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The Storm Before the Calm: America's Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond

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George Friedman võtab luubi alla Ameerika Ühendriikide tuleviku. Analüüsides selgelt välja joonistuvaid tsükleid, mille jooksul Ameerika Ühendriigid on arenenud, läbinud murrangulisi muutusi, küpsenud ja karastunud, lahkab Friedman põneva üksikasjalikkusega saabuvaid aastaid ja aastakümneid. Friedmani analüüs on detailne ja paeluv, hõlmates teemasid, nagu föderaalvalitsuse suurus ja haare, abielu tulevik ja ühiskondlik leping, ettevõtete struktuuri muutumine ja eluea pikenemisega seonduvad uued kultuurisuundumused.
See on raamat maailmast ja selle korraldusest, küll kirjeldatuna Ameerika Ühendriikide ajaloo kaudu. Friedman võtab aluseks USA riigijuhtimise ja majanduselu arengutsüklid ning näitab, kuidas need on süvitsi mõjutanud inimeste ja riikide käitumist, alguses kitsamalt riigis endas, kuid õige pea ka mujal maailmas. Need tsüklid on erineva ajavälbaga, aga selle kümnendi lõpus satub mõlema lõpp ja uue algus esimest korda ajaloos ühele ajale. Kuna tsüklivahetuse mõju on alati olnud epohhiloov, siis on oodata tormi. Maailm muutub, aga milliseks? Vajalik lugemine.
– Margus Kolga, diplomaat

256 pages, Hardcover

First published February 25, 2020

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About the author

George Friedman

50 books551 followers
George Friedman is an internationally recognized geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs and the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures.

A New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Friedman's most recent book, THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond, published February 25, describes how “the United States periodically reaches a point of crisis in which it appears to be at war with itself, yet after an extended period it reinvents itself, in a form both faithful to its founding and radically different from what it had been.” The decade 2020-2030 is such a period which will bring dramatic upheaval and reshaping of American government, foreign policy, economics, and culture.

His most popular book, The Next 100 Years, is kept alive by the prescience of its predictions. Other best-selling books include Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, The Next Decade, America’s Secret War, The Future of War and The Intelligence Edge. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. Dr. Friedman has briefed numerous military and government organizations in the United States and overseas and appears regularly as an expert on international affairs, foreign policy and intelligence in major media.

For almost 20 years before resigning in May 2015, Dr. Friedman was CEO and then chairman of Stratfor, a company he founded in 1996. Friedman received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of the City University of New York and holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 209 reviews
Profile Image for Antigone.
517 reviews750 followers
March 4, 2021
It is one thing to invent a machine and another to make it run without extensive maintenance. The solution for this invention [of America] was to make it inefficient. The balance of powers that were created achieved three important things: first, it made the passage of laws enormously difficult; second, the president would be incapable of becoming a tyrant; and third, Congress would be limited by the courts in what it could achieve. The founders' remarkably inefficient system of government did what it was designed to do; it did little, and the little that it did, it did poorly. The government had to protect the nation and maintain a degree of internal trade. But it was private life that would create a cycle of creativity that would allow society, economy, and institutions to evolve at remarkable speed yet not end up tearing the country apart.

George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster known for the accuracy of his predictions with regard to the United States and its negotiation of the choppy waters of the modern day. When he speaks, those in positions of power have a tendency to listen. In The Storm Before the Calm, he turns his focus to the forces currently propelling the nation to critical mass.

Mr. Friedman calls our attention to the cyclical nature of America's evolution. Two cycles in particular are presented to view: the Institutional Cycle (running roughly eighty years from inception to reset) and the Socioeconomic Cycle (of fifty years' duration). For the first time in the history of these United States, both cycles are geared to close in tandem - so grab those seatbelts. According to our oracle, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Friedman's projections are interesting. I was especially intrigued by his anticipation of the imminent fall of the "technocracy." He refers here to the investment in expertise, and the drawbacks inherent in allowing specialists to lead. While it would seem, on the surface, to be a smart idea to follow an expert in any given field, the truth is that an expert's perspective is quite narrow - and limited to his field of endeavor. To offer a contemporary example: Someone who is a savant in the arena of vaccine development has directed his energies solely toward that aim (the process of developing a vaccine) and not, say, toward funding such projects, or manufacturing his result; packaging it, shipping it, storing it, or effectively distributing it. So, putting this man in charge will only guarantee success in one aspect of addressing an infectious disease. Our author suggests America is soon to recognize this truth and make a correction in its fundamental leadership requirements.

The quality of thought on display in these pages is admirable. I also appreciated Friedman's ability to lay a solid and succinct foundation for his contentions. No deep-sixing three hours of my time in anecdotal tangents. This was concise, and never lost sight of its destination. Do I agree with him? On many points, yes. But the work was finished seemingly moments before the start of the pandemic, which I believe alters some of these trajectories.
Profile Image for David Wineberg.
Author 2 books734 followers
December 10, 2019
There has been a minor trend of books predicting the end of the American Empire by 2030. The Storm Before The Calm at first appears to be yet another, but it is more nuanced and clever. It doesn’t predict the end, but a new beginning, one that happens every 50-80 years since America was founded. The idea is that there are two series of waves or cycles: the institutional one runs 80 years (or so), and the economic/sociological one runs 50 years. For the first time ever, they will almost overlap in the 2020s according to George Friedman, who theory this is.

These waves or cycles have no names, just descriptions. They give plenty of warning, a decade or more, and can take another decade to settle down for a calm(er) run over the following 50 years. My problem with them is they are so unscientific, so packed with cherry-picked events, that they could appear any time, or never. Just pick the trends, developments and events you want to populate them with, et voila! They fit the theory.

Meanwhile, back in the cycles, Friedman positions them after major wars and economic crises. So cycles figured in independence, the Civil War, World War II and after Jimmy Carter. The last president of every cycle is a dismal failure, largely because he does not have the perspective to know his position in the cycle. Similarly, the first president in the new cycle makes all kinds of big changes, unknowingly setting up the next calm period with them. In that definition, Donald Trump does not even place. The last president in the upcoming cycles will be 2024-28. Many might think differently about the damage Trump is doing to government agencies and institutions, international trade, treaties, relations, morals and values, but in Friedman’s theory, he’s just more, not majorly different. And not The End.

Trump does however fit Friedman’s requirement of an ever-failing attempt by a president near the end of a cycle to bring back the good old days of an era that is gone forever. So one way or another, there’s more of that to come. Previous presidents at the end of cycles were John Quincy Adams, US Grant, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.

Besides the timelines, the evidence for the upcoming changes are that institutions have twisted themselves out of scope. For example, Friedman cites mortgage assistance. That was a postwar effort to help veterans become civilians, but morphed into a feeding frenzy down to subprime civilians and led to a massive debt bubble bursting in 2008. Similarly, the country no longer has the luxury of leaving declarations of war to the deliberations of Congress, he says. Nuclear and terrorist attacks have changed the playing field, requiring instant response. In his theory, these are tension points that will need unwinding.

Cycle ends are characterized by deep social and economic dislocation. There would be little disagreement we are undergoing such change, but it can also be said of pretty much any stretch of American history. The USA is a constant struggle to adapt. Westward expansion, Southern Reconstruction, urbanization, suburbanization, ghettoization, public education, computerization, drugs, mass media of various levels over the decades, have all contributed their piece to the strain. To me these cycles, lasting as short as Friedman specifies, might as well not be accounted for at all. He does not make the case they are distinct and recognizable to anyone but him.

Friedman spends a chapter explaining how the USA is an empire in denial, a reluctant empire, an immature empire, and not a particularly competent empire, using too little or too much force, largely dependent on Russian involvement for its efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Countries worldwide must toe the US line or be invaded, taken over, have their governments replaced or bankrupted. The USA maintains over 840 overseas military bases in far less than the 200 countries of the world, precisely to maintain its empire. And what it doesn’t threaten with its military, it manipulates with its money.

He says Americans don’t care much for ideologies, but that is absurd. The whole country has devolved into ideologies, voting by party, marrying by party, moving house by party allegiance. People don’t know the names of the candidates any more, they simply vote by party. For him to base his cyclical conflicts on the lack of ideology sends the whole project off the rails, for me.

Instead of ideology, he thinks the next big conflict will be over the federal government vs the citizenry, that the technocrats want to defend their power of complexity over the people’s desire for simplicity. But the federal government has been neutered and no longer matters very much. From the EPA to the weather service, the president has been interfering, reducing, minimizing and emasculating government. The EPA has been reduced to counting toilet flushes, the FBI to investigating the FBI. It’s not that no one trusts government any more, it’s that government isn’t there any more. The Justice Department did not take down a single financier over the 2008 Financial Crisis. Antitrust is a quaint notion. Regulations are being rolled back for no reason. Parklands are shrinking. Even the IRS is incapable of carrying out its mandate. So where exactly is the front line of this future battle?

He also forces things to fit his theory. He says the George W. Bush administration was the last time there was co-operation and rationality in government (“calm”), that beginning with Obama and now Trump, rigidity and lack of progress rule. But during Bush II, the W. stood for Worst president in history. His cabinet members were not merely unqualified or incompetent but maliciously so. He accomplished nothing lasting (structurally), even with the loud influence of the Tea Party. He was embarrassing internationally, and ridiculed nationally. To be nostalgic for W. as a pillar of calm stability is ludicrous.

Finally, this theory is only valid in the USA, it seems. It is special for Americans alone. Which doesn’t help its standing as a theory.

George Friedman was the chairman of Stratfor, the geopolitical prognosticator. It should be noted that another alum, Peter Zeihan, has just published a book called Disunited Nations using the Stratfor brain trust to predict how nations all over the world will fare in the coming decades, but not coming even close to what Friedman says about the USA. It would seem the crystal ball business is not quite as reliable or replicable as its adherents would have it.

David Wineberg

Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 6 books382 followers
May 9, 2023
Retrofitting a narrative.

I read this with skeptical interest but found this ultimately failed based on cherry picking historical events, economic and social trends to force a narrative on the reader: that the US goes through an 80 year cycle where the federal government's role changes and a 50 year cycle of socio-economic change. The author argues that these two major cycles will be changing over in the 2020s and predicts ill defined social and economic turmoil but ultimately promises prosperity going forward. Now I don't have a problem with someone coming up with a narrative to serve as thought-model. This can be really useful and I did enjoy hearing about this narrative. My issue is the unflappable certainty that the writer believes these things will come to pass based on his own confirmation biases, endorsement of American exceptionalism and arm-chair speculation and moralizing.

Friedman starts off with an uneven historic account of the beginnings of the American revolution and then continues a narrative thread that helps support his hypothesis of these cycles. It's strange that major events that don't happen to coincide with his timed cycles aren't the heralding of a new cycle. One would think 9/11 is the beginning of a new cycle but I suppose that is debatable. I do think Friedman understands pretty well the major forces that drive American institutions and politics and he can give a fairly balanced analysis during some portions of the book.

But the author's true opinions shows with how much he loathes liberal technocracy. He states that since WWII we have been in the age of Ivy League technocrats who rule as blubbering, complex and siloed entities that don't communicate with one another and are failing under their own bureaucracy. He casts the technocrats the dominant force and authority that drives federal institutions. While I think he makes a lot of sense complaining about overwrought and out-of-touch technocrats, he gives them undue emphasis and leaves out the more important problem: state-corporate collusion. It's bizarre Friedman doesn't even mention how enmeshed the corporatocracy is with the state and federal government and regulation agencies. Rather than living under the reign of technocrats, we're living in the age of minimal regulation where federal rule has become incredibly impotent. Friedman does a good job recognizing the unwanted and corrosive effects of concentrated wealth but not once does he discuss how this influences the function of the federal government. The man does not once mention Citizens United, lobbying or regulatory capture. I'm sorry, but he's simply wrong about the tyranny of technocrats and he lost a lot of credibility with me. He also makes the same tired and false argument the GSEs are responsible for the 2008 financial crisis when the lion's share of the bubble was clearly unregulated private, predatory and subprime loans thrown into mortgage backed securities. Further evidence that the problem is not just technocrats, it's unfettered markets. He also casts the US as a "reluctant empire" which is a pretty gentle analysis of a country intentionally at war its entire existence with the abject goal of global hegemonic control.

Here's the big issue with his book: the solutions. He literally says we just need people with "common sense" without qualifying that at all. I'm sorry, but that's not a solution, that's just complaining. "Common sense" is highly subjective. I'm baffled this is the foundation of his solutions. When it comes to climate change he basically says "I'm pretty sure it's happening but I don't know what to do about it so I won't include it in my prediction model." Okay. And here's the kicker about his solution for demographic collapse from dropping fertility rate and an ageing population: he literally says older people shouldn't be allowed to vote in the future. What a bonkers thing to say.

So, not only does this author not have a crystal ball, he's not even correctly diagnosing our current modern problems.
Profile Image for Joseph.
516 reviews48 followers
July 14, 2020
This is the first book I've read from this author, but based on what I liked about this book, I'm going to check out his other works. He makes several predictions about the future of our country, both politically and social-economically. He makes the argument that our history is full of cycles, and that these cycles recur every 50 to 80 years. The graphs scattered throughout the book really helped me to visualize the points the author was trying to make. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in current geopolitics, as well as the general reader.
Profile Image for Casey Wheeler.
928 reviews39 followers
December 20, 2019
I had high hopes for this book, but was sorely disappointed. Friedman puts forth two theories of change over the course of history for the United States. One is institutional that occurs approximately every 80 years and one is economic/social that occurs every 50 years. He postulates that these two are going to occur at the same time for the first time in the 2020s. I found his arguements to be weak in that the facts he has used to develop his theory ignore several times where they occurred between his time cycles with just as much impact. His observation that the George W. Bush presidency was the last where we experienced calm left me somewhat perplexed. Overall, I found this book to be much less than I had anticipated based on the author's background.

I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my nonfiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook  page.
Profile Image for Ron Housley.
97 reviews9 followers
March 29, 2020
The Storm before the Calm
George Friedman

A short Book Report by Ron Housley

I ran across George Friedman over a decade ago when he was the driving force behind Stratfor, before Geopolitical Futures had ever got off the ground. There was something there, some hint of deep understanding and insight about how the world operated, something mysterious and intriguing.

In this current book, George constructs a theory to account for the ebb and flow of historical events, showing us various cycles from America’s founding up through the present; the first chapter set the stage for us to visualize the evolution of several such cycles.

I began the book trying to pin down how George regarded individual rights and by trying to figure out what he thought was the legitimate role of government. Up through page 19 he had not quite teased out that the purpose of the new American government was to protect the individual rights of its citizens, but he did say, “Liberty is the precondition to the pursuit of happiness.” He could just as easily have clarified that “liberty is protecting the rights of the citizens, so that they would have the option to pursue their own happiness;” but he didn’t offer up that level of clarity.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Before he gets to his central theme about the intersection of two major cycles in the 2020’s, George spends several chapters laying down his account of the history behind the cycles; but in so doing, he glosses over points that are begging for a broader analysis.

For instance, he tells us “women won Word War II” because they entered the blue-collar work-force; that somehow redounds to a generalization about women. Then, he tells us how an inventor creates “a business to turn (his invention) into wealth” (p. 63); but he says this in passing, as if it weren’t a critical and central point lost on hordes of Americans today. Then, he tells us that the subtlety for the inventor “was in understanding…what the customer would buy” (p.64); but that seriously understates the reverence due to inventors, not quite up to the level of Steve Jobs, who said, “They don’t know what they want until I show them what’s possible.”

Then, in a whole new level of sweeping claim, George tells us, “America is about making war.” (p.66) But he offers up nary a word of defense against the observation that it is the statist regimes which “make” war; that free nations go to war in self-defense. I was initially offended that George would frame it that a free nation makes war; I wish he had merely acknowledged the degree to which America had reneged on its promise to remain free (and had become more statist itself) when it became involved in “making” war.

Then, he tells us about the “enslavement of Africans.” But he doesn’t balance the proper condemnation of the enslavement by pointing out that slavery was dominant in every culture on earth for thousands of years; that America’s founding marked the first time in human history when a philosophical defense of freedom over slavery was given political expression. He rightly criticizes the three-fifths rule in the Constitution; but he doesn’t point out that it was that same Constitution which set the stage for slavery to be abolished for the first time ever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

George’s book is about the CYCLES — which he presents as crises > order > reinvention — cycles that manifest over and over, on somewhat of a schedule, as if ordained by a power up on high.

Identifying cycles is George’s way of explaining the shift which played out as the culture pushed back against America’s initial embrace of reason and liberty — our original founding principles. The “un-reason” birthed by European philosophers infected the American mainstream through the universities, through the newspapers, through the literature, through politicians and judges…..as all this change gradually took place in the country’s march from liberty to statism. George sees it as some unstoppable, metaphysical set of cycles. It does seem unstoppable, like an out-of-control train running downhill without breaks.

When George tells us that Presidents don’t make history but that history makes them, what he is really describing is how it is ideas that drive it all. The President embraces ideas; his constituents embrace ideas. It is the ideas which animate the laws, the regulations, the coercive acts of government and ultimately the juggernaut of changes usurping liberty.

It is ideas which are behind the change we see happening, perhaps conforming to George’s cycles. But it does not appear to be some determinist force at play.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

George’s account of the “institutional cycle” rests upon some questionable premises, for example: (1)that the Great Depression was solved by war (p. 101), rather than by repealing the New Deal’s most onerous interventions which weren’t repealed until shortly after the war, when their continuance was finally seen as an obstacle to economic growth; (2)that after 1929 the government needed to “intervene in the economy” (p.99), as if it wasn’t the government’s massive interventions (think: Federal Reserve, Smoot-Hawley tariffs) that caused 1929 in the first place.

George contends that “institutional cycles” are at play; but it’s hard to see how all the changes he describes are anything substantively more than institutional usurpations of individual liberty going from massive to more massive — and ultimately to the point where nobody bats an eyelash at printing an extra $2-Trillion with the stroke of a pen.

George looks at all the changes and sees “institutional cycles.” I look at the same changes and see a decades long shift from individual liberty to collective statism.

But here’s where the reader has to really put on his thinking cap: When these “institutional cycles” intersect with what he then identifies as “socio-economic cycles,” will the mere temporal coincidence produce a fundamentally new type of calamity?

George’s “institutional” cycles include the hand of government tinkering and tampering with the ECONOMY; so, it’s not easy to grasp how these “institutional” cycle elements are fundamentally separate from the elements he describes in his section on “socio-ECONOMIC” cycles.

Nowhere in his explication of the various cycles does he discuss the ups and downs of the natural Business Cycle, nor of how we’ve been subjected to more painful ups and downs as potentially free cycles have been throttled by coercive attempts to regulate, to control, to tax, to centrally plan. The Business Cycles have always been with us, but attempts at central planning have aggravated the cycles since the beginning of our Republic; George makes no mention about this part of our history, as he describes the earlier cycles.

I would have expected at least a short discussion about America’s early struggle with the unknowns of how “free banking” could have been an alternative to what actually was put in place by imposing controls (notably the bond-collateral requirement and the prohibition on branch banking — both of which featured prominently in creating various banking crises in the 18th and 19th centuries), and how people just blithely presumed that the implemented system was “free,” even in the presence of crippling and unnecessary rules.

I have to allow that sometimes a supposedly clear idea does not come into proper focus on my own personal screen. Such may be the case with George Friedman’s contention that a confluence of two (largely similar) cycles will somehow conspire to hand us a catastrophe .

I can certainly follow his outline of the crisis in student loans and in university education; but it’s harder to follow how it represents some inevitable actualization of cycles. What I see is a problem created by government take-over (which means that the ideas were in the culture already to allow this) of education and also their take-over of the entire student loan industry, such that a flood of money then became available to the universities, and to the education bureaucracy which naturally mushroomed. I was never able to get on-board with George’s reasoning that the outcome was cyclically inevitable.

George’s prediction of low productivity and high unemployment for the late 2020’s is hard to deny; he correlates it with stagnation of high tech and the pervasive psychological depression likely accompany stagnation in demand for tech workers. We have been seeing that coming for as long as we’ve seen the cultural shift away from individualism.

George Friedman’s hypothesis of an inevitable confluence of two major cycles is certainly interesting; but it was never quite clear to me why his predicted outcomes wouldn’t come to pass merely as the result of collectivist ideas set in motion in the 18th century, then carefully nourished for generations by the intellectuals, and gradually given the force of law by the caliber of politician that such a system spawned.

I will continue to follow George Friedman; I will continue subscribing to his Geopolitical Futures offerings. There is more here than meets the eye; and I am willing to concede that my disagreements with him may be more my failure to adequately grasp his argument. Thank you for the book, George!
Profile Image for Rick Wilson.
709 reviews263 followers
September 22, 2022
Mostly a miss

This author starts with a re-characterization of American history, cutting many corners and allowing his narrative to suit his intended effect. That’s fine people do it all the time. And I actually think it’s a backward looking “these are sort of the eras of American history” it’s a solid model. We can kind of loosely fit America into expansionist periods and the increase of government intervention.

The problem is that besides roughly informing the reader of these eras. I don’t buy any of the forward-looking statements in this book.

The author proposes his grand theory of American everything. Boiling down to a coalescing series of parallel cycles that he sees in American history. An institutional, rise from the ashes, like a phoenix, rebirth of government and institutions that people interact with. And according to the author of this happens every 80 years. the second tsunami of Geopolitical change sweeping the globe is the economic rejuvenation that occurs every 50 years

The problem with both of these theories is that they’re bunk. it’s like some dude was staring too long at a timeline of American history, circled a couple of the events, and then tried to extrapolate forwards. It doesn’t work. And I found the arguments for this model unconvincing.

People love patterns. My pet theory is it’s only reason transactional analysis exists. if you stay long enough at white noise, you can start to detect meaning in the static. It’s very convenient to ignore a lot of the significant actions that have happened and to try to claim that you understand them because of some larger mechanism at play. But the frustrating part as I’m reading this book is that this guy is just ignoring massive events in American history by claiming what? Like, how do you just ignore the great depression? His model doesn’t fit 911 or the stock market crash of 2008 and the subsequent massive changes in the relationship between the federal reserve and your average investor.

Is that at the end, this book is really like talking to person who is really indastialogy. I don’t believe you. And it’s possible I’m wrong. But there’s really no way for either of us to disapprove each other’s theories because you’re just gonna change the definitions and I’m gonna get increasingly frustrated until I beat my head against the corner of whatever sharp object is nearby until I can exit the conversation through coma. Maybe the world really does operate on some mechanistic clockwork that is coming due in the next couple years. But it seems like this model ignores most of history, and like the basics of how causation happens.
2 reviews
March 15, 2020
It is hard for me to believe George Friedman wrote this. He does not use citations or a bibliography, or even an index, but I enjoyed reading his previous books regardless. He stuck to geopolitics mainly in his previous books. This one is much different and much less interesting. The text is dull. Friedman normally has a more concise and witty style of writing. The ideas are also dull. It's as if the Heritage Foundation wrote this one. His theory of 'cycles' were unconvincing to me. There are some vague predictions towards the end that anyone paying much attention at all likely will have already considered. I consider a great fault in the book that he does not mention any history or current effects of U.S. foreign direct investment, in or out. It's as if his 'invented nation' that rose to empire originated from some hardworking boat people. I suppose you could say that a colony that becomes an empire that colonizes is 'invented' since there probably haven't been many empire with those origins, but he doesn't say that. I hope George hasn't moved from his prediction mode to a propagandist mode, but this book certainly seems like that is what has happened. His claim that U.S. Empire was 'unintentional' and 'reluctant' is just plain ridiculous. Unintentional and reluctant to whom?? Certainly not those that relentlessly pursued it and called it anything else. But fear not, an election will turn the tides he tells us. Perhaps he hasn't tried voting lately?
Profile Image for Jeremy Lane.
Author 22 books50 followers
April 19, 2020
It is quite tempting, I think, for those living through a crisis - whether related to global or national health, politics, business, education, or all the above - to feel as if they are living through novel and unprecedented times. Often, many of the details are truly new, but if we take a step back we find that the overall dynamic is a bit of a rerun. I found George Friedman's "The Storm Before the Calm" to be timely in that regard.

Friedman writes in long strides; I found myself reading passages twice because I knew he was about to run off and leave me. But for those who worry that the "American Project" may be failing, or that the leadership of our nation is leading us off a cliff, or generally that 'the end' is upon us, this book provides unbiased, level-headed, reasonable, and fact-driven reassurance. He ends the book with:

"The permanent things in America’s founding—our rights and the Constitution—serve to drive both the prudence and the recklessness of the country. And it is the combination of these two things that has allowed the United States to evolve over nearly 250 years of stability and chaos. There is no evidence of it ending. The current storm is nothing more than what is normal for this time in America’s history and our lives."

We probably aren't quite as special or unfortunate as it feels like we are, and that's a really promising idea. Highly recommended read.
22 reviews
March 9, 2020
I was hooked on Friedman's work after "The Next 100 Years" so there's some bias here. Coherent, original, and tight- while also imperfect, with moments of nostalgia, and pro-Americanism. The potential for correlation posing as causation (which of course, remains to be seen) didn't bother me.

Stretching and compelling unified theory of America's history that provides a view of America's future - for the most part non-partisan.

Enjoyed the provocative takes on solving Higher Ed, the mutually beneficial roles of "Foxes and Hedgehogs," while wished he would have gone deeper on "Commander's Intent" - there's a big idea here for leadership.

Fun linkages with recent reads: "Range," "The Book of Why," and all of Yuval Noah Harari's work.
Profile Image for Tony.
77 reviews5 followers
March 28, 2022
This book proves that the country will continue to go through cycles of change. A very real historical account of the cycles of change inherent in the way our country continues to morph into one that fits its current citizens.
Profile Image for John.
249 reviews7 followers
March 23, 2020
decline of industrialism-mass production required continual presence in the factory & was physical draining, making maintaining one's health very difficult. With the decline of industrialism & the rise of the service & tech industries, concentration on health maintenance became commonplace. Negative habits like smoking have declined, & more attention to exercise & diet has become common. This focus on health will expand.

What are the obligations among people when life stretches to nearly a century & children are one option among many others?
The core problem of the next sociopolitical cycle will be demographic. Central problems the decline in birth rates & the extension of life expectancy. In 2018, the birth rate in the US was the lowest ever. It has declined in all native-born ethnic groups.
Life expectancy measured from birth has doubled in a century from about 40 years to about 80. But even more significant is life expectancy of people over age 65. 50% of males will live longer than 85, which is 9.2% higher than it was in 2000. 50% of all women will live past 86 years. By comparison, in 1900. half of all men & women would not live past age 47 (these numbers are for whites; African Americans are consistently 2 years less).
The number of people living to over 100 expanded by 44% between 2000 & 2014.

Only about 17% of the public claimed to have any degree of confidence in the government. During the Eisenhower years, that number was about 75%. It fell to 35% during the Carter administration, which was the last presidency of the socioeconomic Roosevelt cycle.
From the public point of view, the federal system is hermetically sealed. Identifying the laws & regulations that might effect you, identifying what the effects might be, managing the system, & controlling your relationship to the federal government are no longer options. Even having a significant impact on the electoral process is difficult.
One of the political crises we will see coming to a peak in the 2020s will be a revolt against the primary system, which empowers minority ideologies & demands large amounts of effort to permit participation. At least 75% of the voters are not interested in the primary process, which is what you would expect given the governing ideology that favors private life.


An old joke was that the biggest lie was saying, "I'm from the government & I'm here to help." But the situation as changed significantly in 2019 as opposed to the 20th century. During WW2, the president, as commander in chief, took control of much of the US economy & society.
The class of Americans who supported the rise of the federal gov. after WW2 found themselves incapable of understanding the complexity of the system, nor able to afford counsel. They found themselves the object that was administered rather than a citizen served.
Racism has always been a part of US history, but the issue now is not so much racism in the mind of the white working class as a matter of selective injustice. They resent that there are special programs for "oppressed minorities" but no one seems to care that white-working class incomes are in decline & birth rates of unwed mothers of this class now approach 50%. Drug use has become a vast epidemic. In other words, the condition of the white working class now is not dissimilar to the condition of African Americans in the 1970s.
America is headed toward an institutional crisis in which the competence of the technocracy & the institutions of the federal government will be questioned. Pressure from 1 direction will come from the broader geopolitical crisis, & the growing inability of the technocracy to define an institutional solution for the US as an empire. The ability of the technocracy to create coherent solutions to social problems is severely limited, party as a result of it ideology, partly because of failure to simplify complex problems.

Hillary Clinton was the candidate of the technocracy. She won the heartland of the technocracy & lost the heartland of the country-the declining industrial base. The election showed that we had reached gridlock between the 2 major competing classes.


Profile Image for Justin Hill.
195 reviews1 follower
May 17, 2021
I dislike politics but it turns out I really like geopolitics. At least when presented so compellingly. I need to read this book again.
Profile Image for Jonathan Lu.
325 reviews17 followers
December 24, 2021
As insightful as George Friedman's previous books. A masterclass in forecasting that evokes my inner Paul Saffo, with an outstanding backcast of history, analysis of the driving forces, and assessment of cycles that rhyme - evocative of Ray Dalio's New World Order, though that one is a more financially and geopolitically driven assessment vs. Friedman, whose work is more socioeconomic and digestible. As any good forecast, his objective is not to predict the future but prepare for it. Just like the next 100 years and next decade, this book is as much a prophetic warning as it is a forecast. The details may not be right, but I'm hard pressed to say that the trend he identifies is inaccurate.

First American government was formed intentionally to stay restrained from intruding on what people held most important. "It is one thing to invent a machine and another to make it run without extensive maintenance. The solution for this invention as to make it inefficient." [p21]

"Liberty is the precondition to the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is the freedom to define one's own happiness. Happiness is the emotional engine powering the United States. It is the only country to make the pursuit of happiness a fundamental right. But with happiness comes disappointment" [p29]

Subtlety is not normally associated with being American… "but the ability to come to a strange land and make a living, the ability to live with constantly changing technology and customs, the ability to remain oriented in land constantly being redefined, requires a great deal of subtlety and depth. This is where American resilience comes from, and nowhere is resilience more recognizable than in the myth of the cowboy." [p52]

Cycles of American driven are institutional and socioeconomic - common theme as Ray Dalio, though simpler than all of the cycles that he monitors. "The institutional cycle controls the relationship between the federal government and the rest of American society, and it runs its course roughly every eighty years. The socioeconomic cycle shifts about every fifty years and alters the dynamic of the American economy and society." [p67]

On the American Empire - US exports 13% of its GDP compared to Germany at 50% and China at 20%. US is the largest importer in the world, but only comprises 15% of GDP - foreign trade is useful to the US, but not so domineering as it was with the Dutch, Portuguese, or British to impose an empire to ensure it. US approach is to maintain trade via negotiation, not colonization. [p77]

Technocracy emerged in the 20th century - concept that government should be in the hands of nonideological and apolitical experts whose power derives from their knowledge. Merit over wealth. [p90]

Size of government has increased, but not to the drama screamed by libertarians. Number of government employees has doubled since 1940, while population has also doubled, but… increases in staffing are at the local and state level. Federal employees outside of military have stayed steady. Last increase in non-military federal employees was during Regan. [p92]

Chapter 7 - The socioeconomic cycles (outstanding back-casting)
1st socioeconomic cycle - Washington Cycle from 1783-1828
- Increasing agricultural production
- Industrialization to keep pace economically and militarily with Britain
- Required greater capital base and population - required Western expansion and immigration. Territorial Expansion.
- New immigrants brought new cultures (Scots-Irish) and social contempt
- Central Bank created by Hamilton to control inflation/deflation, hurt the poor settlers

2nd socioeconomic cycle - Jackson Cycle from 1828-1876
- Agricultural Midwest became the heartland of the country, rise of small towns
- Became richer with industrialization, cities were previously financial/commercial centers and became production centers with heavy immigration
- Midwest had massive numbers of Scandinavian / German immigrants that clustered in communities. Expansion led to Immigration.
- Started with election of Jackson representing the midwest vs. Eastern elite

3rd socioeconomic cycle - Hayes Cycle from 1876-1929
- Post-civil war, rise of technologies electricity and transportation
- Debates around backing the dollar with both gold and silver
- Small towns that rose under Jackson followed the virtues of frugality and hard work, but also were centers of bigotry and exclusion (African Americans, Jews, and Catholics persecuted)
- US Industrial machine rose as a result - half of world's manufactured goods were American. Constantly needed more labor causing more migrants to swarm into the cities. Immigration led to Manufacturing.

4th socioeconomic cycle - Roosevelt Cycle from 1932-1980
- Led by FDR who ran on a platform of frugality / balanced budget bottoms-up vs. Hoover's top-down centrally planned approach
- Get money into the hands of workers - create jobs, increase the power of labor vs. capital
- Introduction of credit - mortgages, credit card. Create demand from the bottom-up that will increase demand for production
- Introduction of technocracy - the rise of the technology of management. Principle of efficiency became a moral principle. Led to the rise of the intellectual
- High demand had an underlying problem - industrial complex of US had aged with reluctance to invest due to frugality of Roosevelt era. Other countries began to compete. Manufacturing led to consumption over investment.

5th socioeconomic cycle - Reagan Cycle from 1980-2030
- Need for investment / entrepreneurship again - reduced taxes on upper investor class. Consumption and efficiency led to Technocracy
- Rise of the microchip and information economy - rise of efficiency and decrease in industrial jobs
- No growth in median household income since 1978. GDP has increased more than 35% since 1993, but median household income increased only by 5% and declined since 1998. Americans have always had inequality, but the standard middle class dream of home + 2 cars + annual vacation has become harder to attain.
- Today the Reagan era is reaching its limits - has failed to create a new set of competing social classes, and unrest has risen from those who are not technocrats

Cycles work in similar ways - prior cycle reaches a failure point when becoming increasingly inefficient, a political crisis breaks out a decade before the end of the cycle
- New social forces emerge and mature that divide the country
- economy enters a period of dysfunction that benefits one group at the cost of another
- Old social order believes future should be a continuation of past, new social order demands a radically different approach
- New president is elected who is utterly committed to the principles of and practices of the prior era - intensifies the crisis by leaning more into the past

Part Three - What's Next?
Political tensions of 2016 will not be closed until 2028 - will be a final failed presidency from the old class - likely a technocrat Democrat (too early to say it's Biden?) [p120]

What's unique about the upcoming 6th cycle is not the internet / communication (newspapers, radio, tv all were the same increase in communication) - it's that the socioeconomic and institutional cycles are reaching crisis point at the same time [p123]

Technocracy has become a vision of the world that is understandable and can be perfected by mankind (like Harari talks about in Homo Deus). Technocrats believe that people must be judged on expertise and knowledge, not characteristics - come to the defense of the culturally oppressed. Live abstractly and find all problems intellectual, language is their battleground [p126]

Federal government has become the domain of hedgehogs (experts who know one thing). Insufficient for the scale and complexity of our modern age - there is no civil service code for the wise [p137]. Institution of government is classified by rigidity - Supreme court are all experts in law vs. experts in politics and legislation. In the past you had former governors or wise people who were politically astute. Now they are all technicians that utilize nonideological methods for ideological ends. [p142]

Rise of the technocrat (class based on expertise) was a direct attack on common sense - conflict is emerging into expertise vs. common sense. "Expertise will make the valid claim that the issues are complex and need to be managed by experts. Common sense will argue that the methods and solutions used by expertise are incapable of dealing with these issues because the ideal solution, from a practical point of view, takes so long to implement and neglects the citizens' experience so profoundly that expertise only creates the illusion of a solution. Experts will see their critics as ignorant of the facts and incapable of understanding complexity. Their critics will argue that experts are more interested in protecting their positions and authority than in considering the effect they are having. And all of this will be compounded by mutual distrust and disgust." [p145]

Friedman predicts the upcoming institutional cycle will permit the intent of government to be rationally administered by each level (like Canada, intent-based vs. rule-based) - concept of common sense reintroduced [p166]
- I love this concept, and am hard pressed to see how it manifests. Reminds me of the Interstate Commerce Act being the job of lawyering that the federal government used as legal justification to enforce de-segregation. Called the businesses out that could legally discriminate within their states because they engage in interstate commerce. Do we need a technical solution for this? Why not just rely on the civil rights act?

He also sees reform of educational institutions as critical - they played such a critical role in the rise of the technocrat. He hopes for a fundamental shift where Harvard begins accepting more people, facilities are deprioritized such that expenses go towards teaching over posterity, and a division of labor emerges where teaching becomes financed vs. research - "appear to be extremely radical changes. Generating entrepreneurial challenges to major corporations also seemed radical during the fifth socioeconomic cycle. The GI Bill seemed radical in the fourth cycle, and the creation of a pure gold standard was radical in the third. Shaping banking laws around the needs of western settlers was radical in the second. And the entire idea of the United States was radical in the first cycle." [p167]

"With the decline of the pressures of industrialism, and control and minimization of the number of children, the underlying gender realities emerge, and the institution of marriage becomes optional. What is evolving is a collapse of traditional marriage and massive uncertainty regarding relationships. Some studies report a decline of sexual activity, decline of emotional commitment, and so on. What is created then is the anguish of freedom. When there is no rule as a guide, you confront the problem that it is not clear what to do. This represents a fundamental restructuring of deeply held rituals of life and the intense resistance of traditionalists to this process." [p173]

Economy can still be maintained despite the declining birth rate by an increase in life expectancy - 20% increase in life expectancy can compensate for the loss of population from lower birth rate, but this requires that older cohorts become consumers of resources vs. producers - need a suppression of degenerative diseases. "Diseases that kill people quickly are economically sustainable. Keeping people alive who can't produce is economically debilitating." [p173]

"Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue" - La Rochefoucauld [p183]
Profile Image for Chase Metcalf.
193 reviews1 follower
March 17, 2020
Another great book by George Friedman that builds on his previous explorations of America's geopolitical position and trajectory. The author describes an 80-year institutional and 50-year socio-economic cycle of crisis and stability that define America's history. He then notes that the 2020s will be the first time in the history of the Republic that these cycles will reach a crisis at the same time. In the end, he remains optimistic about the ability of America to reinvent itself and thrive following a tumultuous decade.

Though this book is not as engaging as The Next Hundred Years it clearly complements and builds on it while providing a useful perspective on the political tensions gripping America today. Definitely worth reading for those interested in geopolitics or America's future.

Some key highlights (potential spoilers):
- America is an invented nation giving it adaptability and flexibility
- America is an empire - even if unintended - and part of the looming crisis of the 2020s will be about coming to grips with this and adapting its institutions for managing it going forward
- The technocratic institutional system built for the challenges of World War II and post-World War II society is increasingly inaccessible to the average citizen and unable to apply common-sense solutions to the challenges facing voters. Will lead to revolt against technocracy and elites.
- Socio-economic crisis of 2020s will be largely shaped by a need to address challenges of inequality driven by a surplus of investment capital in hands of few, the evolving relationship with technology, and the inaccessibility of higher education and student debt
- Next cycle will see microchip replaced by bio-medical as the most important technology driving economic cycle as America deals with demographic challenges. Will create a society with greater experience and wisdom but could come at the expense of a certain amount of dynamism and creativity as the population ages.
Profile Image for Marcos Renaux.
22 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2020
Um livro tanto mais interessante quando mais ele embasa suas predições (afinal, ele é um cara que faz previsões geopolíticas desde sempre) em fatos passados, em ciclos históricos. Você poderá discordar dele em todas as suas previsões, mas é um livro que, certamente, vale a leitura.
32 reviews
March 21, 2020
A very insightful romp through American History into the expected turbulence of the 2020’s decade. Nobody can predict the future, but Friedman’s guess is as good as any. In fact, with all its nuance and consideration it might even be close. I wonder how the coronavirus would change his timeline. Could this be the crisis that jumpstarts another cycle?

SPOILER: America isn’t going to go down in a flaming ball of chaos. It’s been a flaming ball of chaos since the beginning, and things heat up every now and then. It’s what’s made the American Experiment so powerful.

If you’re interested in the future of the US, aren’t a die-hard Trumper or anti-Trumper, and you want an optimist’s take, this one’s for you.

Gonna have to revisit this when I’m in my 30’s to see how right he was.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ryan Anderson.
6 reviews
January 30, 2021
An interesting view of what is potentially coming in the next few decades. I appreciate the fact that he did not bog down the reader with overly complicated/ explained reasons for his predictions. He kept examples of previous American cycles brief, which in turn progressed the book and his point along. While I am not overly educated in previous American cycles, his descriptions were convincing and leave the door open to do my own additional research.

He also does not get captured in the typical rhetoric of many forecasters who predict that we are nearing the end of America as a country and society. It is a good reminder that previous generations have gone through similar, if not worse, strife. Those generations have adapted and helped transform American society and culture into what we witness today. It is not so far fetched to believe that we will do the same over the coming decades. While the ‘American Empire’ may not look as it has in the previous generations, this does not mean we are heading towards total catastrophe.

My main qualm with this book was with the first third or so. Friedman gives way too much credit to Americans. One example is how the rise of female industrial workers in WWII is the reason the Russians were able to defeat the Germans in the East. This isn’t true. Our industrial capacity may have aided the Russians, but this is not giving enough credit to the immense sacrifices the Russian people made in their war effort. There are other examples, but I do not want to give too much away to a potential reader.

Overall, this gave good perspective on the American past to me, as well as what we could potentially be seeing in the future. I will be picking up one of his other books in the future.
16 reviews5 followers
March 17, 2020

The first third of the book makes you wade through a deeply White European Male-centric "recounting" of early American history, entirely devoid of primary sources, citations, or often any evidence at all for sweeping statements about demographic groups. Maybe Howard Zinn has ruined me for historical / political writing.

One question I couldn't shake was "Who is America for?" Over and over in that first section, Friedman makes statements about the ~character of America~. Unfortunately, "America" is metonymy for White Land-owning Men. America is The Cowboy! America is The Inventor! America is The Warrior! There are fascinating stories to tell about the true America of the 1700s and 1800s. This book has an unintentionally narrow scope, much to its detriment.

(There are issues with the quality of the prose, but it's hardly worth dwelling on them. A lot of apropos-of-nothing groaners like "America is a paradox.")

Skip it. No great loss.
109 reviews
April 10, 2020
The latest from George Friedman, author of "The Next 100 Years". The current pandemic is not the storm the author refers to. And he views the Trump era as a symptom of a much bigger cyclical change that will unfold sometime over the next 10 years. The book covers: 1) How the American identity was forged; 2) How it evolved from pre-revolutionary colonial days to the present; and 3) How the end of the current institutional (every 80 years) and socio-economic (every 50 years) cycles will coincide during the 2020's and what the US will look like afterwards. Ultimately, a lot of guess work, but very helpful to put our current times in context. I'm not going to spoil it for you but the book does hit on major themes you would expect, such as the US as empire, wealth distribution, evolution of the technocracy, the education system and immigration, amongst others. Most importantly, it's the forecasted changes in these areas that make the book worth reading and the subject of debate.
Profile Image for Jeremiah.
50 reviews5 followers
March 29, 2022
I learned the following from this book.

American history can be broken down into socioeconomic and institutional cycles. Every economic boom becomes the victim of its own success. For example, the growth of the industrial manufacuring economy of the late 19th century became a problem when there weren't enough consumers to support it. Every economic crisis has unique needs that can't necessarily be fixed by the solutions that worked in the past. A new cycle of American history begins when the government adapts to the needs of the moment. No one realizes what needs to be done before a major crisis occurs. New technology fuels economic growth and changes in society. When a new technology matures it stops fueling the economy.
Profile Image for Andrei Hognogi.
74 reviews2 followers
June 3, 2020
I usually give this kind of book 3 stars but I my expectations were subverted so hard, that i'm compelled to give this a better rating.

Friedman makes the case that there are two cycles , economic and social, in the history of US and they both should "reset" in the 20 20's. I am skeptical about this particular prediction, (what if there are cycles in the cycles? like leap years kind of thing), but the book around this argument is absolutely worth the read.

Considering that I knew Friedman to be a globalist corporate consultant I expected a lot more biased read of current events than I actually got, and the second amazingly unexpected thing I got from the same corporate consultant is a critique of technocracy! wow, the last thing I expected here.

2 reviews
March 4, 2020
Great read that provides an in depth breakdown of two major Cycles that have shaped the US over 50 and 80 years respectively. He provides historical context before explaining what he believes to be the result of the ending of both cycles in the late 2020s.

Very interesting and thought provoking read.
Profile Image for Katie.
66 reviews
January 17, 2021
Interesting concept that felt distorted by the self aggrandisement of the USA. Many times the authors hero worship for the United States felt overbearing and a little to influential to his writing.
Author 2 books6 followers
August 20, 2020
Friedman identifies two cycles in our nation's history - one institutional and one social. He then extrapolates several predictions for the United States in the 2020s and beyond. His cycles aren't as well researched and fleshed out as the Strauss/Howe generational theory for example, but he does point out some things about our American style of government and our nature as Americans that I think it's fair to make predictions using. 

For example he predicts that 2028 will be a convergence of both cycles. That a Democrat will be president from 2024 to 2028 and will be the last president of the Reagan cycle as well as completely ineffective (Think Hoover or Carter), then in 2028 we will get a new president that reforms a lot of how the government works and starts a new cycle for the next 50 years. 

Some of the main changes that he sees coming are a better management of the 150 to 200 federal agencies. Instead of technocrats working and using their expertise on a very narrow subject without talking to other government agencies, there will be more vision to actually get things done and use more common sense. 

He probably better than anyone else framed our current social tension in a way that really makes sense to me. He frames the liberal meritocratic, mostly upper middle class white people against more consevative working class whites as a battle between technocrats and common sense. Take Obamacare for example, there are many things included in Obamacare that working class whites love and wouldn't want to give up, but they feel (not wrongly) that it doesn't need to be a convoluted 800 page document.

Friedman says that the coming 2020s decade will be like the 1930s or 1970s where government doesn't have the solutions and there are repeated crises and economic problems culminating in the 2028 election. Most of the problems we will face in the 2020s will be due to wealth and income inequality and distaste for technocrats by working class white people. He predicts that a universal basic income will be tried as well as tax reform but the real battleground for closing the inequality gap will be in America's universities. 

He predicts that there will be some sort of college tuition assistance nationwide along the lines of the GI Bill, but even further he predicts reforms to college admissions decisions. Currently you have to write a admissions essay that might be written by your parent or admissions tutor, you have to list your unpaid volunteer experience whether or not your family can afford for you to participate. Colleges might be looking for someone who spent a year volunteering to build housing in Haiti while an equally talented and qualified candidate spent the year working at Walmart because they needed to support their family. Friedman predicts reforms to college admissions ending legacies and ending favor for experiences that not every high school student has access to. The bottom line is that the reform will end schools only admitting "their kind" of students. He also predicts a heterozation of ideas on college campuses where working class conservative high school students can go to prestigious colleges and not have their ideas belittled or ostracized. 

He also predicts the political parties will eliminate the primary system altogether and the parties will just nominate their candidates and voters either vote for them or not. He also predicts having better local party representation than they do now so that people have someone they can talk to about issues that are important to them that's better than the current call your congressperson system. He even makes little predictions like as the average life expectancy of Americans continues to grow and grow that there could be a maximum age limit on voting so that a legion of voters that are a hundred years old aren't having an outsized role in shaping our federal government.

I was interested to know if Friedman had changed some of his predictions in light of covid19 and George Floyd's death happening just a couple months after publication of his book and found a couple articles suggesting that they haven't. He likens it to the race riots in 1968, Nixon's presidency and leaving office and the lingering war in Vietnam all leading up to the election of Reagan in 1980. He suggests that Trump's election, the riots surrounding George Floyd, our continued military presence in the middle East after 19 years, etc. will still lead to a failed old guard Democrat president in 2024 (ala Carter) and a new leader (no party prediction) that changes the government in 2028.

Biden and Harris are likely to win in 2020, and things will "go back to normal" meaning the Reagan style deregulation, technocrats, trickle down economics, endless foreign wars of Clinton Bush Obama will continue for a few more years until our government is born anew. 
Profile Image for Joe McCluney.
181 reviews7 followers
September 18, 2021
Mixed feelings about this book. As the saying goes, history doesn't happen in a vacuum; nor does it have to happen on a timetable. Large shifts constantly occur both in the country and in the world, but even as Friedman acknowledges, nothing *has* to dictate the way these forces play out, even if one can read the signs. For this reason, I don't put too much stock in the predictive value of these 'history-as-cycle' kinds of books.

On the one hand, I do think they are fun ways of understanding how history rhymes (re: Strauss and Howe), and I think Friedman's book is best viewed as a sense-making tool in this regard. His analysis of some of the economic and institutional realignments throughout American history serves as compelling evidence that we are likely in the midst of another one.

His articulation of the rise of the technocrat over time is probably the most useful thread: The need for expertise during WWII led to a sense that dedicated specialists were also entitled to govern. This instinct evolved to produce an elite class that today is in one way separated from any real or widespread expertise or competency, and in another way tied to unhelpful/outdated ideologies or aligned with poor institutional incentives. For reasons that are apparent, this is a model of leadership that doesn't track to a 21st century democracy (at least when not done well), and hence trust in both expertise and institutions has broken down to the degree that it has.

I also appreciate him putting America's social and political crises in context with its economic one. His belief that our apparent cultural divisions are tremors resulting from much deeper and substantial economic fault lines is, in my opinion, largely correct.

This all seems like standard (albeit good) reading of the current climate, and the best parts of the book were historical analyses. Friedman brings generalized clarity to these realignments, outlining how history can come close to repeating itself.

On the other hand, his weakness is in how he goes about blending his sense-making of the past into his sense-making of the future. In a way, he acts out his critique of the technocracy by imagining the future primarily in regards to what worked in the past. He barely mentions Covid, climate (intentionally) or geopolitics, which is odd considering the circumstances (as is the lack of a bibliography or citations page), and although he did a good job outlining the problems in the tech and education spaces right now, his analysis of their developing or future role was lacking. While he does a great job breaking down the government's relationship to society, I thought he could've gone further in discussing the government's relationship to itself and these social forces. And while he makes a good macro-level case for why everything will be alright, the micro-level evidence for triumph is much less clear, ignoring the sometimes razor-thin margins of history.

TLDR: Great way of understanding the past and how we got to the present. Not convinced it's a good way of understanding the future. Overall, though, worth the read.
15 reviews
March 16, 2020
George Friedman once again enlightens readers with geopolitical wisdom in his latest work, The Storm Before The Calm. He starts the narrative by providing an early historic account of European settlers and the founding of the nation and moves along to the present day with an outlook of the future. Two main cycles are repeatedly covered in the nearly 250 years since the founding of the nation in 1776. The institutional cycle focuses on governance and the way it has morphed into the current bureaucracy that few if any common person can navigate through these days. George Friedman often refers to the resulting technocracy which has evolved and its focus on knowledge in various narrow subjects. Clearly, there are signs that this current order is in question with unlikely alliances to form in the 2020s to challenge the status quo. The second socioeconomic cycle is another focus which is reviewed thoroughly in the work.

Without giving away too many details in this review, the gist of the storm is that both cycles are coinciding in this decade with tumultuous times predicted in the medium term. The author does offer assurance that the end of such cycles is not the end of the story but rather a revitalizing process. It is also refreshing that the author, as always, refrains from emphasizing on personalities but rather, George Friedman focuses on the bigger picture at hand combining history with current events to provide context for leaders as well as the common person to navigate in this complex world.

With current events unfolding, there are several quotes which are providing hints into the future. For example, on March 15, 2020, the Federal Reserve Chairman, in a coordinated central bank action, lowered the federal funds rate to nearly zero, and on page 142 in the Storm Before the Calm, George Friedman warns how “the damage done to prudent savers by low interest” can have on the social fabric. Exactly how such a crisis will unfold is best understood by keeping a close eye on GPF.

Another controversial but blunt quote on page 215 is worth analysing with the current COVID-19 situation as “diseases that kill quickly” have a certain economic impact. Following the publication of the book, George Friedman has provided at least two public addendums in form of newsletters to provide more context on this fluid situation.

Overall, the Storm Before the Calm is highly commendable for those interested to understand the world as whole. In fact, I would hope that more of my peers, especially in the Silicon Valley would take an interest in such thought provoking geopolitical accounts of the past and the future. In the technology field in particular it is far too simple to get entrenched in narrow subjects which George Friedman alludes to. The holistic view on events is something that very few have mastered, and this is one main reason why I follow every publication by George Friedman very closely.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for André Morais.
54 reviews
February 4, 2023
I admit that Friedman’s “Storm” didn’t live up to my expectations.
Such a deterministic view of American history should be further grounded and more competent at offering a clearer view of the future institutional and socioeconomic cycles which are the groundwork of Friedman’s thesis.
Also, the economics of the book seem really limited: it depicted this end of cycle as a very low interest rate period, which is currently being overturned by the FED and it offers surprisingly low insights on the future of labor market.
The book’s strongest points are its diagnosis of the current situation, the identification of future (possible) trends, and its view on both the classic hedgehog v fox (knowledge v wisdom) discussion and the outcome unpredictability of public policy.
In a nutshell, it is a short and intellectually teasing book but it trails behind on what a grand thesis’ book should be.
Profile Image for Tom Schulte.
2,985 reviews60 followers
May 6, 2020
Basing on seeing multi-decade cycles of institutional, economic, and political changes in this comparative county, the author makes predictions of turmoil over the next decade or so before a returns to tranquil growth in the 2030s. I am generally leery of such predictions, yet I may return to this over the next several years to see how it pans out, such is the strength of arguments based on history. I was certainly more impressed with this work of his than The Next l00 Years. A forecast for the 2lst Century.
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