I started watching Peter Zeihan videos last year.

He shares a lot of interesting information, although he seems to have a very strong bias towards doom and gloom.

One thing in particular stood out to me as completely absurd: his claim that global trade is going to collapse due to piracy as the US pulls back from ensuring freedom of the waters.

My immediate thought: "Come on, mate, this isn't the 17th century! Pirates aren't a real issue these days. Technology has rendered them obsolete".

Given this, I was absolutely shocked when I heard that missile attacks by Houthi rebels had caused most of the largest shipping companies to decide to avoid the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and to sail around Africa instead.

This has recently triggered the US to form an alliance to maintain freedom of shipping there and the US recently performed airstrikes in retaliation. It won't surprise me if this whole issue is resolved relatively soon and if that happens, then the easy thing to do would be to go back to my original beliefs: "Silly me, I was worried for a second that Peter Zeihan might be correct, but that was just me falling for sensationalism. The whole incident was obviously never going to be anything. I should forget all about it".

I believe that this would be a mistake. It would be very easy to forget it, but something like the Houthi's being able to cause as much disruption as they have been able to was outside of my model. I could just label it as a freak incident or could see if there was anything in my original model that needs adjusting.

I performed this exercise and the following thoughts came to mind, which I'll convey because they are illustrative:

• I have heard a few people suggest in various contexts that many countries have been coasting and relying on the US for defense, but it was just floating around in my head as something that people say that might or might not be true. I haven't really delved into this, but I'm starting to suspect I should put more weight on this belief.
• I hadn't considered the possibility that a country with a weak navy might have a significant lead time on developing one that is stronger.
• I hadn't considered the possibility that pirates might be aligned with a larger proto-state actor, as opposed to being individual criminals.
• I hadn't considered the possibility that a non-state actor might be able to impede shipping and that other countries would have at least some reluctance to take action against that actor because of diplomatic considerations.
• I hadn't considered that some people in the West might support such an actor for political reasons.
• Even though I was aware of the Somalian pirate issues from years ago, I didn't properly take this into account. These pirates were easily defeated when nations got serious, which probably played a role in my predictions, but I needed to also update in relation to this ever having been an issue at all.
• Forgetting that contexts can dramatically change: events that once seemed impossible regularly happen.

My point is that there is a lot I can learn from this incident, even if it ends up being resolved quickly.

I suspect it's rare to ever really fully grasp all of the learnings from a particular incident (in contrast, I suspect most people just grab one learning from an incident and declare themselves to be finished having learned from it).

If you haven't made a large number of small updates, you've probably missed updates that you should have made.

(I just want to note that I love having the handle "directionally correct". It's so much easier to say that something like "I don't think X is correct on all points, but I think a lot of their points are correct". I would love to know where the rise in this term is coming from).

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I'm interested in any other analysts like zeihan who folks find predictive enough to track. Current favorites of mine are Beau of the Fifth Column, Perun, AI Explained, Nate Hagens, Daniel Schmachtenberger, Security in Context, Heather Cox Richardson, Big Red Celt, Paul Beckwith. (Typos possible, but all are YouTube channels.)

Missile attacks are not piracy, though, right?

It's good that you learned a few things from these incidents, but I'm sceptical of the (different) claim implied by the headline that Peter Zeihan was meaningfully correct here. If you interpret "directions" imprecisely enough, it's not hard to be sometimes directionally correct.

Yeah, I probably could have framed the post a bit better, but I don't really think that affects the core point.

Generally it makes no sense for every country to collectively cede the general authority of law and order and unobstructed passage of cargo wrt global trade. He talks about this great US pull back because the US will be energy independent, but America pulling back and the global waters to turning into a lawless hellscape would send the world economy into a dark age. Hinging all his predictions on this big head-turning assumption gives him more attention but the premise is nonsensical.

This article might suggest an update on your priors about piracy in the modern world.

Not sure where you're posting from but if US I suspect in part the view you hold is something of a sample bias as US news really never reports much on the problem.

I also agree with your title, and wish more was said about it in the post, that recognizing the correct direction can be very helpful even when the current state change is small and perhaps not too consequential. It is generally better to have a plan before the bad state of things has occurred than hoping the Mr. Magoo route will work well for you ;-)


I would note that to my eye the charts do seem to imply an upward trend from the 1995 observations and while clearly declining from the 2010 highs still exceeds the numbers reported in 1995 and 1996 low points. So I'm not completely sure I buy the CNBC headline claim of decline in terms of trend. At least not is long term sense.

https://www.icc-ccs.org/ reports is kind of interesting as they start 2023 reporting the lowest level of Q1 priracy in 30 years but then their reports increasingly seem to show more and more concern about such activities, which were actually increasing over the prior year contra the Q1 observations.