Getting Past the Dominance of the Nation State

One of the important topics that I have not yet addressed in World After Capital is the role of the Nation State. So I am gathering up some of my thoughts in a post first. I believe it is critical that we get past the dominance of the nation state as the key organizing principle in the world. That doesn’t mean doing away with nation states (at least not overnight), but gradually de-emphasizing their importance.

Here are my arguments for why we need to de-emphasize the Nation State:

  1. Nation states, true to their name, tend to emphasize the interests of a particular nation above others. The “America First” policy pursue by Trump is a prime example of this. As I have written repeatedly in World After Capital, by emphasizing superficial differences, this goes against the fundamental need for humanity to focus on our commonality.

  2. As a first approximation

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today come in two forms: global and local/regional. The nation state sits uncomfortably between the two. Global problems include climate change, infectious disease, corporate and individual taxation. These cannot be solved by any one nation state. Nor even by a small group of them. They truly are global in nature. Conversely, problems such as transportation, education, healthcare can and should be solved at the local or regional level. This problem is particularly acute in a country with the size and diversity of United States.

  1. We are in a time of profound change and as such we need more experiments on anything that doesn’t absolutely require global coordination. The Nation State is too large a unit for good experiments. Take education as an example. Having a national policy makes little sense at a time when technology is fundamentally changing how learning can occur.

  2. Information technology allows new approaches to regulation through transparency. In many instances what the federal level role should be is provide requirements for transparency of and interoperability between local/regional policies. This means we could have a significantly smaller Federal Government in terms of the number of direct employees, size of agencies and body of regulations.

One reason to be excited about a truly decentralized internet, including decentralized yet consistent state (aka blockchains) and crypto currencies, is that these technologies have the potential to help us get past the Nation State. These decentralized systems are not constrained by the existing boundaries. They are truly global in nature, connecting all of humanity.

Taking nation states as a given permanent feature of humanity is mistaking a short period of history for something permanent. I grew up near Nuremberg in Germany and it is useful to look at a historic map of the area from around the year 1200.

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It shows a large number of tiny principalities that had their own rulers, spoke widely varying local dialects, used different currencies, etc. Over time these fused into larger units and in the early 1800s Franconia became part of Bavaria. Today Bavaria is part of German, which in turn is part of the EU. This process of change and and should continue on a global scale.

How should we determine at which scale to address a particular problem? The key principle here is the one of “subsidiarity”: decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. Since we have one global atmosphere we need to make some decisions globally, like how many greenhouse gases we should have. But staying with the same issue, the actual ways of achieving a limit should be decided a lower levels, such as regions.

Given that all of the most pressing problems – climate change, infectious disease, taxation, death from above – are global, now more than ever is the time to get past the dominance of the nation state.