Globalization in the Age of American Primacy

Four years ago, I drafted a syllabus for a class that I wanted to teach.

It’s a course on international political economy that seeks to tease out how the United States has used its power position to shape the international system — and the states within it — over the last 30 years.

This age of American primacy facilitated a relatively peaceful international environment (at least insofar as there were no wars among great powers), an unprecedented growth in trade and capital flows, and an historic reduction in poverty.

Yet these advancements didn’t proceed without complication:

  • financial crises beset developed and developing countries, alike;
  • questions emerged over the construct of the international system and the suitability of its institutions; and,
  • the exercise of U.S. power alienated numerous countries, all while proving largely ineffective at solving the political and security challenges to the international order.

As the relative power positions were shifting more toward balance than imbalance, the age of American primacy appeared to be coming to an end. As I admonished my hypothetical students in the syllabus:

This matters. The contest for management of the international system will define the conditions in which you build your lives and careers, and it will shape the opportunities available to you in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Alas — despite the hours I dedicated to crafting a syllabus — I’ve not yet had the opportunity to teach the course.

(Perhaps I should have spent those hours pitching the idea to more universities instead?)

There’s an outside chance that I could turn this into a book. But rather than sit on the ideas, I thought I’d share them in the hopes of inspiring someone, somewhere to engage in the big questions of our time.

I’ve included an outline of the course below; if you’re keen to peruse the whole syllabus, it’s free to download at the bottom of the post. Let me know what you think!


Outline of the Course

1. Departures / Introduction to the Course

Globalization and American Primacy in a New World Order

2. A New Dawn in Europe — The Reunification of Germany and the Extirpation of Communism in Central & Eastern Europe

3. Democratic Enlargement and the Foundations of a New Global Economy

4. From NAFTA to the Tequila Crisis

Globalization and American Primacy on the March

5. Hot Money — The Asian Financial Crisis, The Ruble Crisis, and The Committee to Save the World

6. 9/11, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the International System

7. The Rise of China, Emerging Markets, and Bretton Woods II

8. Cracks in the System — The Global Financial Crisis and Its Aftermath

Globalization and American Primacy in Reverse

9. European Disunion — Debt, Austerity, and the End of Unity?

10. China, the Great Rebalancing, and the End of the Commodity Supercycle — From Emerging to Submerging Markets

11. Entropy in the International System

12. Cui bono? Taking Stock of America’s Return on Investment — Who Won, Who Lost, and What It Means for the Future

13. Recap // Key Themes from the Course


Download the syllabus: