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Liberty & interdependence

Liberty & interdependence

This section notes the increased connectivity and complexity of the world. The consequence - at every level, from the local to the global - will be a trend to regulate the public domain. In direct opposition to this, agents at all levels - individuals, social groups, firms, states and alliances - will continue to assert their independence from these controls. The intensity of both trends is predetermined to increase.

Driving events

It was supposed to be possible to travel from Moscow to Paris in the C18th without leaving the shade of the forest. Islands of cultivation and urbanisation existed in a sea of wilderness. As population grew and economies expanded, however, a network of relationships began to couple together. Analogous things are occurring in the world at large, driven economic and social organisation, by interchanges of data and knowledge and, above all, by an expanding cadre of the population who possess a trans-national worldview. Many of these drivers are reviewed elsewhere.

A hundred years ago, there were few cities of over a million inhabitants and the majority of the world's populations liven in the countryside. A small minority were literate. By 2020, 75% of the world will have received some form of secondary education, and most will have routine access to information media. The great majority will live in cities or suburban clusters. Developing economies - as reviewed elsewhere - will consist less of isolated commercial 'walled cities' surrounds by the shacks and hovels of the third world service economy, and much more of complex, multi-layered networks of interchange. The acceleration of this integration within the developed economies - also reviewed elsewhere - will continue. elsewhere, we have hinted at some of the extraordinary possibilities which software and telecommunications may offer

With interdependence come both advantages and threats. More fundamentally, however, issues which once resolved themselves - such as water supply and drainage, food production and waste disposal - increasingly need a communal solution. We need to organise our conduct, divide our labour and police what has been set up for evasion. We need increasingly complex public institutions. We review what this may entail elsewhere.

Many of the decisions which are controversial, and people have tended to organise themselves into parties in order to push for their perspective in the political process. Once again, we review the adequacy of this approach in the very complex economies elsewhere. However, whatever develops in this area will deal with the same issues of how individual and group interest can be balanced with the public good; and indeed, how the public good is to be understood.

Balance of two forces.

These two sets of forces - interdependence and the independent pursuit of advantage - are now to be played out on a much wider and more complex scene than has ever before been the case. The actors range from the supranational alliance to the individual, by way of a bewildering melange of nations, parties, ethnic groups, commercial arrangements, regulatory bodies and NGOs. The interactions of these are by no means confined to any one layer or to any one issue. Many are being created in response to human impacts on each other, on the natural world and one systems which humans themselves have created, such as the world economy.

Elites have sacrificed their advantage grudgingly throughout history. The primary force which has driven this erosion is, as Weber noted a hundred years ago, the dependency of the extant elite on emerging new elites for their quality of life. The European aristocracy needed manufacturers and bankers, lawyers and politicians; and as these gained power, so they eroded the base which the old regime could defend. The elite industrial nations have a similar issue with the seven or so billion people in the poor and emergent economies: needs are increasing bi-directional, and so power is likely to become more balanced, regulatory structures more developed and constraints applied with a hand guided by the interests of the billions as well as the rich. The extent to which this is necessary - rather than acceptable or ethically desirable - will govern the degree to which world institutions come into being.

Such institutions can consist of collaborations amongst peers for mutual advantage, which we discuss first, or they can be regulatory structures which a limited alliance tries to impose upon the rest. We discuss this second.

Collaborative institutions.

Collaborative institutions have, at their heart, the pursuit of mutual advantage. The groups which are involved all stand to gain from the outcome and they are therefore prepared to sacrifice individual freedoms for this. The process by which this is achieve is not a straightforward one, as the history of the European Union may suggest.

The aims of the European Union were always mixed: to be the civil equivalent to NATO in the Cold War, to manage the reform of Europe after World War II, to balance America and Japan in the so-called triad; and so forth. As a project in its own right, however, it has two fundamental aims. First, Europe has a bellicose history and has triggered a century of global conflict. Its peoples need to be tied with bonds of mutual advantage. France, in particular, was keen to bind Germany in golden chains of economic amity.

Second, the economies of scale implicit in economic and regulatory union may imply that could Europe match US economic and technological performance. Commerce should be encouraged to integrate across political frontiers, therefore, and labour should be mobile, regulation unified and infrastructure rendered at least inter-compatible.

However, to achieve these goals, nations have to lessen their individuality and loosen their hold on many aspects of policy. There has to be trust, both in the competence of the institutions and in the viability of the long-term goal. Indeed, the goal itself has to be clear. This trust needs to be replicated at all levels of scale in each of the relevant societies. Overly rapid progress, weak goals or poor understanding of these have created negative reactions. The balance between individual advantage and the public good was being disturbed, without adequate political mediation.

Creation of integration amongst very similar powers is, therefore, not without its difficulties. The more meaningful the integration, the harder the process which is involved. Integration amongst very dissimilar entities is much harder, and the complexity probably grows as a power term of the number that are involved.

Regulatory institutions.

Major powers may collaborate in order to create security architectures, to manage environmentally-damaging activities, to handle crime, trade, finance flows, information exchange or assorted forms of criminality. Other nations may or may not be signatories to these issues, but enter into these with priorities which differ significantly from the main signatories.

Equally, however, they may not be compliant, as with war crimes, for example, or issues of tax evasion, labour standards and the like. The major powers may use their weight, and that of extant international institutions, to bend the non-compliant to their will. elsewhere, we review issues of sustainable development. We note the potential for considerable unilateral pressure to be applied towards good practice, much as international financial institutions have made great strides in stabilising deficit-dominated economies, corrupt practice in central finance and the regulation of international business as it impinges on these states.

It is likely that regulatory institutions which carry mixtures of both of these 'flavours' will develop over the next two decades. Who is to handle the policing aspects of this - and to carry the costs - is yet to be determined. elsewhere, we discuss crime, both as a general concern and as a component of the new electronic infrastructure. Domestic criminality is an important force, and it has been estimated that crime prevention, control and the cost of crime consume something around a fifth of all added value. International criminality (and what constitutes a crime, and which jurisdictions are valid) has yet to arrive in force. It is clear that it will do so, however, particularly is institutional measures are not put in place. The wrestling match between individual liberties and regulation for the general good will, therefore, intensify.

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