Separate Countries are Killing America

Until now, one of the main objections to One Global Democracy has been an assumption that America is better off on its own.

Are we?

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America as we know it is now scheduled to end in 10 weeks, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as President on January 20th.

Our statue of liberty says “I lift my lamp beside the golden door”; Trump has promised a wall. Our Constitution defines checks and balances, such as equal protection, that Trump has vowed to ignore. Republicans have defied their constitutional duty to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat and will now lock up that all-powerful institution for another generation with right-wing justices, while also controlling both other branches of the federal government. Our supposedly nonpartisan FBI threw the election to Trump, yet will likely face no consequences.

Our planet’s survival, and with it our country’s, is directly threatened by Trump’s climate denial.

What drove Trump’s victory? Many factors, all having to do with our antiquated attachment to separate countries as our fundamental frame of reference.

Poor and middle-class white people have been hurting economically for decades. The financial benefits of technology, globalization, tax breaks and bailouts have gone to wealthy elites, leaving Trump’s voters to fight with progressives over scraps.

These elites have consolidated their economic privilege, and their attendant, outsized political power, in large part by hiding money overseas, where it can’t be taxed. They have evaded paying their fair share, then exploited their financial advantage by securing ever-more advantageous tax policies (e.g. the repeal of the estate tax), bailouts for bankers with zero accountability for defrauding people out of their homes, and locking in their power over our politics through Citizens United and related cases, through a corrupt approach and defying a bipartisan consensus.

Trump has managed to misdirect the rage of American voters, turning it against our neighbors in other countries, and against people who come here in search of a better life, as all of our own families once did.

Trade agreements have sent jobs overseas, without economic benefit for most Americans. They have allowed capital to move freely while otherwise maintaining borders that strip us of our rights when we cross them. In practice, wealthy elites can go almost anywhere and generally do as they please. But borders prevent the rest of us from traveling freely in search of work. Trump has correctly assailed these lopsided trade agreements, while falsely branding people in other countries who have benefited as our enemies. Yet his policies will likely make matters worse, not better, for American workers, while further magnifying elite privilege.

Russia has played a shocking role in supporting Trump’s campaign. Russia hacked the DNC, and Russian individuals allegedly financed both Trump himself and one of his top campaign advisors. (Although this money was ostensibly private, the biggest private Russian fortunes were originally acquired by well-connected insiders who gained control of major state assets at the collapse of the Soviet Union.) So Trump has been funded and otherwise supported largely by a foreign country.

With both our planet and American democracy in crisis, there are many reasons to consider an alternative to the antiquated system of separate countries we’re used to: One Global Democracy.

First, we can more effectively confront climate change together, rather than separately.

Second, we can finally deal with inequality by enacting a global tax on wealth. Nothing less will work. (And surprisingly enough, if the world’s wealth were redistributed equally among everyone, most Americans would be better off than they are today, because wealth is now so concentrated at the top. The combined wealth of everyone in the world is $241 trillion. If it were evenly distributed, each person in the world would have $51,600.-. That’s more than the median net worth of an American today: $44,911.-)

Third, we can also unlock tremendous economic growth, doubling the size of the world’s economy, simply by allowing people everywhere to move where their work is best rewarded.

We could dispense with the electoral college and other broken anachronisms of representative democracy and instead enable everyone to participate at will, through a new model called liquid democracy, at a global scale. We can do this online, and securely, on a blockchain (the technology behind bitcoin). We’ll be able to include everyone, worldwide, as the digital divide closes.

Brevity prevents this short piece from covering every detail, but there are many reasons to take the idea of One Global Democracy seriously. It merits a conversation.

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A Better Approach to China — and the World

(Versions of this piece have also been published at The Huffington Post and Medium.)  

Escalating tensions between the US and China, while ominous, offer a useful reminder that the artificial division of our world into separate nation-states may no longer serve us, and present a compelling reason to consider a better model.

To briefly review some of the alarming recent news: China has been artificially building islands that previously were little more than reefs, placing artillery there, talking about expanding its air-defense zone to cover them, and warning US military planes to leave the area.  It’s also been building up its navy and reconfiguring its missiles so each one can hold multiple nuclear warheads.

Chinese construction of an island in the South China Sea

In response, the US has called on China to stop building islands, and our military has proposed a show of strength.  Our ally Japan regularly confronts China with fighter planes.

On the economic front, China is investing heavily in the creation of a modernized trade route through Pakistan, buying up African natural resources, and building its presence in Antarctica.

Economically, President Obama has responded by framing his push on Capitol Hill for “fast track” authority to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement whose contents we are not allowed to see, as a strategic counter to China’s growing power, saying “if we don’t write the rules for trade around the world — guess what — China will.”

We must remember that the US-China relationship is complex.  China continues to invest billions here.  The two countries reached a breakthrough agreement on climate change last winter, and since then China has already dramatically reduced its carbon emissions.

Still, there’s every reason to take a perceived threat from China seriously.  It’s the world’s most populous country, and as its economy has surged to global prominence over the past decade, its industrial capacity, implicitly including war-making capability, has grown as well.

In some respects, this is the first time the US has faced such a situation since the end of World War II.  To be sure, we faced off against the Soviet Union throughout the cold war, and our relations with post-Soviet Russia under Putin have been frosty.  Yet, while the nuclear threat has darkened this picture for decades, neither the Soviet Union nor Russia has been a top economic or industrial power, despite the recent oil-and-gas wealth of its oligarchs.

So now is an opportune time to ask whether we want to continue the usual geopolitical power game, in which separate countries vie against each other for resources and dominance, threatening everyone’s survival, safety, and rights, or whether a new, globally inclusive, democratic governance structure would serve us better.

We in the US may rightly condemn China’s recent actions.  Yet we should also bear in mind that China’s recent muscle-flexing follows inevitably from its economic rise, given the perverse incentives of our fragmented global political structure.  With the world divided into separate nation-states, national governments can often keep order within their borders, but they face a constant power struggle beyond, with no legitimate entity truly in charge at the global level.  (The UN is simply too weak.)  Leaders whose only accountability comes from within their borders can build their power at home by elbowing their neighbors, so they do.  This is especially true in countries with ascendant economies, such as China today, or the US at many points over the past 100-plus years.

The structural inevitability of confrontations like the one now developing with China should compel us to consider an alternative that has never been possible until now: a single, global democracy, including everyone (holding dictators, terrorists, and other criminals accountable to the rule of law).

With blockchain technology (the secure, distributed ledger underlying bitcoin) it’s now becoming feasible to securely record the votes of potentially limitless numbers of people, online.  Although related challenges remain (the secret ballot, unique voting accounts, the digital divide) all of these appear solvable over the next decade or two, and possibly sooner.

Of course, it’s important to consider what kinds of policies a single, global democracy might lead to.  Although the actions of major foreign governments, such as China’s, are troubling in many respects, the point of a global democracy is to take national governments, with their warped incentives, out of the picture, and instead put global governance in the hands of everyone.

In part, this is a matter of faith in people’s essential reasonableness, the wisdom of crowds, the better angels of our nature, and the historical record, which has shown again and again that democracies, while fallible, generally produce fairer, more stable, and more peaceful outcomes than any other system of governance.

Yet it’s also supported by international polling data.  The Pew Research Center  has compiled a rich trove of such data, including these highlights:

  • A slim plurality of Chinese people say “our country should have UN approval before it uses military force to deal with an international threat.”
  • A plurality of Chinese people, along with a clear majority in India and majorities in many Muslim countries (which together comprise another major population group), prefer “a democratic form of government” rather than “a leader with a strong hand”.
  • Overwhelming majorities in China, India, and Muslim countries see climate change as a “serious problem”, and say “people should be willing to pay higher prices in order to address” it.

There are limits to the depth of this data, but what we can see is encouraging.

Obviously, beyond the top-line appeal of a call for a global democracy lie many key structural questions.  For example: what constitutional rights should be guaranteed to everyone? And how should inclusive deliberation and voting should be structured?  These are beyond the scope of this article, but they’re an exciting area for discussion; a forum for that conversation is here.

The archaic division of our world into separate nation-states leads inevitably to dangerous geopolitical rivalries.  It also prevents adequate global action on climate change (notwithstanding the recent US-China agreement), cripples our response to disease outbreaks, makes it impossible to rein in economic inequality, and traps people worldwide in poverty.  In all of these ways, the present system is failing us.

Until recently, one could argue that we couldn’t do much better: national borders have crudely reflected humanity’s technological and administrative limits for centuries.  But today, for the first time in history, a better solution is within our grasp: one global democracy.

Obviously, nation-states won’t go away on their own.  Those who benefit from today’s structures (e.g., heads of state, CEOs of unaccountable multinational corporations) will defend them.

It will take time to build a movement in support of a global democracy, potentially decades.  Or, with the accelerating rate of change, things could move more quickly.

But with so much at stake, and new technology making it feasible, the time to begin the conversation has come.

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