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4. Elements of geoeconomics

The historical method has been largely discredited since the Second World War. Part of the reason is that people have been learning less history since then, so the phenomenon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a downward spiral. The disciplines of history and geography have been systematically neglected, in the USA and indeed in the West more generally, right up to university level. If we knew more history, this would strengthen our ability to draw historical parallels, and thus to make more accurate predictions about future events. Instead it is often wrongly assumed that we know as much as there is to know about history. The field of economics suffers greatly as a consequence.

This neglect of history has led to another dangerous common assumption, namely that an analyst or a scholar can know what is going to happen simply by looking for the appropriate parallel among current events - that to be "well read in history" is not relevant, because the world has changed. A further dangerous assumption is that knowledge of geography has become less important because of Man's conquest of his environment via development of new technology, such as Google Earth. We may know where to find something, but that does not mean we know when to look for it, or even what to look for. It just means that if we are given the correct question then we can often find the right answer, much more quickly than before. Often, the difficult thing is to ask the right questions, and to spot possibilities and parallels when important topics emerge.

Yet another dangerous assumption is that, if the facts are clear, then decision-makers will know what to do with them. Thus the whole intelligence function is conceived as a question of subscribing to the right sources (journals, magazines, internet services): simply knowing where to look. This is also what is easiest to do technically, which helps explain why so many companies come to think this way. Furthermore, it is what is easiest to sell. But what we find will only make sense if we know what context to place our intelligence in and how to analyse it.

When we aim to study the world around us we need to start from the parameters that are given to us as constraints, as it were: the recorded social behaviour we have in common and which is specific to a particular time (history), and the space we move around in, where all social behaviour must find its place (geography); but also the sum of Man's possible behaviours (literature), and the limits to the ways in which he can understand the world (philosophy). When studying human social behaviour we also need to make some basic assumptions regarding human nature. The first is that all people have interests and follow them (rational choice theory). Another is that these interests are mostly (but not entirely) selfish. When interests collide, there is a problem of persuasion. When one interest prevails over another, we have a power relationship. Analyses of power without the moral dimension are what is understood by Realpolitik, which lies at the core of geopolitics. Geopolitics then is the combined study of history, geography, and Realpolitik. The methodological strength of this study is that its building blocks are constructed from the things that are most certain in Man's nature and in his environment.

That is what is likely ultimately to give us the best predictions. But our current social-science paradigm is defined very much in opposition to this methodology. For economists and political scientists, this has often devastating consequences, as when they are asked for their opinions on current affairs. Either they juggle a few economic variables, or they choose the safe path of common-sense notions. Most economists, most of the time, just repeat what they have read - what people they trust have said. Independent, critical thinking is often lacking. All the expertise may be there, but no-one seems capable of "joining the dots", making syntheses, because no-one has learned how to do it -since experts by definition have restricted frames of reference and are victims of their own narrow reading. We are all "specialists", which often ultimately becomes an excuse for failing to take responsibility for the larger picture.

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