Glob­al­i­sa­tion for ev­ery­one

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Nowa­days, glob­al­i­sa­tion’s op­po­nents seem in­creas­ingly to be drown­ing out its de­fend­ers. If they get their way, the postWorld War II in­ter­na­tional or­der – which aimed, of­ten suc­cess­fully, to ad­vance peace and prosperity through ex­change and con­nec­tion – could well col­lapse. Can glob­al­i­sa­tion be saved?

At first glance, the out­look ap­pears grim. Ev­ery as­pect of glob­al­i­sa­tion – free trade, free move­ment of cap­i­tal, and in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion – is un­der at­tack. Lead­ing the charge are an­tag­o­nis­tic forces – from pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal par­ties to sep­a­ratist groups to ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions – whose ac­tions tend to fo­cus more on what they op­pose than on what they sup­port.

In Rus­sia and Asia, anti-Western groups are at the fore­front of the cam­paign against glob­al­i­sa­tion. In Europe, pop­ulist par­ties have tended to em­pha­sise their aver­sion to Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion, with those on the right of­ten also con­demn­ing im­mi­gra­tion, while the left de­nounces ris­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity. In Latin Amer­ica, the en­emy seems to be for­eign in­ter­fer­ence of any kind. In Africa, tribal sep­a­ratists op­pose any­one stand­ing in the way of in­de­pen­dence. And in the Mid­dle East, the Is­lamic State (ISIS) vir­u­lently re­jects moder­nity – and tar­gets so­ci­eties that em­brace it.

De­spite their dif­fer­ences, these groups have one thing in com­mon: a deep hos­til­ity to­ward in­ter­na­tional struc­tures and in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness (though, of course, a mur­der­ous group like ISIS is in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory from, say, Euro­pean pop­ulists). They do not care that the in­ter­na­tional or­der they want to tear down en­abled the rapid post-1945 eco­nomic growth that lib­er­ated bil­lions of de­vel­op­ing-coun­try ci­ti­zens from poverty. All they see are mas­sive, un­bend­ing in­sti­tu­tions and in­tol­er­a­ble in­equal­i­ties in wealth and in­come, and they blame glob­al­i­sa­tion.

There is some truth to these ar­gu­ments. The world is a very un­equal place, and in­equal­ity within so­ci­eties has widened con­sid­er­ably in re­cent decades. But this is not be­cause of in­ter­na­tional trade or move­ments of peo­ple; af­ter all, cross-bor­der trade and mi­gra­tion have been hap­pen­ing for thou­sands of years.

The anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion move­ments’ pro­posed so­lu­tion – clos­ing na­tional bor­ders to trade, peo­ple, or any­thing else – thus makes lit­tle sense. In fact, such an ap­proach would hurt vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one, not just the wealthy elites who have par­tic­i­pat­ing in the process of pro­duc­ing high-value com­bi­na­tions, peo­ple have no chance of seiz­ing some of the sur­plus value cre­ated.

So it is a lack of con­sol­i­dated, doc­u­mented knowl­edge – not free trade – that is fu­el­ing in­equal­ity world­wide. But ad­dress­ing this prob­lem will not be easy. Just de­ter­min­ing how many peo­ple are left out took my or­gan­i­sa­tion, the In­sti­tute for Lib­erty and Democ­racy (ILD), two decades of field­work, con­ducted by more than 1,000 re­searchers in some 20 coun­tries.

The main prob­lem is le­gal lag. The lawyers and cor­po­rate elites who draft and en­act the leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern glob­al­i­sa­tion are dis­con­nected from those who are sup­posed to im­ple­ment the poli­cies at the lo­cal level. In other words, the le­gal chain is miss­ing a few cru­cial links.

Ex­pe­ri­ence in Ja­pan, the United States, and Europe shows that a straight­for­ward le­gal ap­proach to en­sur­ing equal rights and op­por­tu­ni­ties can take a cen­tury or more. But there is a faster way: treat­ing the miss­ing links as a break not in a le­gal chain, but in a knowl­edge chain.

We at the ILD know some­thing about knowl­edge chains. We spent 15 years adding mil­lions of peo­ple to the glob­alised le­gal sys­tem, by bring­ing the knowl­edge con­tained in mar­ginal ledgers into the le­gal main­stream – all with­out the help of com­put­ers. But we do not have decades more to spend on this process; we need to bring in bil­lions more peo­ple, and fast. That will re­quire au­toma­tion.

Last year, ILD be­gan, with pro bono sup­port from Sil­i­con Val­ley firms, to de­ter­mine whether in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, and specif­i­cally blockchain (the trans­par­ent, se­cure, and de­cen­tralised on­line ledger that un­der­pins Bit­coin), could en­able more of the world’s pop­u­la­tion to get in on glob­al­i­sa­tion. The an­swer is a re­sound­ing yes.

By trans­lat­ing the lan­guage of the le­gal chain into a dig­i­tal lan­guage – an achieve­ment that re­quired us to de­velop a set of 21 ty­polo­gies – we have cre­ated a sys­tem that could lo­cate and cap­ture any ledger in the world and make it public. More­over, we have been able to com­press into 34 bi­nary in­di­ca­tors the ques­tions that com­put­ers have to ask cap­tured ledgers to de­ter­mine which pro­vi­sions should be in­serted in blockchain smart con­tracts be­tween glob­alised firms and non-glob­alised col­lec­tives.

In­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy has de­moc­ra­tized so many el­e­ments of our lives. By democratis­ing the law, per­haps it can save glob­al­i­sa­tion – and the in­ter­na­tional or­der.

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