Mar 14th 2013

National Governments, Global Citizens

by Dani Rodrik

Dani Rodrik, Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, is the first recipient of the Social Science Research Council’s Albert O. Hirschman Prize. His latest book is One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth.

CAMBRIDGE – Nothing endangers globalization more than the yawning governance gap – the dangerous disparity between the national scope of political accountability and the global nature of markets for goods, capital, and many services – that has opened up in recent decades. When markets transcend national regulation, as with today’s globalization of finance, market failure, instability, and crisis is the result. But pushing rule-making onto supranational bureaucracies, such as the World Trade Organization or the European Commission, can result in a democratic deficit and a loss of legitimacy.

How can this governance gap be closed? One option is to re-establish national democratic control over global markets. This is difficult and smacks of protectionism, but it is neither impossible nor necessarily inimical to healthy globalization. As I argue in my book The Globalization Paradox, expanding the scope for national governments to maintain regulatory diversity and rebuild frayed social bargains would enhance the functioning of the global economy.

Instead, policy elites (and most economists) favor strengthening what is euphemistically called “global governance.” According to this view, reforms such as those that enhance the effectiveness of the G-20, increase the representativeness of the International Monetary Fund’s Executive Board, and tighten the capital standards set by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision would be sufficient to provide a sound institutional underpinning for the global economy. 

But the trouble is not just that these global institutions remain weak. It is also that they are inter-governmental bodies – a collection of member states rather than agents of global citizens. Because their accountability to national electorates is indirect and uncertain, they do not generate the political allegiance – and hence legitimacy – that truly representative institutions require. Indeed, the travails of the European Union have revealed the limits of transnational political community-building, even among a comparatively limited and similar set of countries.

Ultimately, the buck stops with national parliaments and executives. During the financial crisis, it was national governments that bailed out banks and firms, recapitalized the financial system, guaranteed debts, eased liquidity, primed the fiscal pump, and paid the unemployment and welfare checks – and took the blame for everything that went wrong. In the memorable words of outgoing Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, global banks are “international in life, but national in death.” 

But perhaps there is another path, one that accepts the authority of national governments, but aims to reorient national interests in a more global direction. Progress along such a path requires “national” citizens to begin viewing themselves increasingly as “global” citizens, with interests that extend beyond their state’s borders. National governments are accountable to their citizens, at least in principle. So, the more global these citizens’ sense of their interests becomes, the more globally responsible national policy will be.

This may seem like a pipedream, but something along these lines has already been happening for a while. The global campaign for debt relief for poor countries was led by non-governmental organizations that successfully mobilized young people in rich countries to put pressure on their governments. 

Multinational companies are well aware of the effectiveness of such citizen campaigns, having been compelled to increase transparency and change their ways on labor practices around the world. Some governments have gone after foreign political leaders who committed human-rights crimes, with considerable domestic popular support. Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development, cites the example of a Ghanaian citizen providing testimony to the US Congress in the hope of convincing American officials to pressure the World Bank to change its position on user fees in Africa.

Such bottom-up efforts to “globalize” national governments have the greatest potential to affect environmental policies, particularly those aimed at mitigating climate change – the most intractable global problem of all. Interestingly, some of the most important initiatives to stem greenhouse gases and promote green growth are the products of local pressures. 

World Resources Institute President Andrew Steer notes that more than 50 developing countries are now implementing costly policies to reduce climate change. From the perspective of national interest, that makes no sense at all, given the global-commons nature of the problem.

Some of these policies are driven by the desire to attain a competitive advantage, as is the case with China’s support for green industries. But when voters are globally aware and environmentally conscious, good climate policy can also be good politics.

Consider California, which at the beginning of this year launched a cap-and-trade system that aims to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. While global action remained stalled on capping emissions, environmental groups and concerned citizens successfully pushed for the plan over the opposition of business groups, and the state’s Republican governor at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed it into law in 2006. If it proves a success and remains popular, it could become a model for the entire country. 

Global polls such as the World Values Survey indicate that there is still a lot of ground that needs to be covered: self-expressed global citizenship tends to run 15-20 percentage points behind national citizenship. But the gap is smaller for young people, the better educated, and the professional classes. Those who consider themselves to be at the top of the class structure are significantly more globally minded than those who consider themselves to be from the lower classes.

Of course, “global citizenship” will always be a metaphor, because there will never be a world government administering a worldwide political community. But the more we each think of ourselves as global citizens and express our preferences as such to our governments, the less we will need to pursue the chimera of global governance.

 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.
www.project-syndicate.org



Book Description

The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy by Dani Rodrik

March 5, 2012

"Cogent, well-written . . . critiques unalloyed globalization enthusiasts, taking aim at their desire to fully liberalize foreign trade ad capital movements." —Foreign Affairs

In this eloquent challenge to the reigning wisdom on globalization, Dani Rodrik reminds us of the importance of the nation-state, arguing forcefully that when the social arrangements of democracies inevitably clash with the international demands of globalization, national priorities should take precedence. Combining history with insight, humor with good-natured critique, Rodrik’s case for a customizable globalization supported by a light frame of international rules shows the way to a balanced prosperity as we confront today’s global challenges in trade, finance, and labor markets.



 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 28th 2017

WASHINGTON, DC – As US President Donald Trump decamped to his mansion-cum-private club in Palm Beach, Florida, for the holidays, he left Washington, DC, on edge.

Dec 20th 2017

MADRID – Once again, US President Donald Trump has taken a unilateral approach to foreign policy – this time, by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And once again, Trump has misinterpreted the realities of the Middle East.

Nov 25th 2017

NEW HAVEN – Tax cuts masquerading as tax reform are the best way to describe the thrust of Washington’s latest policy gambit. The case is largely political – namely, the urgency of a Republican Congress to deliver a legislative victory for a Republican president.

Nov 20th 2017

In the philosophy of language, we learn the simple truth that the meaning of a word is how it's used in a sentence. The same lesson can be applied to religion—with the meaning of religious language best understood by how it is being used.  

Nov 18th 2017

TEL AVIV – A series of stunning political developments, originating in Saudi Arabia, has been roiling an already volatile Middle East. Is a major new war in the offing?

Nov 13th 2017

Two former intelligence officials on Sunday more or less said openly that Trump is compromised by Russia.

Nov 13th 2017

LONDON – Business ethics are again making headlines. This time, the focus is on the rapidly escalating opioid crisis that is destroying lives across the United States.