me is that there are structural problems in the United States that need to get fixed. The United States is not working equitably for everyone and to a certain extent, it hasn’t always worked, it never works equitably for everyone but it’s become particularly stark. And that intersects issues of race, it intersects issues of class, and class and race are also inextricable from each other on a certain level. I think it’s, for example, impossible — I mean we have to talk about police brutality and we have to talk about George Floyd and Brianna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and all these, these people who have been victims of violence. We also have to talk about incarceration rates. We also have to talk about public education. We also have to talk about how wealth inequality in the United States is at its highest in recorded history, including the Great Depression. All of these things are tied together, and I think to your point, Kamran, to think about it geopolitically, I think about the United States as really self-absorbed, as really lacking confidence in itself, and therefore also having less political will to go out and try and reshape the world. some of this also goes back to 2001 and Sept. 11, and failed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the United States sort of failing in a big way on the global stage to help liberal democracy sprout up all over the world. Now there really is a fatigue with that. Why is the United States bombing Yemen with drones when you know, Black Americans are getting shot down in the street? That doesn’t make any sense. Why don’t — why doesn’t the United States work on itself before it goes out and starts doing all these other things? How can the United States blame China for the treatment, the disgusting treatment of its Uyghur population when Black Americans faced very real problems of their own? That’s not a moral equivalence, by the way — people will come at me and say that’s a moral equivalence. It’s not. I’m not saying the United States can’t criticize China. I’m just saying the force of your criticism, and as you said the weight of your criticism on a global stage in some ways is proportional to how much you practice what you preach. If you are hypocritical about the things that you practice other nations are probably less likely to believe you. Just like if you are threatening tariffs on nations that are supposed to be your allies, your allies are going to be listening to you less, which is something the United States is doing right now. So maybe that was a little long-winded and a little rambley, and you can tie me down a little bit, but I would say at the broadest possible level — or not even at the broadest possible level. I think what I would say is the United States going to be self-absorbed for the next decade. It has very, very real issues, and the United States has had previous episodes like this in its past. The difference is that the United States has never had an episode like this and its domestic evolution while it was the undisputed global superpower of the world. And that’s what’s been happening. Not just in the last six months but in the last couple of years, and it’s probably only going to get worse. And that’s why we’re living in this multipolar world. That’s why there is a lot of chaos out there — because the dominant country that created that global international system, globalization and free trade and liberal democracy, lacks confidence and lacks a sense of where it’s going and lacks even agreement inside of itself about what American values really are. So that stuff is going to have to be worked out. At the end of the day, and you know this about me, Kamran, I am an optimist. I don’t think that any of the challenges that is, that are facing the United States are insurmountable. These are things that can still be dealt with if we’re still dealing with the exact same problems in 10 years. I might have a different answer but right now the United States still has an opportunity here I think to remake itself and to, to author some real structural reforms that could fix some of these problems. I’m not one of these folks who throws up my hands and just criticizes things and walks away from them. Part of the reason that I started Perch Perspectives was because in my own way, I wanted to give people more accurate insights. I wanted them to have better access to information so they could make more informed decisions rather than having to rely on a lot of the politically and ideologically tinged information that they can actually get their hands on. That’s my small sort of mission, or it’s my small mission for Perch. It’s part of what I want to do in general. But yeah, I mean, I won’t deny that the situation — that the situation is particularly fraught and like I said, if we don’t make some decisions as a country right now and if we don’t come together here in the next couple of years, yeah, if you’re thinking 10, 15 years down the road, I think the United States’ position as a global leader will be in danger if we can’t decide what we’re going to be leading for and what we’re going to be fighting for.
KB: Basically, that’s, that was sort of — you know, you touched upon something that’s sort of near and dear to my heart, because look — the United States has always had problems. And you know, I’m one of those people who think that over time the United States has — has improved and there’s a lot more that it can improve, and, but more importantly, you know, I’m a I’m a realist. I aspire for ideals, but you know, if, you know, if you look at the state of the world, the idea that the United States, you know, somehow does not, you know, even just the mere thought is not leading the world, and the world is in the hands of other actors that don’t share our values, don’t behave the way we, you know, along the lines of what we cherish as the human way to behave — not to say we don’t have our problems. We just have been discussing a slew of problems that we have internally, but I think that while we deal with that I just don’t want us to be able to get to a point where we’re not able to play that, you know, the or pay that attention that is needed. And then you as you mention, you know this internal turmoil, if we can call it that — obviously it’s much more than that — but you know this internal turmoil United States comes at a time when the United States is actually, you know, leading the world. It’s a moment in its history — prior crises happened when the United States were either weren’t that you know, if you will, intense in magnitude or they took place at a time like the Civil War when the United States was not a major player in the world and the Brits and the Europeans were the ones who were, you know, the global leaders and trying to deal with that. So, you know, my concern here is, and I think that our listeners we want to know, is, you raised the question we would be still be discussing these things and struggling with them in a decade or 15 years? Or, you know, within the next few years we can bounce back. So what, if you had to look into a crystal ball and offer some words of reassurance for listeners, what would you say?
JS: Well, my first words of reassurance are the situation is not lost. Things can change. And what we really need to be doing, Kamran, is having more conversations like this — more serious conversations, not just between you and me, but at a broad political level. I think we have a lot more chaos and turmoil, and I would call it turmoil to come, in part because we aren’t even really talking about the issues yet. A lot of folks have compared 2020 to 1968 in the United States, but when you look at 1968, we were having real discussions, and it was painful and it was violent, and there were there were tragic — there were tragedies as a result of that violence, but we were having a real conversation then about what the United States was supposed to be in the world. You know, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated for his ideas. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated for his ideas. And if you go back and listen to what people like Kennedy and like King were advocating for, it was a real different sort of imagining what role the United States could play, and it took us a long time to work it out. But there was a real conversation happening. There’s no conversation right now. There are folks in their own bubbles, listening to their own things, listening to the things that they agree with. The standard bearer for the opposition to Trump is an old, you know, 70-plus-year-old neo-liberal white man who appreciably doesn’t mean that there’s no real vision for change there. The only vision there is this is not Trump and that’s not going to be enough. That’s why I say I think things are going to get a lot more real, and not just those discussions are going to have to get a lot more serious before we can talk about real change happening. I’ll also say that I’ve been reading George Kennan’s biography, the — I think it was I think it won the Pulitzer. It’s John Lewis Gaddis’ biography of George Kennan and it’s funny to read some of Kennan’s journal entries back in the ’50s and ’60s because Kennan, obviously the sort of mastermind behind containment — although as containment was actually applied, it wasn’t quite what he envisioned, but we don’t have to go down that rabbit hole. But in some of his journals and in some of his articles even, he’s talking about how the United States is not going to defeat the Soviet Union necessarily by undermining it. He talks about how his fear is that the United States internally is not going to lead by example. He talks in terms of the thing that makes the United States stronger is to have a more just society, to have a freer society, to encourage free exchange — to be all the things that give the United States that global appeal because it was going up against a Soviet Union that didn’t have any, any of that. All of its power was based on brute force and on authoritarianism. I think that needs to be the watchword for the United States going forward, and it’s not happening right now. We can’t think of America First or Make America Great Again. That’s past tense thinking, and it doesn’t work. If you’re desperately holding onto your current position, you’re probably going to lose your position in the future. The way the United States can be a global leader is not just with aircraft carriers and not just with tariffs and bans on Huawei and other companies. It’s leading by example. And to the to the extent that the United States is able to rise to that challenge, to fulfill the more noble aspects of its founding, that’s a good thing and the United States power, I think, will increase alongside it. The more U.S. power in the world is about, “You have to do what the United States says because otherwise we’re going to sanction you, or “You have to do what the United States says because we don’t like China and it doesn’t matter that they have better technology than us, you have to do what we say because America First, Make America Great Again” — if that’s going to be the U.S. that interacts with the world, it’s still going to be a powerful country, but it’s going to be an isolated country in its own little bloc and other countries are going to look to other places in order to satisfy their interests. So my silver lining in all this, Kamran, even though I think the situation is not great and I wouldn’t say the trajectory right now looks good, is that these are still things that the United States can fix, and they are things that the United States has evolved on in the past. Whether it can again in the future, all I can tell you there is I certainly hope so, and I certainly think that the potential is there, even if I really really don’t like what I’m seeing from either party or in any of our political discourse right now.
KB: Well, Jacob, at a time when you can’t have a conversation on policy without getting political, I want to thank you for doing a fantastic job of answering my questions. I hope we have addressed a lot of the apprehensions and anxieties of those who listen to us and those who should listen to us. And, you know, this is this is just, you know, a wonderful note to stop at or stop on, and I’m really looking forward to continuing to have that conversation with you that you just talked about and expanding the scope of this where we’re not just talking to people who we like, but we’re also talking to people who we disagree with, because I for one do believe that you know, the future has a lot of good in store for us, and we can, we can make a difference in this world and continue to do that. So on that note folks. I’ve been talking to Jacob Shapiro. He is the founder and chief strategist of Perch Perspectives; you should look into his new company. He’s come up with an Innovative way of helping businesses, which he calls a human-centric way something really we just don’t need in business, but we also need in government. So this is Kamran Bokhari for now signing off. You’ve been listening to an episode of the Center for Global Policy’s Lodestar. Take care and stay safe.
JS: Thanks, Kamran. Cheers.
Although transcription is largely accurate, there could be some inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.