Artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous cars, the internet of things—all the biggest trends in technology are critically dependent on semiconductors. The advanced chips that power smartphones and self-driving cars today have several billion microscopic components on them. Only two companies in the world can produce these chips, one in South Korea and another in Taiwan. The United States and China are competing for control over the future of computer chips. The outcome of this struggle will determine the shape the future of technology and of geopolitics.
For decades we’ve been told that “the world is flat” and that globalization is spreading economic opportunity around the world. The trade disruptions caused by the pandemic are the latest evidence that this view of globalization is a myth. Rather than spreading widely, production of critical goods from face masks to semiconductors has been concentrated in a tiny number of countries. Our globalized economy is more efficient, but less resilient to natural disasters or geopolitical shocks. Yet these “unexpected” shocks to global are coming far more frequently than most people expect.
Russia is impossible to ignore. The Kremlin is meddling in crisis zones from Venezuela to Afghanistan. Putin has injected himself into the center of domestic politics in America and in many European countries. China’s leader Xi Jinping describes Putin as his “best friend.” What is Putin trying to accomplish on the world stage? How has he held on to power at home amid a decade of economic stagnation and falling living standards? How fragile is his hold on power?
Trade Wars. Tech competition. Taiwan. Disputes between the U.S. and China are spreading into every sphere. They have already caused Washington and Beijing to disrupt global trade with tariffs and sanctions. But this isn’t the first time a great power clash has reshaped the global economy. From the ancient Greeks to the Cold War, rivalry between great powers has always impacted trade and capital flows. What lessons does history have for understanding the future economic impact of worsening U.S.-China relations?