In the broader world economy we are in the realm of the extraordinary. Never before have so many people in so many places had so much money. The Chinese are earning billions. The Arabs too. And Russians…
“This story coming out of Ossetia is very revealing,” said a fellow diner last night. “The region is much more complex than I realized. These people have been at each others’ throats for centuries. You know, they have about 50 different languages – and none of them related to any of the others. It is only when there is a strong imperial power in place that they settle down and behave themselves. The Tsar pacified the region in the 19th century. Then, the different cultures lived side by side. There were Catholic churches next to Orthodox churches next to mosques. And people mostly got along. And then, Stalin took over. He tried to erase a lot of the ethnic divisions…making them all communists…and forcing them all to learn Russian. But the Russians – either from the time of the Tsars or the time of the Soviets always had trouble along the southern periphery of the empire. They could never very easily bring the Muslims under control. That’s what the Crimean war was all about…and then, in Afghanistan, the Muslims kicked them out.
“But what I think is most interesting about this story is the way Russia is asserting itself. I don’t know what was going through the Georgian president’s head. You don’t attack Russia with just 17 tanks. He must have thought he had support from the U.S. and Europe. But what could the U.S. or Europe do? We know that the Russians can cut off natural gas to Europe anytime they want. They have the energy; we don’t. If they cut off the gas, it will be a long, cold winter for us. And the United States? Putin knows that the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq. And he knows too that the U.S. doesn’t have any money. In geopolitics, the country with the energy and the money wins. And right now, that’s Russia.”
Yes, dear reader, Russia looks like a winner. And China. And India. And all the countries that seem to be on the way up. Who knows which will succeed…or when? But it looks to us as though these countries are catching up – first in economic terms…later in military terms – to the United States.
What does this mean for investors? It probably means that, over the long run, shares in growing, developing countries are a better bet than those in the United States. And it probably means that the dollar is a bad way to store wealth – since it is tied to an economy in (relative) decline.
It probably also means that limited resources – gold, copper, land, water – will become (relatively) more expensive, because there are more and more people who want them and have the purchasing power to buy them.
Markets and Money