Summary and Keywords
System leaders, sometimes referred to as hegemons or world powers, emerge based on a foundation of technological innovation and global military reach. To this foundation energy is now added as a third leg of the power stool. It is not a coincidence that observers posit 17th-century Netherlands, 19th-century Britain, and 20th-century United States as the leading states in political-economy terms of their respective eras. The Dutch used peat and windmills, the British married coal to the steam engine, and the United States added petroleum and electricity to coal to fuel a host of new machines. The greater a country’s lead in technology and energy, the more impactful its tenure as the world economy’s lead economy. These leads, nonetheless, do not make their principal beneficiaries into dominant dictators of world politics. Instead, they focus on policing long-distance commercial routes and the global commons, as well as organizing coalitions to suppress perceived threats to the continued functioning of the world economy. Whether this process, which emerged slowly only in the second millennium ce, will continue into the future remains to be seen. It hinges on the prospects for abandoning carbon-based fuels, adapting renewable energy sources, and retaining the ability of one state to maintain a political-economic lead over its rivals for decades as in the past.
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