Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World
An irony of studying history is that we often know exactly how a story ends, but have no idea where it began.
Here’s an example. What caused the financial crisis?
Well, you have to understand the mortgage market.
What shaped the mortgage market? Well, you have to understand the 30-year decline in interest rates that preceded it.
What caused falling interest rates? Well, you have to understand the inflation of the 1970s.
What caused that inflation? Well, you have to understand the monetary system of the 1970s and the hangover effects from the Vietnam War.
What caused the Vietnam War? Well, you have to understand the West’s fear of communism after World War II …
And so on endlessly.
Every current event – big or small – has parents, grandparents, great grandparents, siblings, and cousins. Ignoring that family tree can muddy your understanding of events, giving a false impression of why things happened, how long they might last, and under what circumstances they might happen again. Viewing events in isolation, without an appreciation for their long roots, helps explain everything from why forecasting is hard to why politics is nasty.
Those roots can snake back infinitely. But the deeper you dig, the closer you get to the Big Things: the handful of events that are so powerful they influence a range of seemingly unrelated topics.
The ultimate of those great-grandmother events was World War II.
It’s hard to overstate how much the world reset from 1939 to 1945, and how (Read more...)