Democ­racy at grass­roots leads to sta­ble so­ci­eties

Ci­ties are cen­tres of in­no­va­tion and progress, and peo­ple’s pride does not have dam­ag­ing qual­i­ties of na­tion­al­ism

Khaleej Times - - OPINION - Ke­mal Derviş Ke­mal Derviş, for­mer Min­is­ter of Eco­nomic Af­fairs of Tur­key and for­mer Ad­min­is­tra­tor for the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram (UNDP), is Se­nior Fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Har­vard econ­o­mist Dani Ro­drik, it is im­pos­si­ble to have full na­tional sovereignty, democ­racy, and glob­al­i­sa­tion si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The con­cept of a “po­lit­i­cal trilemma of the world econ­omy,” which Javier Solana also re­cently ex­plored, is use­ful, but in­com­plete.

Ro­drik’s ar­gu­ment, elab­o­rated in his new book, is that too much glob­al­i­sa­tion erodes the sovereignty of demo­cratic na­tion-states, by in­creas­ingly sub­ject­ing them to eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial forces that may not cor­re­spond with the wishes of the do­mes­tic ma­jor­ity. By this logic, an au­thor­i­tar­ian state may func­tion bet­ter in a glob­alised world, be­cause it is un­con­strained by, say, elec­toral con­cerns.

With less glob­al­i­sa­tion, demo­cratic de­ci­sion-mak­ing within the na­tion­state would be less con­strained by ex­ter­nal forces — par­tic­u­larly fi­nan­cial mar­kets — mean­ing that its scope would be wider. Glob­al­i­sa­tion and democ­racy, with­out the na­tion-state, is also pos­si­ble, though Ro­drik is skep­ti­cal about whether demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions could func­tion on a global scale.

Of course, Ro­drik does not por­tray this trilemma as a hard-and-fast rule. Rather, his goal is to high­light the chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with fos­ter­ing or main­tain­ing these three in­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ments, partly or fully. But, to get the most out of Ro­drik’s con­cept, it is nec­es­sary to ac­count for an­other di­men­sion: the many lev­els of gover­nance that ex­ist in today’s world.

The na­tion-state, man­aged by na­tional gov­ern­ment, re­mains the fun­da­men­tal build­ing block of the in­ter­na­tional order. But be­low the na­tion-state are states (or prov­inces), ci­ties and re­gions, which may have their own gover­nance struc­tures. Above, there are supra­na­tional blocs like the Euro­pean Union and global in­sti­tu­tions like the United Na­tions. Any dis­cus­sion of the trilemma must take into ac­count these var­i­ous lev­els of gover­nance.

It is true that today’s wide­spread dis­il­lu­sion­ment with gov­ern­ment is partly a back­lash against glob­al­i­sa­tion, which has seemed to im­pose it­self on na­tion-states. But an­other rea­son for the dis­il­lu­sion­ment may be that cit­i­zens feel dis­con­nected from their na­tional govern­ments.

Yet sub­na­tional govern­ments are not so far away, and cit­i­zens of­ten feel that they can still ex­ert sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over them. As a re­sult, the ten­sion be­tween democ­racy and glob­al­i­sa­tion seems to be less acute at, say, the mu­nic­i­pal level. It helps that sub­na­tional govern­ments tend to be fo­cused on more lo­cal-level con­cerns — such as in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, and hous­ing — that are not per­ceived as be­ing strongly in­flu­enced by glob­al­i­sa­tion.

On the op­po­site end of the spec­trum are supra­na­tional gover­nance struc­tures, such as the EU. Not only does the EU of­ten deal with glob­al­i­sa­tion-re­lated is­sues like trade; Europe’s cit­i­zens feel that the dis­tant and dis­con­nected “Brus­sels,” over which they have lit­tle in­flu­ence, is in­fring­ing on the sovereignty of na­tion-states. This sen­ti­ment, ex­em­pli­fied in the Brexit vote, can be ob­served across Europe.

The ways in which these dy­nam­ics can com­pli­cate Ro­drik’s po­lit­i­cal trilemma have been on stark dis­play in Cat­alo­nia, where the ten­sion be­tween lo­cal democ­racy and the na­tion-state is even more acute than that with glob­al­i­sa­tion. In­deed, many Cata­lans are more frus­trated with Spain’s na­tional gov­ern­ment than they are with ei­ther glob­al­i­sa­tion or the EU. The same can be said of Scot­land vis-à-vis the United Kingdom.

In this con­text, a re­treat to the na­tion-state that re­jects glob­al­i­sa­tion, as is oc­cur­ring in the United States un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, be­comes even more prob­lem­atic, be­cause it threat­ens to res­ur­rect all of the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal patholo­gies that na­tion­al­ism in­cited in the past, and then some.

But what if we adopted a new ap­proach, in which lo­cal-level democ­racy and sovereignty were strength­ened in­stead?

In many coun­tries, if not most, ci­ties are the cen­tres of in­no­va­tion and progress, as the prom­ise of ag­glom­er­a­tion, economies of scale, and pos­i­tive spillovers at­tract high-per­form­ing firms. Cit­i­zens feel close to their mu­nic­i­pal govern­ments and proud of their ci­ties, but their pride in their iden­tity does not have the dam­ag­ing qual­i­ties of na­tion­al­ism.

As the na­tion-state cedes some of its power to re­gional, state, or mu­nic­i­pal govern­ments, the trilemma weak­ens. Both democ­racy, with its con­comi­tant sense of be­long­ing, and glob­al­i­sa­tion, driven by cos­mopoli­tan ci­ties open to the world, can thrive, with­out caus­ing any coun­try to lose sovereignty.

The ben­e­fits of such an ap­proach could be pro­found. But there are se­ri­ous risks. As suc­cess­ful metropoli­tan ar­eas at­tract a grow­ing share of a coun­try’s cap­i­tal, skilled labour, and in­no­va­tive ca­pac­ity, ru­ral ar­eas, in par­tic­u­lar, are likely to face eco­nomic de­cline: fewer job op­por­tu­ni­ties, clo­sure of hos­pi­tals and schools, and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in­fra­struc­ture. That trend, as we have seen, cre­ates fer­tile ground for pop­ulist politi­cians to of­fer sim­plis­tic so­lu­tions, rooted in ex­treme ide­olo­gies that sow di­vi­sion and un­der­mine progress.

That is why it is vi­tal to find ways to help, from the start, those who may be left be­hind by such a sys­tem. Here, the na­tion-state would re­tain a ma­jor role, though an ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance must be struck, in order to pre­vent the trilemma from re­assert­ing it­self. — Project Syn­di­cate

Both democ­racy, with its con­comi­tant sense of be­long­ing, and glob­al­i­sa­tion, driven by cos­mopoli­tan ci­ties open to the world, can thrive, with­out caus­ing any coun­try to lose sovereignty

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