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Free trade has brought us a swarm of developments. Everything from multi-national supply chains to offshoring to oil supertankers to the Chinese rise are direct results of – and completely dependent upon – the free trade rubric. This modified world-at-night graphic shows another of these free trade outcomes: the global airline network.

Global aviation is utterly dependent upon a system in which the various global players see an ingrained advantage to economic cooperation as opposed to security competition. Such confidence is a painfully recent development in our world, dating back only to the days after World War II in Europe, and as recently as the mid-1970s in much of East Asia. Free trade was most certainly not an idea native to those areas. As the only power after World War II with an undamaged industrial base as well as global reach, the Americans were able to impose the Bretton Woods free trade system upon the world. This made global aviation, and so many other things that we take for granted in the modern world, possible.

This means that as the Americans back away from Bretton Woods, the globalized aspects of the current system will have to adjust greatly if they are to survive. Many will not succeed, and few face greater challenges than aviation.

Reduced human transport capacity will spawn its own outcomes, limiting cross-border investment and trade, slowing technological advancement, and reducing trans-oceanic immigration to the domain of the skilled and privileged. Not everything is a negative, however. Potential terrorists will find it as hard to get around as everyone else, reducing the likelihood of attacks.

For more on this and similar topics, see The Accidental Superpower, Chapters 5, 8 and 15. Also look for Surfing the Peak, my upcoming book on the future of the global economy in a world without free trade.