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National governments are proving ill-equipped to manage an increasingly complicated suite of global problems, from infectious diseases to climate change to conflicts over international trade. In The Coming Democracy, leading political analyst Ann Florini sets forth a compelling new paradigm for transnational governance, one based on the concept of "transparency"— the idea that the free flow of information (on topics ranging from corporate and government behavior to nuclear proliferation to biodiversity protection) provides powerful ways to hold decision makers accountable and to give ordinary people meaningful voice in shaping the policies that affect them. Dramatic breakthroughs in information technology of the past decade have made such transparency possible on a global scale.
Florini offers a clear and comprehensive assessment of the possibilities for using transparency to develop effective approaches to transnational governance. She shows how this new form of governance promises real hope for managing global problems, and provides a compelling scenario that demonstrates how existing conventions and institutions can lead the way in the evolution of a better system of global governance.
They were unlikely sparks for a revolution. The bibles that rolled off the newly invented printing press of German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s were massive, painstakingly crafted works of art, meant to catch the eye of the church leaders and secular rulers who could afford the two-volume tomes. Gutenberg, a chronically indebted businessman with an eye for beauty, may have created masterpieces, but he was primarily out to make a living. If he thought about any broader effects of his invention, he probably assumed that it would help unify Christendom by replacing the many error-filled local variants of hand-copied religious documents with single, authoritative, Church-approved versions. Gutenberg could not have foreseen the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the emergence of the nation-state as the dominant political form, the spread of mass literacy, or the rise of representative democracy. Yet all were made possible by the printing press.
The Reformation was the most immediate beneficiary. Martin Luther's ninety-five theses railing against the corruption of the Catholic Church-which were mailed in a letter in 1517 to the archbishop of Mainz, not, as legend has it, nailed to the door of the Wittenberg castle church-quickly leaked. By the end of 1517, they were all over Germany, translated into German. And over the next seven years, Luther's works amassed a total print run of perhaps 300,000 copies-one-third of all the books published in Germany during that time. Previous reform-minded tracts may have been written, but none received so wide an audience as Luther's.
Over time, Gutenberg's invention also changed the geography of language. Authors trying to reach broad audiences had to deal with a bewildering variety of dialects, creating standardized languages that sidelined Latin and provincial vernaculars alike. It is hard to imagine the rise of the nation-state and, eventually, the rise of nineteenth-century nationalism in the absence of such ease of communication within national borders.
Most important of all, print changed the way in which knowledge could be accumulated. Printers could improve works from edition to edition, relying on large networks of readers to point out errors and provide new data on any subject, from mapping to botany. Print also, of course, made it possible to reproduce errors far more widely, but on the whole, error correction outweighed error duplication. Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume wrote to his publisher, "The Power which Printing gives us of continually improving and correcting our Works in successive Editions appears to me the chief advantage of that art."
Part of the knowledge that was accumulated was political. Now everyone could know what laws existed, what agreements rulers had made with the ruled. Censorship became problematic. The Catholic Church tried to cope with the explosion of unwelcome books by regularly issuing the Index librorum prohibitorum (Index of prohibited books), which provided invaluable free publicity for the listed authors and, as historian Elizabeth Eisenstein notes, "may have spurred sales." Over time, the explosion of knowledge opened the door to vastly greater individual freedom and to forms of governance that required the ongoing involvement of literate, attentive, and informed populations.
These consequences were not inevitable. Movable type presses were available in China as early as the eleventh century, but they were little used and had essentially no influence. The European invention of the printing press transformed Europe because Europe was ready to be transformed. The Renaissance was already under way, and Europe was in the painful process of recovering from the devastation of the bubonic plague. The growing demand for books and other written materials was outstripping the capacity of scribes to make their copies. Public disgust with the corruption rife in the Catholic Church provided fertile ground for Luther's theses. Thus, the advent of print holds powerful lessons for us today.
We are now, potentially, at a similar turning point. Information technology may once again be poised to transform politics and identity. If the print revolution made possible the nation-state system and eventually national democracy, where might the digital revolution lead us? Can it help us create new, and possibly better, ways of running the world?
As was true in the early days of print, we live in an extraordinarily fluid time, when choices made today will have massive consequences for tomorrow. To see this, imagine living in a wonderful world a few decades from now. The gut-wrenching poverty that left half the world eking out a bare existence at the turn of the millennium has become little more than a distant memory as ever freer and more equitable global markets have ushered in a new era of prosperity for almost everyone. Population has grown far more slowly than predicted, with birthrates dropping dramatically in a "demographic transition" that reflects the world's improved standards of living (the richer people become, the fewer children they have). The population growth that has occurred has created larger markets and bigger labor forces for the growing economies. New environmentally sustainable technologies, from "green" cars to organic farming, are so widely adopted that Mother Nature smiles benignly on her 8 billion or so human children. This extraordinary progress in the human condition has become possible thanks to the information revolution and the related spread of education. People around the world have become capable of demanding, and getting, effective and competent governments, which are closely monitored by a global array of citizens' groups looking out for the public interest.
Now imagine a different scenario for that not-too-distant future. Economic globalization has forced all societies to subordinate concerns about equity and social justice to productivity and competitiveness. With the private sector ever more powerful and the wealthy ever more isolated from the rest of society, governments find themselves unable to compel those with money to help pay for such basic social needs as defense and police functions, economic infrastructure, environmental protection, or a social safety net. Organized crime runs rampant through porous borders. The technologies of the information revolution have spread, but inequitably, leaving the poor well aware that others are living far better than they but unable to participate in the information-based global economy. Growing and aging populations that are increasingly organized into self-interested activist groups put heavy demands on governments to provide services. Environmental degradation compounds those demands by undermining the ability of the poorest to fashion a living for themselves as supplies of water, firewood, and arable land diminish. The failure of either market or government to meet the demands of both the truly desperate and the merely relatively deprived masses is provoking growing frustration and thus violence. And everyone is suffering the consequences of climate change and ecosystem collapse as weather runs wild, fisheries are devastated, and much of humanity ends up poisoned by the by-products of industrial activities.
There are plenty of people who say we are already well on our way toward one or the other of these outcomes. Panglossian pundits foretell a "long boom" of ever-increasing prosperity: Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt, in their book of that name, lay out a vision of a future made glorious by rapid economic growth, technological innovation, and the power of networking. Others, like the well-traveled writer Robert Kaplan, foresee a world at best divided between the privileged few and the miserable many, headed for conflict and possibly wholesale collapse.
These are not the only views of our likely future, of course. A number of pundits prefer to promulgate paradigms that look more like the recent past, with the world defined primarily by antagonisms between countries. The United States is always one of the antagonists, given the preponderance of U.S. power, and its enemy is posited to be China or a unified transnational Islam (replacing earlier renditions that put Japan or a revitalized Russia in that role). Most well known in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., is Samuel Huntington's imaginative variant on the Great Enemies idea, contending that whole civilizations, rather than mere countries, will clash.
All these views reflect a palpable hunger for a single theme that will bring coherence to the confusing cacophony that has prevailed since the cold war ended. The hunger is understandable: we need some means of attributing meaning to the myriad events and trends we observe, some basis for decision making. But such simplifications of reality appear to describe inevitabilities rather than possible futures. And some of their arguments have a dangerous propensity to generate self-fulfilling prophecies. If claims about new enemies are taken seriously, peoples who need not become enemies may start treating each other as such. That is clearly what the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks hoped to bring about with their ill-founded claims about hostility between Islam and the West. If assumptions of inevitable prosperity are accepted, the real threats to that outcome will be ignored until too late. And if fears about possible catastrophes are accepted as descriptions of an unavoidable future, that future will come.
Reality is not as simple, and human destiny is not as fixed. Major stresses are inevitable, given the sheer size of the growing human population and the need to adjust to technological changes. But within those constraints, humanity has enormous freedom. People decide which problems matter most and how, or whether, to try to solve them. Cultures and civilizations need not clash if people decide to work out their differences in nonviolent ways. Climate change need not continue. Humanity can wait and see whether ecological catastrophe will strike, or we can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. We can wait until the bombs go off, or we can act to constrain the proliferation of conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We can confront the problem of growing income disparities, or we can wait and see whether such divisions really will rip societies apart, as many social scientists predict.
The difference between the rosy and gloomy scenarios boils down to a single word: governance. Governance is something more than the familiar processes of governments. Governance refers to all the ways in which groups of people collectively make choices. Just as operating systems set the parameters within which computers function, governance systems set the parameters within which societies function. At the global level, however, the operating software is still in the beta-test stage of an early version-not able to do much, and with plenty of bugs still in the code.
Governments are obviously a big part of global governance-they agree on treaties, constitute international organizations that set international standards, and enact and enforce national laws to implement internationally agreed-on rules. But corporations are also taking an increasingly large part in global governance by lobbying governments, regulating themselves through industry associations, and establishing codes of conduct for their own behavior. And a vast and growing array of nonprofit groups is beginning to participate in global governance, whether by demanding changes from the streets or by sitting down with representatives of governments and corporations to write the rules.
This current system for running the world is based on rules that were set in the middle of the twentieth century, in the wake of World War II. It is based on assumptions that a handful of great powers will make most of the decisions, with other national governments involved as needed and with intergovernmental efforts at times coordinated through treaties or international organizations such as the United Nations. It was designed for a time when war between countries seemed the greatest threat to international well-being, when national economies engaged in trade but otherwise operated quite separately, and when environmental concerns were scarcely a blip on the radar screen.
The world of the early twenty-first century is obviously quite different. In late 2002, the "war" against terrorism was uppermost in many minds. But humanity faces many threats. True believers in doomsday scenarios have many potential catastrophes to pick from. The cold war may be over, but the world still hosts thousands of nuclear weapons. Dozens of countries (and, increasingly, subnational groups) have or could get chemical weapons, biological weapons, or both, as well as missiles to deliver them. The international treaties and safeguards in place to prevent such proliferation have serious flaws. Although we are unlikely to experience another war like World War II, in part because the United States is so militarily dominant that no conceivable enemy could hope to win a conventional war against it, millions are still dying and suffering from the cumulative murder and maiming made possible by the global trade in small arms. Such violence is particularly hard to control when it comes, as it increasingly does, from rebel groups and criminal organizations (often now one and the same) rather than national governments. The international community, in the form of the United Nations and national leaders, is increasingly recognizing a moral obligation to stop the slaughter of innocents, but those national leaders generally accomplish little beyond hand-wringing and buck-passing until thousands have already died. Much of the violence is fueled by the escalating profits of drug traffickers and other smugglers, whose goods are easily disguised in the surging flows of legitimately traded goods and whose profits are readily laundered through the vast global financial system. Other large-scale threats to human well-being include everything from economic instability to environmental degradation, as later chapters will show.
So far, although people are becoming more aware of the global nature of humanity's most urgent problems and opportunities, the responses, with some notable exceptions, add up to unimaginative muddling through. The thousands of international conferences, treaties, and declarations of pious intent have (again, with some notable exceptions) done more to salve the conscience than to save the world.
To see the gap between rhetoric and reality, consider an example: the globalization of disease.
Watching a child die of illness or infection used to be a common parental experience.
Excerpted from The Coming Democracy by Ann Florini Copyright © 2005 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
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|1||A Time of Transformation?||1|
|2||The Global Spotlight||19|
|3||The Global We||41|
|4||Why Governments Won't Solve Everything||61|
|9||The Fourth Revolution||195|
|About the Author||243|