On one hand, a lot of our problems are global. On the other hand, our governments are already comically inefficient at doing the work they need to (mostly because they see their purpose differently, I believe).
A democratic institution with a constituency of 7 billion would be something resembling a nightmare to organise. How do you write up that constitution? What unit of people is big enough to be represented by a person? Even if a million people constituted one ‘ward’, you’d be looking at a parliament of seven thousand members.
And if you didn’t do it on new grounds, then you’d have to leave national boundaries, and their centuries of exploitation grown inequalities, intact. You’d end up with something like the UN only bigger, that is still prey to the individual jingoisms and machinations of the countries on board. The EU suffers the same problems, it’s just an extra level for politicians to play their game on, scoring points through traditional tactics of bullying, preening and not getting things done.
It’s hard to not be cynical about government processes. We’re in this weird state where we need elections to keep the powermongers representative, but this just encourages a PRish approach to the job. Leadership becomes about presenting a certain face, while doing the things that help your investors. Business, basically. The whole idea of representing culture, politics and world as business. I visibly wince every time I hear the phrase ‘United Kingdom PLC’, for example.
But there are definitely global scale problems that aren’t being dealt with by national scale organisations. The banking crises come from a lack of national regulation because each country is invested in the gains of the banks on their soil. Multinationals are effectively unpoliced because of weird attributions of human rights to corporations and the fact that they know they can go to wherever the law is laxest. Wars happen. Resources are restricted. People are exploited.
I think at the very least you need more truly international organs. Something like the International Criminal Court for prosecuting genocide is an incredible organisation, but we need things on that scale for human rights, exploitation (people and ecology), economic manipulation and environmental destruction.
But then we’d have to agree the laws and boundaries, and even the ICC doesn’t seem to be aware of how to fulfil its current remit (Tony Blair and the war on Iraq come to mind).
I want something like that to work, but I worry that it would only be possible, and, to an extent, only be able to do what we’d want it to do, as a totalitarian dictatorship. At which point it would probably quite quickly stop doing what it was supposed to.
I don’t think government works very well at large scale. I do think the only real democracy is a community of people who all know each other’s names and can talk freely. That’s hard enough to organise in a neighbourhood, let alone a world.
Some good ideas won’t work.
Illustration by Jaime