This week: the future of geopolitics. From Australia’s place in Asia to the war in Europe, we discuss new ways of thinking, with Professor Marc Stears.

Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Futures Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

Our guest this week

Professor Marc Stears

Our previous discussion on the importance of relationships with Marc on The Future, This Week

Sydney Policy Lab

Our limited podcast series The Future of Power in collaboration with the Sydney Policy Lab

Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 essay, The End of History?

Our discussion with Kishore Mahbubani on the Asian century

Paul Keating’s 2021 address to the National Press Club on Australia’s strategic framework

Our new podcast series The Unlearn Project

Dani Rodrick, economist at Harvard Kennedy School, on Twitter

Danielle Allen, Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, on Twitter

Glen Weyl, OCTOPEST at Microsoft, on Twitter

UCL Policy Lab announcement

UCL Policy Lab

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Dr Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney Business School. Her research and practice focuses on engaging with the future in productive ways, and the impact of emerging technologies on business and society.

Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation, and Director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney Business School. Kai's research interest is in Disruptive Technologies, Enterprise Social Media, Virtual Work, Collaborative Technologies and the Philosophy of Technology.

Marc is Director of the UCL Policy Lab. Previously, Marc was Director of the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney. His work focused on deepening partnerships with community groups who are often overlooked in the policy process.


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Sandra We've been wanting to have a special for a while to talk about the future of geopolitics. A few things have, have significantly changed over the last couple of years that make us rethink how we think about geopolitics. We've had a pandemic for the past two years, we have a war in Europe, there are significant ongoing challenges to supply chains and to world economic order because of the pandemic.

Kai And many of the changes many of the events, the crises that you name, the pandemic of war in Europe, they're unprecedented, at least for our lifetime. They're unexpected, they're unimaginable, in a sense. So the challenge, not just a world order, but they challenge the way we think, the way in which we narrate our lives, but also us, Australia as a country in the world, and how things fit together in the way in which, you know, we structure our thinking, politics outlook on the world. So how do we actually deal with those changes? I think we need help.

Sandra If there's geopolitics, we should bring Marc back.

Kai Marc Stears, who is a former colleague of ours here at the University of Sydney, who headed up the Policy Lab here and who we've had on the podcast before, and you have had the Future of Power series with the Policy Lab. So he's been a good friend, good colleague, and always good to talk to.

Sandra And always at the forefront of geopolitics. Previously, Marc was a professor of Political Theory at Oxford, and he was the chief executive of the New Economics Foundation. He was a chief speechwriter for the UK Labour Party for a number of years. And now he's actually back in the UK heading up the University College London Policy Lab.

Kai And for what it's worth, he's also proud Well, let's talk to him. Let's talk to Marc.

Intro From The University of Sydney Business School, this is Sydney Business Insights, an initiative that explores the future of business. And you're listening to The Future, This Week, where Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer sit down every week to rethink trends in technology and business.

Marc Stears Hi, I'm Marc Stears, and I'm coming in from University College London.

Sandra Marc, so good to have you again, on the podcast.

Kai Great to have you here.

Marc Stears Thank you so much.

Sandra Since we last spoke, a lot of unimaginable things have happened. A year ago, the prospect of a war in Europe of this size, involving a major world power, was not something that was really on anyone's radar and in anyone's thinking. Over the last two years, the pandemic and the changes that that's brought to the world that was more or less unimaginable. I wanted to ask you broadly about the future of geopolitics, and how does our thinking have to change or have to evolve to account for these things that were unimaginable. And maybe let's start with the conflict in Ukraine.

Marc Stears So good to be here, talking about these issues. As you say, it's utterly extraordinary what's happened in the world and what is currently happening. And I'm always taken back to a little address that Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister gave at a parliamentary Select Committee, probably about 18 months, two years ago, when he actually said it was impossible, unimaginable that tanks would be rolling across battlefields in Europe. And he was using that as a reason for changing the way that defence spending works in the UK, saying we don't need to invest in conventional forces anymore. Everything is now digital, or, you know, different kinds of warfare. And as you say, here, we have very old fashioned form of warfare, indeed, in Ukraine and the horrific displacement of millions of people. And the scenes of the refugees from Ukraine pouring into Poland, are just extraordinary, excruciating to watch. I mean, the long-term impact of what's going on, I think, is still unknowable in any precise ways, because we just don't know how things will look when the fog of war lifts. We don't know whether Russia's slightly halting advances will result in a significant weakening for the Putin regime or whether in fact, the Ukrainian resistance will crumble in the face of the sorts of attacks that we saw Russian forces engaged in in Syria. It's just the battlefield scenarios I think, are unknown. But also the diplomatic scenarios are equally unknown. I mean, very strong NATO response in the very early months and changes in European attitudes towards defence expenditure and a sort of more resolute position with regard to Russia. But again, that could crumble over time. I mean, whether the sorts of resolute positioning that we've seen in the early months lasts into a longer drawn-out conflict, I think very few of us know. So, you know, without wanting to let listeners down, I think, you know, huge uncertainty from the very small, specifics of each battlefield interaction with a much grander diplomatic and geopolitical phenomenon.

Kai But there are certainly things that are changing. Like if I look at my birth country, Germany, the change in thinking, the change in self-understanding in a matter of weeks is extraordinary, away from an attitude where it was unimaginable that German soldiers would set foot onto a conflict zone outside of Germany to, for the first time, going to invest in attack weapons and thinking about building an army that is unprecedented in a post world war two times. Just the change in thinking is extraordinary. So what do we make of that?

Marc Stears Yeah, that's absolutely right. I mean, at heart, this is a moment of extreme rupture. We've lived through two paradigms since the end of the Second World War. You know, first of all, we have the Cold War paradigm, when everything was structured, essentially around the battle between the United States and the USSR and their various allies on either side. Then with the fall of the Berlin wall we entered a second paradigm, which was a sort of globalisation era, a sort of liberal order, when people were trying to build international organisations and make them stronger, but also the US was exerting extraordinary dominance across the world. Francis Fukuyama said history had ended. And now you know, that paradigm has collapsed in much the same way as the Cold War one did in 1989. And I think you see that in lots of ways. And the example that you've given there of what's going on in German self-identity is, you know, a fantastic example of that. But not knowing what comes next but being absolutely sure that what's happened for the last few decades can't continue to happen. And I think that's the thing that we all have to get our heads around, really, which is that things that we thought were unimaginable, are now not just imaginable, but are happening. And so many of the things that we thought were certain have turned out to be utterly uncertain, sort of crumbling before our eyes. And the presenting question for all of us, you know, but especially, obviously, for presidents and prime ministers, is what do you do in the face of that, you know, sort of really profound uncertainty?

Sandra Are there any guideposts or ways to think differently about some of this that you would recommend, like not understanding the world in terms of kind of one strong power, but two poles or a fracturing along economic lines or those sorts of things?

Marc Stears There's sort of two emerging theories, which I think are quite compelling. But again, I don't think we have enough evidence to work out which of those is right or perhaps they're both wrong. I think the first, is the sort of reversal from globalisation thesis, you know that, in fact, what is going on now is the consequence of nation states reasserting themselves in the aftermath of an apparently failed globalising project. And so, the rise of nationalisms, especially ethnic nationalisms, not just in non-democratic countries, but in democratic ones as well, such as under the Trump presidency in the United States. So there are many people, I think, who say, 'look, if you want to understand geopolitics, at the moment, then understand that what we're seeing is a rolling back of globalisation, a deep, profound turn inwards in very many nations. And, you know, with what's going on in the Ukraine scene that way, is an example of sort of, you know, Russian nationalism/Russian imperialism reasserting itself, such that you saw that Putin's, you know, extraordinary attempt to defend the invasion, just as it began, you know, in terms of redrawing the map of Europe so that it properly captured the Russian influence. So you know, that's one thesis, I think, is compelling, and there's some very good analysis which underpins it. I mean, I think, the second thesis is that we're entering a period of sort of permanent crisis. And that actually, as the globalisation, sort of neoliberal paradigm collapses, it's being replaced by just crises on multiple fronts. So climate change, or climate catastrophe, being an obvious example of that, pandemic, in deep social inequalities and economic inequalities, and then geopolitics sort of exploding as well. And so rather than there being any particular direction to that change, you're just seeing, sort of, explosions in all of the various dominant dimensions of our collective lives. Democracies collapsing, conflicts emerging, wildfires raging, inequalities star in social life. And that seen that way, what we need to do is all get used to dealing with being stuck in crises and managing them. There's less sort of predictability to what we're going through. There's not one dimension, which is driving things forward, there's not just one problem to solve. There's this sort of rather multiple sense of disorder, chaos and crisis. So neither of those theses are particularly attractive or reassuring, you know, on the one hand, ethnonationalism is here to stay and it's going to rip us apart, on the other this is a multi-dimensional crisis, which we're likely to be going through for several decades. You know, neither of those will make us sleep more easily at night, they could potentially help us get a sort of intellectual grasp on what it is that we're all living through.

Sandra It sounds like a compelling story for, for everyone, whether you're living in the UK, as you are now, or but you're in Australia, like we are. And yet there are some particular circumstances that for Australia probably are more present than for you. So I want to ask you a bit about Australia's place in Asia and the world in general, I mean, yes, a lot has shifted for Australia as well, all the conflicts that we've mentioned and the collapses and certainly the fires and the floods.

Kai Not to forget the pandemic, which has isolated the country for the better part of two years.

Sandra They've clearly impacted us as well. And a few months ago, on our podcast, we had a Singaporean diplomat, he was the former head of the Security Council at the United Nations, and he's an academic as well, Kishore Mahbubani. He spoke about this century as the Asian century. And he spoke about the rise of Asia, namely China, but also India, but mentioned the fact that Western culture will no longer be the dominant force in the world, how important that is to Australia in particular, as we are quite far from London and from the US, and that we will have to, as he said, adjust and adapt to Chinese power. Can we talk a bit about Australia's placed in Asia?

Marc Stears I think it's such an important theme. I mean, it takes me back to the point I was making about the collapse of paradigms, essentially. I mean, if 20 years ago, we were beginning to think of the world as essentially liberalising. I mean, there were obviously troubled spots, there were difficulties, but our sense of a global order was one where there were going to be more powerful international institutions, which were going to help resolve tensions between countries. But also, even within countries, there was going to be a liberalising trend. Free market economics, freedom of speech, some form of you know, sort of representative politics in most of the major countries of the world. And when we were in that paradigm, it was relatively straightforward for Australian leaders to think about their Asian engagement because it didn't come with the kinds of challenges and threats that previously we might have anticipated. So you could imagine that a democratising or liberalising China could be in a relatively successful, stable long term relationship with Australia. And again, there would always be difficulties to plod through, particular issues to deal with. But nonetheless, you can have a relatively optimistic sense of Australia's place within Asia, emerging and becoming stabilised over time. And I think when we look back at the speeches of Paul Keating or Kevin Rudd as prime ministers, then you'll see very much that sort of paradigm. You know, this is a liberalising world where Australia can finally play its part in its own region, the partnership with the major players in that region. As that liberalising paradigm has collapsed, it becomes a much more challenging circumstance. So as China is seen to step away from its liberalising tradition, but also potentially slightly more aggressive in its interactions with Australia, then the challenges facing Australian prime ministers and others become more intense, because you can't, I think, step away from the region, well, you simply can't, I mean, it's just geographically impossible. And you know, so many things have been set in motion, that Australia's interaction in the region is just far more intense than it ever has been before. On the other hand, you do have these both cultural and political challenges, which really require extremely difficult negotiation, or dealing with. And that, I think, takes us to where we currently are recording this podcast in the federal election. But it does reveal I think, that nobody really knows yet, what this new paradigm will look like and how Australia will respond within it. And it's almost you feel as if, you know, Australian politicians are waiting for somebody else to tell them what the future looks like and then they'll be able to negotiate and find their place within it, you know. Is the US going to become a major player in the region again, and does it want to Australia to be a strong ally? Or, you know, is there a different kind of negotiation and possibility to play? And if so, what does that look like? Especially when it comes to these political cultural challenges, what part should Australia play? So again, I come back to this overall theme of really deep uncertainty. The reassurance that we had 20 years ago, or even a decade ago, is sort of falling away, but it's not being replaced by anything at the moment. And as a result, we have these sorts of strange missteps, or sort of, you know, sort of unconvincing sabre rattling.

Sandra If we think about Australia, and how it has to, kind of, think about managing this geopolitical shift, although arguably, you know, the rise of China is not another recent geopolitical shift. But what are some tools? What are some guideposts that would help us think about that? Because it's not just China, right? We're in Asia, our biggest neighbour is Indonesia. So how do we think about the future of geopolitics in our region?

Marc Stears I mean, there are a few key themes, which I think Australia has to grapple with and have a public debate about. And I don't think really, if I'm honest, that we've seen a public debate of the right standard during the election, for example. I mean, the first I think there's got to be a bundle of issues around democracy and human rights, and what does Australia think its position is in regard to those ideals? And how does it advance them in the Asian conversation, or does it not? What compromises should it be comfortable making? How does it most effectively advance the causes of democracy and human rights if that's what it decides to do? What does that mean for the way in which it conducts its foreign policy or it thinks about its aid and development strategy? I mean, I would very much like to see a serious conversation about that. That will also require Australia to be honest about some of its own human rights abuses, especially with regard to the debate around migration. And we've seen very recently the downgrading of Australian Human Rights reputation internationally. That's a bundle of concerns, I think, we really need to have a serious debate about. The second, has clearly got to be about the relationship and the alliance with the United States. And what does it think the US is interest in the Australian region and the Asian region are? How is the US likely to change or adapt its position given the global instability we're now thinking about? What would Australia's position be in any potential struggle between the US and China? That conversation occasionally bubbles to the surface, and occasionally there's a tension between the two major political parties on the strength, or otherwise, of the US alliance. But I think again, we'd really need to see a much more grown up conversation about that in public. And the third, I would take, is climate change. Because again, I think we have to acknowledge that climate change is likely to be a major destabilising phenomenon, both globally and in the Australian region. And it will have major implications for the way in which countries think about their geopolitical relationships with each other. And again, Australia, I think, needs to think both about its own domestic policy on climate. So is it doing enough domestically to play, to pull its weight, play its role internationally. But more than that, I think we need to be thinking about what potential destabilisation climate change will play? And what's Australia going to do in that kind of context. So those will be three things. If there was a new foreign minister coming in, and I was a public servant, I would say, come on, tell us what your strategy on human rights and democratisation are. Tell us what you think about the future of the US alliance. And tell me what you think about climate change and the way in which it's likely to further destabilise foreign relations in the decades and decades to come.

Kai Can I just latch on to how you lead into that argument, which is there needs to be a debate about these things. I think it's compelling to say we're living in times of uncertainty, which are necessarily then also times of complexity, because there's many competing narratives, there's many competing, possible ways of action. If we put that against where and how we're having debate right now on social media, in media that has a very short attention span, headline grabbing clickbait-y kind of one liners. How do you have a civil debate, where you can actually unpack and think through some of the competing narratives to come to sense-making and not descend into platitudes and leave the field to demagogues who, you know, bring reassuring one liners that play well with the electorate, but doesn't actually advance our thinking. So how do you do that? Where do you do that?

Marc Stears Such a crucial question. My instinct is that we have to ground ourselves again, in principle, and that can sound highfalutin, but I think it's one of the big impacts we've seen in Europe during the Ukraine crisis. Is that it's become completely natural, once again, to say there are some fundamental principles to the way in which we think about the global order. And that human rights, for example, and democracy, and national self-determination are not just the easy rhetorical phrases, the kinds of things you might have in a political speech, but don't actually mean very much. They ought to actually be the sort of foundations for our decision making, in terms of how we interact with other states, how we interact with ourselves and think about our own domestic standards, and what we aspire to when we think about the role of international institutions. For an Australian audience, I can't sort of under emphasise just how big a shift that has been in Europe, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the sense of people suddenly realised that things that we've taken for granted are really up for grabs again, that you do have an authoritarian power invading another European state, even though that European state is democratic, claiming that it's a Nazi regime and conducting horrific massacres in civilian populations, I mean, it's just extraordinary. And there has been, across the political spectrum in Europe, an awakening, I think that we need to think about foreign policy from a principled perspective. So that's where I would always start this debate, which is what is it that we want to achieve as a country, let's be realistic about what we can achieve. So, let's not set ourselves principles, sort of, ambitions which are so high that they can't possibly be realised. Let's realise, you know, that there are serious constraints in geopolitics. But nonetheless, let's start from that perspective that there are values that we hold extraordinarily dear and that should be guiding our reflection. Now, I say all that, I'd encourage people, I guess, to look at the debate, which is currently ongoing, both in the sort of Twitter sphere and on pages of the apparently respectable newspapers and see like, are we actually having that quality of conversation in Australia about these major issues such as Australia's role in the region? And I think most of us would have to admit that we're not, and that it falls to, you know, organisations like the University of Sydney, but many others as well, to try to have that level of principled conversation about what is it we want to see in the world and then how do we go about achieving it?

Sandra Since we're here at the University of Sydney, and Kai and I are also doing The Unlearn project, which we'll put all the links in the shownotes, I want to ask you if there are things we need to unlearn to be able to have these conversations. And you mentioned Keating earlier, in some of his recent comments, he was pointing out the fact that, you know, according to the International Monetary Fund, for instance, China already is the world's largest economy, and its GDP per capita will continue to grow, as it continues to urbanise and move out of basic manufacturing into high tech and high-quality production. But he was pointing out that an economically dominant China is not going to just neatly fit in into the intellectual world order that we have come to understand with a US and Europe dominated economy. So are there things that we will need to unlearn, or to let go in our understanding, in order to have these debates? Whether that is who dominates the world economy, or whether it's the role of some of the institutions that we have to run the world economic order, whether that's the UN or the IMF, or the World Bank?

Kai And just to lay on top of that, you said, we need principled discussions, where do we get the right principles from? And do they have to be different to what they used to be?

Marc Stears I think the first thing that we have to unlearn is that everything easily clicks together. Obviously, it didn't feel easy at the time, but in the 1990s, in the early 2000s, you could run together a story about economic prosperity, about trade, about technology with a story about democracy, human rights and liberalisation. I mean, that's essentially what Francis Fukuyama did, or Bill Clinton, or Paul Keating, which would say that the world's heading in the right direction, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, elected in 1997, used to have a song that he would play, he didn't sing it to you, he would just play it. And the song was all "things can only get better." And that was the mantra of the beginning of the millennium, just like things are getting better economically, socially and politically, and everything clicks together, and there are no hard trade offs to be made. Well that's gone, that sense, and that now, I think, what you see in the speeches of Paul Keating, or whoever, is a sense of okay, well, we've lost the human rights, the democratisation and the liberalisation piece of that story, but the economic reality remains, China's economic power is unquestioned. And therefore, we have to readjust ourselves to recognising that we might have to give up a little bit on the liberalising part of the story because of the economic reality. I guess that's what makes me uncomfortable is that you sort of jettison the principles conversation entirely, because you say we can't have it all, and therefore we'll just have the economy bit. That just seems to me like an inappropriate response to the situation. I mean, I think, highlighting the fact that we now have to have trade offs is exactly right. Saying that the trade offs are automatic, and that the economy or trade always trumps our concerns with, for example, democracy and human rights, that seems to me just wrong. And I think the situation, as I was mentioning earlier, the situation in Europe, has recognised that as a result of the Russian action in Ukraine, I mean, the many European governments wanted to say previously, "oh we can deal with Putin." Originally, they said we'll deal with Putin because he will liberalise Russia, he will democratise Russia. He's a slightly strange bloke, but it will all be okay in the end, the more free trade there is, the more freedoms there will be politically as well. That didn't work. Then many European governments said, "oh well, we have to deal with them anyway. It's an authoritarian regime, but it's still in our interests to continue this strong relationship because the energy connection, the oil coming in." So then we carried on, on that way and then that's been proven to be a disaster as well, because the authoritarianism of Russia is not just domestic anymore it's now international as well. Finally, we're having this conversation that okay, that economy and principle don't necessarily always coincide and sometimes we might have to lean towards the principled direction and take the economic hit, and that's currently where Europe is in its relationship with Russia. All I am saying is, it would be wonderful and I think is necessary, for us to acknowledge these trade offs, and have the conversation about what the relationship is between economic and non-economic dimensions of it.

Kai What I hear you say is, and you gave a slight critique there of the Keating assessment and the narrative, is that we should unlearn or let go of the idea that influence and control over the values narrative has to necessarily flow on from the economic success and economic dominance, that we need to finally decouple them. And to maybe, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I've been grappling with that almost obvious insight that economy does not equate society, right, that we tend to think about society too much in terms of economy, and maybe it is time to divorce the two and think them orthogonally, rather than one taking along the other.

Marc Stears That's right. I think that's exactly right. I mean, better put than I put it. I mean, I guess in summary, I would say, look freedom and democracy and human rights matter. They're not the only things which matter, but they do matter. And when we're thinking about geopolitics, or foreign policy, they need to be in the equation. And we can't presume they'll just be taken care of themselves by other dimensions. You know, economic interaction will necessarily result in more freedom and more human rights, we were used to say that we now know it's not true.

Kai What does that mean for climate change then, and that conversation?

Marc Stears I mean, similarly, I think climate, I think I would add into that list of principle commitments that we ought to be connecting ourselves to, perhaps it's freedom, democracy, human rights, plus a sustainable, liveable planet. And those become sort of core principles of our interactions. But climate, I do think also, you know, has a more prosaic issue, which is that it will just be in factually, it will be a destabilising influence as the climate, and we know that just looking at flows of migration, for example, you know, we already know that the impact that climate catastrophe, severe climate change will have on the world. So, you know, climate is in that sense, both a principled commitment and the context within which our efforts to achieve those other principles will be realised.

Sandra Climate for Australia was always an economic issue, right? Like saying that we can have a principled climate conversation without having an economic conversation, or abstracting from an economic conversation is just not something you can do.

Marc Stears No, that's right. So the argument is not that we pretend the economic dimensions don't exist, the argument is instead that we don't give them automatic primacy, nor do we presume that sorting them out will sort everything else out. The second one, I think, is the biggest lesson of the current moment, which is that we've lived through a period when we hoped that what was good for prosperity was also good for all of these other dimensions of our lives. I think what we're now realising is that's just not true, and that you can have an economic answer, which goes in one direction, but then you'll have other principles which you pull in other directions. And again, the only mechanism I think we've got for being able to deal with that is a mature public conversation. And that's precisely the thing which is lacking right now.

Kai I want to say the word Musk right now.

Sandra Yeah, that's an interesting move. Because I think this idea that we must have, you know, deep and thoughtful debate, and the conversation about principles and what do we stand for, and what the trade offs are, and so on. That is not something you can have on Twitter. And it's not something you can have in you know, thirty second clips, or even three minute clips and the depth of knowledge that you now seem to require to even engage, even participate in any way meaningfully to those debates, seems to grow exponentially every day, as you said, uncertainty that comes with complexity. How do we do that better? Where do people start? Because saying, you know, read the newspapers, it doesn't seem to be enough, or get on a Twitter war with someone, it's not enough. So how do we start that?

Marc Stears The first thing to say, I think, is that I've been extraordinarily moved by the response in Europe to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, because there has been a desire to have a serious debate about how Europe should react to it. I was imagining there would be a knee jerk sense, which is, "oh my goodness we don't want any further increases in the cost of living." Anything which impacts upon the everyday economic lives of European citizens will be rejected. And, in fact, we've seen the opposite thing, which is that the public has often led politicians in saying, "we really think that a strong reaction against the invasion is fundamental, it's sort of existential for us, and we want you to be leading the way in sanctioning the Russian regime, even if it means short term or medium term economic dislocation." And you've even seen a bit of that in the US if I'm honest, so even more impressive in a way, which is that people are willing to take an economic hit in their everyday lives as a result of a geopolitical concern. And that shows, I think, that there is a capacity in our currently existing political debate, for all of its foibles and failings, for people to say, okay, there are some principles which matter, as you know, which we're prepared to prioritise over other things. So that gives me a little bit of hope, I don't think I would have anticipated the sort of reaction that we have seen to the Ukraine invasion. And it gives me a sense that, okay, public debate in this kind of area is possible, it doesn't need to be knee jerk and it doesn't need always simply to prioritise short term economic benefit over everything else, that people care about principle. The challenge, I think, is how do you have that debate where there isn't an immediate pressing emergency as there is in the Ukraine situation? And that's the challenge, I think, in Australia right now, you know, there's always a temptation to dodge hard debate, in the absence of that sort of "on your border," sort of real crisis. That I think is, indeed, exacerbated by the nature of social media, and many of the newspapers, many of the TV coverages of these issues, which do still push us to the lowest common denominator to very immediate short term concerns, to exacerbating social tensions rather than creating, you know, broad social alliances. And so, you know, that's just reframing your question, really, I think crisis can get us into the sort of debate that we need to be having, but we really need to be able to do that prior to the existence of the crisis. And that's the challenge which confronts all of us who care about the sort of healthy democracy.

Sandra So where does this all leave us with regard to having the tough conversations about the future of geopolitics in Australia?

Marc Stears It seems to me that this is the point about honesty and a very bracing conversation which, coming back to my model, there have been two relatively easy ways for Australia to position itself, as you know, sort of liberalising pro-human rights pro-democracy force within Asia. The first was the Cold War model, where it allied itself with the US side of the Cold War debate. And therefore, you know, was positioned as an ally on the side of free markets and free polities. Then when the Cold War ended, we had the globalisation era, when it could position itself as the forefront of modernity, the argument in the globalisation era was that everybody was going to become a free markets, you know, free polity, and that Australia's role, therefore was as a sort of vanguard in Asia, just you know, engaging with countries who were necessarily on a sort of escalator towards liberalism. Like the new situation where both of those earlier paradigms have collapsed, I think is just deeply uncertain, because we don't have the reassurance anymore of the Cold War, where there are just two sides, and you're either on the pro-freedom on the non-freedom side, we don't have the reassurance of the globalisation era. You've now got this other situation where you've got a very potentially very dominant China not endorsing the sorts of principled commitments to which Australia has become engaged or comfortable with over the last 100 years or so. Then what does that mean? And you know, as an outsider in Australia, I have not witnessed a vibrant political debate on that issue. Instead, you've got, you know, sort of Morrison and Dutton, pretending that they can return to the Cold War, their strategy is okay, well, let's pitch ourselves behind the US again, and imagine it's 1960 all over again. Or you've got some people, I think, saying, well, like, let's just ease off the principled stuff a bit, because the economic realities of our relationship with China are just so strong. I would much prefer to initiate a conversation in Australia, which is, okay, what does it look like to be, in so far as you can be, the force for liberalisation amongst countries, some of which at least are highly sceptical about that as a trajectory upon which they want to be?

Sandra Obviously, this is an ongoing conversation, right? When you said we need to start having these conversations, we need to be better equipped to have these conversations. What do you read, or what do you listen to better understand the world and know how to be involved in these conversations? Or who do you regard as people who think well in this space?

Marc Stears I mean, there's a fabulous podcast by Sydney Business Insights, which I think is the thing to which I would always turn. And so, you know, that would be my answer. I mean, look, I, I, seriously think that there is an emerging conversation, a global conversation between academics and practitioners who are conscious that we need to be plotting a path through this horribly uncertain period in which we're living. And then we need to be leaving behind much of the, sort of, paradigmatic understanding that has structured both the Cold War era and then the globalisation era. So, you know, there are some phenomenal thinkers, I think, which helped me plot my understanding. I mean, Dani Rodrick in the US, I think, has done an extraordinary job of helping people see that all those pressures for globalisation are just unravelling, and trying to work out what that means. You know, his colleague at Harvard, Danielle Allen, has done the same. I mean, I think there are people in technology who are also trying to understand the impact that their work is likely to have, you know, I often turn to Glen Weyl, at Microsoft, who, again, is you really understanding just how deeply unstable our current situation is. You know, so essentially, I think, a conversation amongst those people who accept the reality of uncertainty, who maintain a commitment to core principles, and who think it's all of our jobs to come together and plot a path forward. You know, that's what keeps me optimistic and hopeful during difficult days.

Sandra Which also means you'll come back on the podcast.

Marc Stears Always a pleasure.

Sandra Thank you so much for chatting to us today, and we hope to have you back soon.

Kai Thank you, Marc.

Marc Stears So wonderful to see you both, can't wait for more!

Kai Thank you.

Outro You've been listening to The Future, This Week from The University of Sydney Business School. Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Business Insights and Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation. Connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and WeChat, and follow, like, or leave us a rating wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any weird or wonderful topics for us to discuss, send them to

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