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Welcome to Nouriel Roubini's Scary New World of G-Zero

Nouriel Roubini guest hosts Squawk Box on CNBC.
Photo: Oliver Quillia for CNBC.com
Nouriel Roubini guest hosts Squawk Box on CNBC.

Nouriel Roubini and political scientist Ian Bremmer have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding the economic and political challenges of the 21st century: The G-Zero World.

The phrase G-Zero is borrowed from the G-20, the club of finance ministers and central bankers of the world's twenty major economies. The group has grown in recent years: It was first the G-7 industrialized nations, then the G8 when Russia was added—in its current 20 nation form, it includes developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil.

Roubini and Bremmer are turning the paradigm upside down: Suggesting the 21st Century isn't an era of greater inclusion—as the group's expansion would seem to suggest—but a time of massive fragmentation.

The G-Zero World, as described in a journal article in Foreign Affairs, is complex and fraught with a broad array of hazards.

Despite the myriad challenges the world faces in this new century, the most prominent feature of the G-Zero world would seem to be the absence of a guiding power to provide global leadership in the decades to come.

The United States is currently grappling with political divisions and resource constraints; Europe is preoccupied with salvaging the eurozone; and the developing nations of the world are focused on their own short-term and long-term growth, to the seeming exclusion of broader international issues.

When the bipolar world ended, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1990, a longstanding alignment of national interests collapsed with it. Military competition, with the attendant threat of nuclear annihilation, may have been a highly flawed organizing principle of global order – but it supplied the world with a single axis, around which both side revolved in pursuit of coherent objectives.

Now, without a global hegemon—or a counterbalancing pair of superpowers—the world lacks even a unifying basis for rational competition.

The challenges created by this state of affairs are both varied and profound.

For example, the threat of currency wars—and the endless series of recriminations generated on all sides of the equation:

"Before last November’s g-20 summit in Seoul, Brazilian and Indian officials joined their U.S. and European counterparts to complain that China manipulates the value of its currency. Yet when the Americans raised the issue during the forum itself, Brazil’s finance minister complained that the U.S. policy of 'quantitative easing' amounted to much the same unfair practice, and Germany’s foreign minister described U.S. policy as 'clueless.'"

Protectionism is rising:

"Other intractable disagreements include debates over subsidies for farmers in the United States and Europe, the protection of intellectual property rights, and the imposition of antidumping measures and

countervailing duties. Concerns over the behavior of sovereign wealth funds have restricted the ability of some of them to take controlling positions in Western companies, particularly in the United States."

And, perhaps most ominously, nuclear proliferation becomes a serious risk:

"Four decades after the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, for example, the major powers still have not agreed on how to build and maintain an effective nonproliferation regime that can halt the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons and technologies."

In an era plagued with increasing complexity, decentralization, and fragmentation, the G-Zero metaphor may become a key paradigm to describe the trajectory of a world in flux.

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