In looking at another of the endless “best of 2009″ lists, I came across this fascinating article about geography as a nation’s destiny. The author, Peter Zeihan, notes that (as of the time he was writing, June 2009) the U.S. was not as hard-hit during this recessi0n as a number of other countries, if you can imagine that. He then describes the geography of North America, Russia, China and the European continent in terms of farmland and the navigability of its rivers and ports.
Zeihan comes to some conclusions about why various countries tend toward different political and economic systems, which in turn make them apt to suffer more or less in a global recession, relative to other nations.
Taken together, the integrated transport network, large tracts of usable land and lack of a need for a standing military have one critical implication: The U.S. government tends to take a hands-off approach to economic management, because geography has not cursed the United States with any endemic problems. This may mean that the United States — and especially its government — comes across as disorganized, but it shifts massive amounts of labor and capital to the private sector, which for the most part allows resources to flow to wherever they will achieve the most efficient and productive results.
Between the lack of ports and the relatively low population densities, little of Russia’s transport system beyond the St. Petersburg/Moscow corridor approaches anything that hints of economic rationality. Russia also has no meaningful external borders….These endemic problems force Russia toward central planning; the full harnessing of all economic resources available is required if Russia is to achieve even a modicum of security and stability. One of the many results of this is severe economic inefficiency and a general dearth of an internal consumer market.
If you have some inter-holiday time on your hands, the whole thing is worth reading.