October 5, 2022


The Geopolitics of Stuff

“Today, the double whammy of virus and war has brought the world economy of physical goods back with a vengeance. The postmodern myth of lightweight digital exchange has slammed into the reality of semiconductors, shipping liners, and energy shortages” – Lee Harris, Vibe Shift to Stuff, Prospect 2022

“We are living in a time of overlapping emergencies – pandemic, climate change and intense geopolitical tensions all coincide. We need to be prepared for future shocks to the global flow of goods.” – Isabella Weber and Mark Paul, August 2022

In October, Phenomenal World and The Polycrisis hosted a discussion on commodities, supply chains, and climate. The event featured Isabella Weber, Tim Sahay, Kate Mackenzie, Skanda Amarnath, Joe Weisenthal, and Thea Riofrancos. A recording can be viewed here.

The importance of the physical world (energy, materials, logistics, labor and location) is resurgent. The proximate causes are the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, but the returning primacy of “stuff” is also driving — and driven by — multiple forces including sharpening geopolitical rivalries; increasingly frequent and severe weather and climate events; and an inflection point in clean energy generation costs. While there are many policy options, they are not all feasible politically, and (conventional) monetary policy is not equal to the challenges.

Some governments are shifting dramatically towards the reversal of decades-long ideological commitment to free markets, just as in the early days of the pandemic: bans, nationalizations, rationing, windfall taxes, and price controls. Are these measures enough to fix the illnesses in the political economy?

This was the first event from The Polycrisis, a new project on climate and political economy published by Phenomenal World, and founded and led by Kate Mackenzie and Tim Sahay. To stay up to date with the project as it develops, sign up here.