I’ve always pondered the significance of unfolding global events and its relevance in the grand narrative of defining an era. For me the following events in history have really caused a cataclysmic shift in global geopolitics and power dynamics:

Berlin Wall (1989)

Berlin Wall 1989

Important here for its symbolism of bridging a divided Europe ever since the end of WW2. The fall of the Berlin Wall signaled a sea change in the Cold War.

USSR Dissolution

Kremlin Coup

The binary opposition of political and economic ideology was to be no more after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. The world entered into an era of increased globalisation as capitalism spread across the world. There was a profound new sense of global cooperation as coalition forces fought to free Kuwait in the first Gulf War, which was to be followed by interventions Somalia and Bosnia.

Asian Financial Crisis (Global Contagion)

Hong Kong Skyline

The truly interconnected nature of global economies was to be felt with the onset of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. An economic crisis that originated in Thailand was to set off the default of Russia in August 1998 and the downfall of Long Term Capital Management. This crisis exposed the truly fragile nature of the new global economic paradigm.

September 11, 2001

911 Memorial

An unforgettable day which would lead to two conflicts and exorbitant spending on the part of the U.S. government.

Lehman Brothers, September 15, 2008

Lehman Brothers NY HQ

Though Bear Stearns went down in March 2008, the collapse of Lehman was truly momentous for it set off a wave of panic across global financial markets. Marc Andreessen mentioned in CS 183 class the scarring effects of the 2000 internet crash on industry people. One has to wonder how the 2008 Financial Crisis has affected those who were old enough to discern the implications of such a momentous time in history. Only time will tell.

I do not necessarily see the current European debt crisis nor the public backlash against Wall St. as a zeitgeist moment for this new decade. Rather these events in aggregate are the derivative of what unfolded in 2008, with the Lehman HQ image being the symbolic image of the Financial Crisis.

The new age we have entered into is one which is fundamentally indeterminate. I say indeterminate due to the seemingly indecisive nature of global governments to settle upon an economic philosophy and to proceed with it. After 2008, one had a real sense that the unfettered free market capitalism advocated by the likes of Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and Larry Summers was coming to an end and that Keynesian policies were making a comeback. It is true that the capital injection aspect of Keynesian economics has made a comeback, but there is also a real sense of inconsistency in some of the policies that have been implemented.

The unfolding European debt crisis is a prime example of inconsistent policies, where fiscal austerity as a way out has now been challenged by rival Keynesianesque policies of government spending. It is this back and forth indecision which has to some extent dragged on and escalated the debt crisis that originated out of Greece. Now almost four years since Lehman, there is a real sense that governments around the world are broken, indecision and infighting almost brought the U.S. to the brink of default in August 2011.

There is a very real sense that the global economic and political power has been fragmented since Lehman. China has steadily chipped away at the economic hegemony of the U.S. and is now in a position to provide capital to debt laden developed countries. We are living through a very interesting age of global power dynamics shifts. It will be interesting to see what the next zeitgeist moment is.