Our human story has been defined by the cooperation of larger and larger groups of individuals, united by the common objective of solving seemingly unsolvable problems. Is an increasingly globalised system of political governance inevitable, and is it, in principle, desirable?
If you haven’t read ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari yet, you should…
The New York Times Best Seller published in English in 2014 came at a time when ‘big history’ was very much in vogue, and Harari is unmatched in his ability to identify and describe the key trends and moments acaross the vastness of our species’ history.
Hariri speaks in terms of ‘stories’, that is, invented myths and shared experiences that convince a group of people that they share a common interest. He describes tribes on the frequently flooding Yellow River, whose initial loyalties lay with their clan. He argues that, in order to solve larger-scale, shared problems, a new identity, the ‘Han Chinese’ identity, a new story people told each other, was created. With this new, uniting identity mobilising the manpower needed to dam the river was a possibility, and more could be accomplished.
Humans are indeed a social animal, but, scientifically, a given person cannot have a personal relationship with over 150 people at any given time. And yet, many people identify themselves with nation-states whose populations run into the millions. We can never truly know all these people, but we share an identity with them and are therefore willing to cooperate with them.
Following this argument through to its inevitable conclusion, it is sensible to assume that the tide of technology, and the ever-increasing scale of our problems, will erode national loyalties in favour of larger-scale, multi-lateral and international cooperation. There is no doubt that in the future we will be telling different stories, ones that unite more human beings than ever before. This article will highlight some of the clearest arguments for a more globalised system of politics.
The first argument is obvious; the economies of the world have, bar the odd financial crisis, been on a steep upwards trend of integration, with international trade rocketing in the past 50 years. An increasingly globalised economy, with massive cross-border labour and capital flows, ought to have a unified growth strategy and unified financial regulations to ensure no repeat of 2008.
Furthermore, the epidemic of tax avoidance by multinational corporations (MNCs) can only be tackled from a global perspective. A classic coordination problem; one nation cracking down has no effect unless all nations, including ‘tax havens’, do so simultaneously. Just like the tribes on the Yellow river, a shift to globalised government enforcing a commitment by all nation-states allows us to solve previously unsolvable problems. Proper taxation of MNCs means more money for improved public services, and a reduction of global wealth inequality.
Game theory turns out to be quite useful in analysing the kinds of problems global government will try to solve. Take, for example, futuristic technologies like killer AI robots or designer babies. In the current nation-state framework, such technologies are high-risk, high-reward propositions. If Russia, say, were to pursue such a technology, the US would be obliged to follow suit – it is a dominant strategy for both players, and so the inevitable outcome is an arms race. Sound Familiar? In a global political system, the existence of a higher global authority enforcing a commitment by nation-states to agreed regulations means no one rogue nation can pursue a dangerous technology, incentivising its proliferation.
Climate change is another global problem requiring global solutions. Efforts to reduce CO2 emissions by small nations like Denmark are laudable, though their work will do little to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions unless the world’s biggest polluters agree to evenly distribute the burden of a reduction in emissions, perhaps by enforcing a global carbon tax or permit system. Here is a recurring theme; the even distribution of burdens, whether that of reducing emissions or absorbing refugees. Global governance seeks to mitigate the effects of shocks to individual economies, and their political and economic consequences, by evenly distributing such burdens as carbon emission reduction across the globe.
Climate change and refugees are two crucial, and interrelated, problems we face in the 21st century. Many of the refugees of the future will, in fact, be climate refugees. As rising sea levels lead to the flooding of densely populated coastal cities across the developing world, and as many equatorial nations become inhospitable as temperatures rise, the flow of refugees from these areas to the developed world will dwarf anything seen this century. Without an equitable way of distributing such refugees, whose plight will be all humanity’s responsibility, nearby countries will be swamped and face economic and political collapse whose effects will, in a globalised economy, be transmitted across the world immediately. Lebanon, whose population is now 1/5th Syrian, is a frightening example. With one of the world’s highest debt-to-GDP ratios and public services in poor health, more refugees could tip the nation into crisis, sending shockwaves rolling through the region’s delicately balanced political landscape.
Finally, there is no doubt that the intellectual and technological progress that has accompanied the past half-century’s economic globalisation constitutes one of the more positive aspects of the process. The emergence of the internet and the cultural revolution that it has fuelled is creating communities of people separated by vast distances, brought together by a shared interest. This process is only set to accelerate. Encouraging the exchange of ideas, perspectives and technologies is a clear win-win for nation-states, and so the incentive for global economic integration will remain in place, but political resistance to economic integration is inevitable.
In order to mitigate some of the risks associated with global political integration, it is important that some preconditions are met before the pursuit of what is a potentially destabilising project. Firstly, all nations ought to have achieved the status of ‘developed’ economy, in order to ensure that, as borders are erased, flows of economic migrants will not overwhelm richer areas. Secondly, the transparency and representative nature of such a political system is essential, and indeed the design of such a system merits another article in and of itself. Suffice to say, the image of corrupt MNCs and politicians using global government as a means for extracting profits is one that must be tackled and addressed directly. Finally, the democratic consent of the populations of sovereign nation-states ought to be obtained incrementally as authority slowly shifts from national to international institutions.