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Perils of World Government:

In my last post, I tried to explain why world government isn't necessary to solve the global problems that are often cited as a justification for it. In this post, I will explain why world government is not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous.

Critics of world government always run the risk of looking like members of the black helicopter brigade who think that the UN/Council on Foreign Relations/Masonic conspiracy is about to take over the world. So let me say at once that I don't believe there is any great conspiracy to establish world government, that I don't expect a world government to emerge for at least several decades (if ever), and that if it is created at all, any world government is likely to be very weak - at first. Nonetheless, there is no question that many influential opinion leaders are warming to the idea of world government because of fear caused by international problems such as global warming and the financial crisis. Therefore, it is worth our while to critically examine it.

In ascending order of gravity and descending order of likelihood, world government poses three major dangers: stifling of diversity and competition; elimination of the possibility of emigration and "voting with your feet"; and the rise of global totalitarianism.

I. Stifling Diversity and Competition.

The whole world is far more diverse than any one nation-state. A world government will necessarily have to trample some of this diversity in order to impose one-size-fits all policies. If it doesn't do so, there would be no point in establishing a world government in the first place. However, given the incredible diversity of the world's people and cultures, it will be difficult to adopt any policy that doesn't inflict severe harm on at least some groups. The problem of dissident minorities has been difficult to address within individual nation-states; it would be far more severe under a world government.

Stifling diversity might also undermine beneficial competition between nation-states. Currently, national governments compete with each other to attract business, investment, and trade, and productive workers. This to some degree incentivizes states to adopt more effective economic policies and reduces their ability to impose excessive taxes and regulations. It also promotes policy innovation, as a successful innovator can get ahead in the economic race (as Britain did in the 19th century; the US in the 20th, and the "Asian Tigers" more recently). A world government would not be subject to this kind of competitive pressure and it could facilitate the organization of a cartel among nation-states to undercut competition at their level as well. Many central governments in federal systems already do this in order to stifle competition between subnational governments under their jurisdiction.

II. No Exit: The Danger of Losing the Ability to Vote With Your Feet.

Throughout history, the option of emigration has been a tremendous boon to people forced to live under corrupt, backward, or oppressive regimes. The United States has taken in millions of such migrants from all over the world. If a world government becomes oppressive, falls victim to corruption, or adopts poor economic policies that stifle opportunity, there will be nowhere else to go. We will be stuck with that government, or at least have no recourse other than violent rebellion.

Perhaps this danger may be somewhat mitigated if the world government is democratic; if we can't exercise exit rights against it, we can still resort to "voice" and vote the bastards out. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee that a world government will be democratic or that it will stay democratic over time even if it is initially set up to be that way. Moreover, even democratic regimes can adopt pathological policies for a variety of reasons, including widespread political ignorance among the voters, who might not be able to tell apart good policies and bad ones. It is dangerous to trust even a democratic government so much that we are willing to forego any possibility of exit if things go badly. And of course a world government could easily take the form of a dictatorship or oligarchy.

III. The Menace of Global Totalitarianism.

I leave the least likely but most deadly scenario for last: A world government might become totalitarian. And that totalitarianism could potentially be far worse and more longlasting than any oppressive regime we have seen before. Obviously, a world government is highly unlikely to start off totalitarian. However, we know from history that totalitarian political movements can seize power in a previously relatively free society during a crisis. That is what happened in Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia (relatively free during the last years of czarism, when political rights were greatly expanded), and elsewhere. The chances of this happening at any one time are very low. But over decades or centuries, the cumulative risk that it will happen sooner or later rises. It is true that no totalitarian movement has ever taken power in an advanced, long-established democracy. However, any world government established in the next century or so is likely to preside over a population most of which has never lived in such a democracy. The average level of political development in the world is a lot closer to 1920s Germany or 1917 Russia than to the modern US or Western Europe. And it is likely to remain that way for a long time to come.

Historically, the greatest threat to the longevity of totalitarian regimes has been the presence of rival, relatively free societies. Such rivals might forcibly overthrow the totalitarian regime (as happened with Germany). Even if they don't do so, their example might lead to restiveness among the totalitarian state's subjects and to the adoption of reforms that bring the system down (as happened in the Soviet bloc).

By now, I think you can see where this is going. Once established, a global totalitarian regime wouldn't face either of these risks. There will be no rival government that could overthrow it or provide an example of a successful, relatively free society. For that reason, a global totalitarian regime could easily last longer and be more oppressive than any we have seen before. For a more detailed discussion of the threat of totalitarian world government, see this excellent article by Bryan Caplan. As Bryan points out, the combination of world government and future technological developments could greatly increase the likelihood of a global totalitarian state.

Is this scenario actually likely to happen? Even given the initial establishment of world government, I would guess that the probability of global totalitarianism within the next century or two is far less than 50%. Nonetheless, the consequences are so catastrophic that even a relatively small risk of global totalitarianism should give us pause.

After all, advocates of world government claim that it is needed to cope with a variety of potential catastrophes, many of which also have a relatively low probability of occurring (e.g. - an environmental disaster so severe that it might destroy modern civilization). The point cuts both ways. If it is valid at all, the precautionary principle should apply to political risks no less than to environmental ones. As George Orwell put it in 1984, global totalitarianism would be "a boot stamping on a human face - forever." We should think long and hard before agreeing to take even a small risk of that happening.

UPDATE: Some commenters doubt that anyone important actually supports world government. However, the idea does have a good many prominent advocates. This article, linked in my last post, cites a number of recent works advocating world government by prominent scholars such as Daniel Deudney, Alexander Wendt, and David Held. In the international law field, many prominent writers, such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and Harold Koh, support proposals for "global governance" which would give international institutions enough power to make them roughly equivalent to a world government. Other prominent world government supporters include Jacques Attali, leading French intellectual and adviser to several French Presidents including Nicolas Sarkozy, who believes that "some form of global government cannot come too soon."

Obviously, few political leaders have endorsed such views. But many - especially in Western Europe - do support major expansions in the power of international institutions that point in that direction. World government is not likely to be established any time soon, if ever. But the concept has enough support to be taken seriously.

Bama 1L:
Just to play along with the science-fiction plot you're developing, couldn't the chance of the world government becoming totalitarian actually turn out to be less than that of each state individually going totalitarian?

War or the threat of war pushes states toward totalitarianism. In the current multistate system, each state has to worry about war with other states as well as global threats like climate change, comet strike, etc. But there's no war or threat of war under world governmet. So maybe I have a better chance of avoiding totalitarianism under the world government than under a multistate system in which each state could individually become totalitarian.

Maybe there is some tipping point where, once you get below a certain number of states, they will all go totalitarian. For instance, consider the three-state system already cited.

Of course, if this is going where I can only hope it is--alien invasion--then the point becomes moot, because we get an external threat to transform the Benevolent World State into the Evil Empire of Humanity.
12.14.2008 10:54pm
GIG:
"...warming to the idea of world government because of fear caused by international problems..."

There, you said it: fear.
12.14.2008 10:58pm
Ilya Somin:
Just to play along with the science-fiction plot you're developing, couldn't the chance of the world government becoming totalitarian actually turn out to be less than that of each state individually going totalitarian?

Not likely. Since totalitarian states are less economically and militarily successful than freer societies, they tend to lose out in international competition - so long as there is a competitive state system with multiple states. That is one of the great lessons of the 20th century history of totalitarianism.
12.14.2008 10:58pm
David Welker (www):
Mr. Somin,

You have way too much time on your hands.
12.14.2008 10:59pm
Ilya Somin:
Mr. Somin,

You have way too much time on your hands.


The same could be said of those who have time to comment on how much time they think other people have.
12.14.2008 11:01pm
OrinKerr:
Ilya writes:
Nonetheless, there is no question that many influential opinion leaders are warming to the idea of world government
Ilya, can you give some support for this claim? To be candid, it hasn't occurred to me that anyone remotely serious thinks the idea has any merit at all.
12.14.2008 11:04pm
David Welker (www):
But I give myself credit for not reading the post. =)

At least you titled it so that I could promptly skip it.

World Government??

Anyway...
12.14.2008 11:05pm
Ilya Somin:
Ilya writes:

Nonetheless, there is no question that many influential opinion leaders are warming to the idea of world government

Ilya, can you give some support for this claim? To be candid, it hasn't occurred to me that anyone remotely serious thinks the idea has any merit at all.


No problem. This article, cited in my last post, lists a number of prominent scholars and others who support the idea. They include Alex Wendt (prominent international relations scholar), David Held (prominent political theorist), and others. Some international law scholars such as Harold Koh would like to expand the power of international institutions to the point where they effectively constitute g world overnment, though they don't use that term.

In the political arena, we rarely see politicians speak of world government explicitly. But many in the EU and elsewhere do support major moves in that direction, usually under euphemisms such as "global governance." Obviously, these people probably not intend to go all the way to world government, an objective beyond the time horizon of most politicians. But their agenda still has important affinities with the broader world government agenda.
12.14.2008 11:14pm
Barry P. (mail):
The first two arguments also apply when thinking of the US Federal government. The citizens of the US would be better off as citizens of one of 50 nation-states. The only benefit to having the states "United" is the ability to maintain a global hegemony. Is that worth the sacrifice?
12.14.2008 11:20pm
Ilya Somin:
The first two arguments also apply when thinking of the US Federal government.

The first one does indeed apply, which is one reason why I think the powers of the federal government should be strictly limited. However, they apply much less than to a world govt, which would rule over a far more diverse population.

The second one does not apply with the same force because of course people can and do emigrate from the US - which they could not do from a world government.
12.14.2008 11:24pm
John Moore (www):
The precautionary principle, as applied today to climate change, is logically absurd. It is completely foolish unless applied to all unproven risks, with the risk/compensatory-costs then weighed. This is NEVER done.

For example, there is a high probability that the carbon emissions cuts required to meet the anti-AGW policy goals will lead to massive economic dislocation. This likely includes starvation and warfare as third and fourth world countries feel the impacts (the true reductions required are much greater than Kyoto specifies). What precautions do we take for this?

The probability of a devastating global pandemic in the next few decades is nearly 100%, and yet we spend drastically more just on climate change research than on all efforts to mitigate this near certain catastrophe.

The damage caused by a medium sized asteroid impacting earth is almost beyond imagining. The probability is not high, but it is far from zero in any given century. Why isn't the precautionary principle applied there?

World government, because of its lack of diversity, simply amplifies the power of fads and radical movements. It is not surprising that many call for world government (or stronger governance, at least) to deal with AGW (but not the many other known hazards).
12.14.2008 11:25pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Ah, the break up of the U.S., that's what the Russian Analyst predicted a couple weeks ago:

http://en.rian.ru/world/20081124/118512713.html


The idea of "one size fits all" reminds me of Rand's "Anthem", if the common denominator if lighting systems are candles, then everyone must use candles! (Of course the Torchmaker's Union would have to approve and agree to re-training in the candle making process.)

Then there's always the religios debate. With one world government, the pre-tribulation Christians will have a problem, insisting they're not supposed to be here.
12.14.2008 11:26pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
If Carroll Quigley is to be believed, as well as the quotes from many world leaders, there does indeed appear to have long been a "conspiracy" seeking "world government", albeit not one that is entirely "secret" or "illegal". However, the model of this effort does not appear to be formal world government along something like the World Federalist model, but informal control of national governments by a global cabal of powerful individuals whose power is grounded in international banking and multinational corporations. Who needs a formal world federal government if a shadow government can control everything from behind the scenes? That is what excites the opposition of many "conspiracy theorists". We have long seen the operation of such shadow government in existing nations and the ways it can and does abuse rights.

The genius of the U.S. Constitution was to avoid excessive or unbalanced concentrations of power, but the Founders failed to anticipate the emergence of political parties or large eternal corporations. The danger posed by "world governance" efforts is that they tend not to disperse or balance power but concentrate it. From the viewpoint of its advocates, the dispersal and balancing of power is the problem rather than the solution. The lesson of history is that it is concentration that is the problem.
12.14.2008 11:33pm
A.:
Sounds like Carroll Quigley is not to be believed.
12.14.2008 11:46pm
Elmer:
Government began at the level of small groups- perhaps a school of squid or other invertebrates. Early human government would have been similar, but eventually some humans governed on a larger scale. Yet is there any example of a government operating beyond the reach of its physical power?

What does a nation mean, anyway? Crudely, a nation is a government. We'll have world government when we have a world nation.
12.14.2008 11:46pm
Elmer:
That last one of mine kinda sucks. If there's going to be a good comment on how governments grow out of a society, someone esle will have to write it.
12.14.2008 11:52pm
jvarisco (mail) (www):
How exactly would one go about achieving world government? Do you want to invade Russia and China? There's not really much force behind arguments for world government unless it has a remotely viable chance of happening. It's sort of like arguing for property rights on Pluto - they might be a good idea, if we ever get there. In five hundred years or so.
12.14.2008 11:52pm
Elmer:
If I get banned for that typo, I won't complain.
12.14.2008 11:53pm
Bama 1L:
I'm convinced!

I urge the leaders of the world's fortunately many and diverse states, and all persons of good will, to form a committee to study the dangers of world government. Such a committee would have the power to issue binding recommendations in order to avert the awful specter of a single authority controlling the planet. Furthermore, it would be vested with authority to put its recommendations into effect, by force if necessary to overcome the shortsightedness of those still asleep to the danger.

Only by uniting can we prevent world government!
12.14.2008 11:53pm
MlR (mail):
Some national-level policy makers and public opinion shapers are definitely looking at world government as an option, and have been for a long time. Some see it as an institutional thing, and aim to strengthen the UN into something similar to the EU. Others treat it as more evolutionary, believing that borders will gradually disappear in the face of international markets, communications, and migration.

They aren't secret about it, either. You just have to know the euphemisms.
12.14.2008 11:55pm
MlR (mail):
The simplest argument against global government:

The existing groups of international bureacrats and organizations are itching for and would be likely to lead it.

A worse bunch of power-hungry, smooth-talking kleptocrats, you will not find. I'd take the home-grown crooks over them any day.
12.14.2008 11:59pm
Ilya Somin:
If I get banned for that typo, I won't complain.

Unfortunately, for you, I have a very lax policy on banning commenters. So you will have to do something far more egregious if you want to get yourself banned (at least by me).
12.15.2008 12:01am
MlR (mail):
The good news is that, the ill-fated EU notwithstanding, these fools are likely incapable of bringing into creation that which they aim to lead. Events will likely interrupt, as they always do.
12.15.2008 12:02am
Melancton Smith:

II. No Exit: The Danger of Losing the Ability to Vote With Your Feet.



This is one problem I see happening on a smaller scale here in the US. Our forebears came here to get away from European governments and now many seem intent upon turning us into a European country.

Problem...no New World left to emigrate to. No frontier to move to. What is to become of us?
12.15.2008 12:07am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
The most likely cause of world government will be when one country takes over the world, and if that happens, the country will almost certainly be totalitarian. It's been tried before, with varying degrees of success.
12.15.2008 12:54am
OrinKerr:
Thanks for the response, Ilya. I haven't heard of most of those people or read their work, but perhaps that is just an oversight on my part.

On the merits, it seems like your arguments against one world government (compared to nation states) are basically the same as the arguments against an all-powerful national government (compared to state governments). I agree with them, but I wonder if the people who reject these arguments in the nation vs. state setting will just reject them again in the world vs. nation-state setting.
12.15.2008 1:03am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
When we have world government, everything will be run by a benevolent beaurocracy.... You know, like the IRS....
12.15.2008 1:33am
David Welker (www):
For the record, I am against world government.

But, I think the possibility is so remote as to not be worth discussing. But, I guess that is the thing that is great about academics. They like to discuss things way before such discussions are practical.

That Mr. Somin can find a few scholars who support the idea of world government only proves that he can find people who like to discuss practically impossible scenarios.

I guess my initial reaction to this post is informed by my having actually encountered a few conspiracy theorists in the flesh. I don't have as much patience as I should. I am glad that there are people like Ilya Somin who are more willing to take these sorts of discussions seriously.
12.15.2008 1:54am
trad and anon (mail):
You have often (and aptly) criticized advocates of meaningful action to address the problems of climate change for doing an analysis that considers benefits but not costs. This analysis has basically the same problem: your discussion of the benefits of world government is limited to considering whether world government is necessary to solve certain problems. For example:

1) World government would put an end to the ceaseless wars between nation-states, which are a cause of mass death and misery, and cause nations to waste vast quantities of resources on nonproductive standing armies and armaments development even in peacetime.

2) World government would reduce the ability of local governments to impose protectionist trade policies, enabling "international" trade to prosper more than it currently does.

3) Immigration and emigration currently suffer from substantial government-imposed barriers. If you are from the poor world and want to move to the U.S., you are SOL unless you can are unusually well-off and well-educated for your nation (or you can convince an American to marry you). And American immigration policy is relatively lax: try becoming a citizen of Japan. World government would make movement from one part of the world to another much easier.

4) It would simplify the global coordination needed to defend against an alien invasion. (If you're going to bring up science-fiction scenarios as part of the downside, I can bring them up as part of the upside).

The benefits of world government could be enormous. Of course, one must consider the costs as well, but it makes no sense to look at the bad without looking at the good.

In any case, any world government is so far from being a feasible possibility that talking about it is just so much b.s. A few academics and some loose talk by French politicians does not a movement make.
12.15.2008 2:17am
trad and anon (mail):
The most likely cause of world government will be when one country takes over the world, and if that happens, the country will almost certainly be totalitarian. It's been tried before, with varying degrees of success.
Seconded. Conquering the world would be far easier than getting hundreds nation-states to sign up for world government voluntarily.
12.15.2008 2:20am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"If you are from the poor world and want to move to the U.S., you are SOL unless you can are unusually well-off and well-educated for your nation (or you can convince an American to marry you)."

That's exactly why a world government would act against the interests of the US. The more numerous people in poor countries would use world government as the means to plunder the wealth of the richer countries. Why emigrate to the US when you can simply tax it? Americans know this, and that's why they would never agree to such madness. We would overthrow our own government before we would let it give away or sovereignty.
12.15.2008 3:04am
Sagar:
"some" might suggest that a Jewish cabal already runs the world government!

but seriously, a world govt might look like the galactic Senate in the star wars movies, and hence not very effective at solving the world's problems. besides what if Bush/Cheney, (or Clinton, or Obama) take over and establish a global empire?

For those wondering if a world government needs a pre-requisite of invading Russia or China, consider the way EU is growing. China, India, or Russia might support more authority to the UN (or a World Senate) if they get adequate power in it. With time and proportinal (to population) representation in the governing council ... who knows. Sounds like a possible future:)
12.15.2008 3:11am
wolfefan (mail):
Hey Orin -

Doesn't Nero Wolfe qualify as remotely serious? That's good enough for me... if Nero is for it, sign me up...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Second_Confession
12.15.2008 7:15am
Sarcastro (www):
First, I'd like to make fun of Ilya for exploring a hypothetical. The internet is only for practical discussion, like Speluncian Explorers eating each other!

Second, I'd like to note that the US and EU are totally lacking in diversity and ability to immigrate.

And the only way to stop the risk of the US becoming totalitarian is for us to go back to the Articles of Confederation. For the sake of freedom, if not practicality!
12.15.2008 8:34am
NaG (mail):
As Lex Luthor would say, having one global government is a wonderful idea -- so long as I am in charge.

The real problem is culture. People from significantly different cultures can trade together, but they will not accept the other's legal rulings or policy positions without a fight. Although America is a diverse "melting pot," everyone here generally accepts the premise of individual liberty, autonomy, and free trade (although of course there are many, many caveats here and there). Immigrants buy into those notions just as natives are brought up to accept them. There is a common culture that we as Americans draw from. But you won't have that between, say, the French and the Chinese, no matter how much they pay lip service to the global government idea.

I suppose one positive side of global government, if it were to come to pass, is that the government will eventually come to adopt the laws and policies of the dominant culture. And that dominant culture will almost surely be ours. Quite frankly, I am amazed that any politician from France, which is incredibly protective of its French identity and culture, would ever throw a bone toward global government, knowing that this would surely mean the end of being "French" by any substantive measure.
12.15.2008 8:55am
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
One can argue that many national organizations and government agencies operate without significant guidance or control from their supposed political superiors in the executive branch.

I'm dimly aware of a set of international organizations, some associated with the UN and some not. So, does the International Postal Union, the ISO, or the people running the Internet, etc. constitute "world government?
12.15.2008 9:13am
martinned (mail) (www):
For the record: I am in favour of some forms of world government.

They key issue: Vertical balance of power. A good Federal state should be constructed around vertical as well as horizontal balance of power. That used to be the US pre-civil war, to some extent Germany still has it. (In Germany, the senate consists of representatives of the state governments.)

A system of global governance (that is the right word here, since it is broader than government) would have to be constructed in such a way that it can never usurp the power of the lower levels. This is exactly the problem with the EU today (though "ill-fated" isn't the word I would use, I'm still a fan). Even though the EU and EC treaties carefully describe what the EU is and isn't allowed to do, in practice, mostly due to relatively lax ECJ case law, the Community legislators are pretty much allowed to do as they please. The only time they really got annulled by the court in a high profile case was in the Tobacco advertising case.

Despite its legal shortcomings, there is still zero chance that the balance of power will shift decisively to Brussels except if the Member States democratically decide to put it there. No unilateral New Deal-type shift is possible without the consent of the Member States.

As long as only those issues are put on the global agenda that really belong there, and as long as the vertical and horizontal balance of power is safeguarded, global governance is an essential step forward, and frankly I don't see a world, say, 100 or 200 years from now, that does not have some kind of world government.
12.15.2008 10:23am
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail) (www):
"In the international law field, many prominent writers, such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and Harold Koh, support proposals for "global governance" which would give international institutions enough power to make them roughly equivalent to a world government."--Absolute poppycock. Mechanisms of "global governance" are no where near the equivalent (rough or otherwise) of "global government." To assert such a thing, to attempt a slippery slope conflation, is to reveal a deep ignorance of the literature on global governance as well as the many institutions and processes today that amount to global governance and are of a different order of magnititude and effectiveness than any plausible model of global government.

With Simon Caney, (in Justice Beyond Borders: A Gobal Political Theory, 2005), we should come to appreciate the fact that there are

very many alternatives to a purely statist world order. These are, moreover, not simply logical possibilities and we should not treat the predominantly statist character of the world system for the last three centuries as a fixed feature of the way the world is. To do so is to ignore the rich variety of earlier political systems.

It is certainly true that, after Charles Beitz, we can distinguish between "moral cosmopolitanism" and "institutional cosmopolitanism," and that, again in Caney's words, "acceptance of cosmopolitan ideals, like civil and political rights and global economic justice...does not, in itself, entail acceptance of legal or institutional cosmopolitanism." Caney discusses three cosmopolitan approaches to political institutions: intrinsic, right-based, and instrumental. Cosmopolitans who adopt an instrumental approach believe that appropriate political institutions are those "that best further cosmopolitan ideals," arguing that our current state-based order has proven of late ineffective on this score and thus should be supplemented or replaced by global (supra-state) political institutions. Justifications for such institutions include those that revolve around issues of compliance, collective action problems, and institutional considerations along the lines of those that inspired the creation of the U.N. affiliated instititions, as well as the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO.

Caney then proffers a sketch of possible political framework based on an "instrumental" cosmopolitan approach (that endeavors to incorporate the virtues of the two other approaches, especially the 'rights-based' one). Nothing in this sketch suggests anything remotely close to a dystopian picture of a totalitarian global government. And, in fact, "most cosmopolitans have explicitly rejected the ideal of global government." Problems with the concentration of power are met in many models of supra-state governance. Moreover, it's worth keeping in mind that, "Unlike a multi-level system of cosmopolitan governance, [in a purely statist order], the rights and interests of a people are entirely dependent on the conduct of their state."

There's much more to Caney's defense of global political institutions as part of global governance on behalf of the moral (and political) ideals of cosmopolitanism, so I suggest those intrigued should read the book.
12.15.2008 10:31am
martinned (mail) (www):
@Patrick S. O'Donnell: Hear, hear!

Maybe I should have mentioned that in my previous comment. We should be talking about governance instead of government, because what we're talking about is a whole range of options, only one of which is a federal state-type government.

Shamelessly promoting myself: Here's me discussing a whole range of options for a global antitrust regime. Originally, the Doha round declaration contained a paragraph on competition, and so did the Cancun declaration, but after that the WTO stopped talking about it...
12.15.2008 10:38am
Henry Schaffer (mail):
As soon as one starts discussing the possibilities of overthrowing a repressive / totalitarian government, doesn't the issue of firearm possession come to mind?

Would the Constitution of the World Government have a Second Amendment?
12.15.2008 10:43am
George Smith:
This is just a mind boggling, barkingly stupid idea.
12.15.2008 10:48am
martinned (mail) (www):
@Henry Schaffer: Good point. But, then again, would it need one? In most civilised countries, fire arms are a matter of criminal law, and criminal law is mostly a local issue, except when we're talking about extradition/arrest warrants or international trade in fire arms. So as long as the vertical balance of power is safeguarded, and each level's competences carefully described, the "world government" would have neither the ability or the desire to take away your gun(s).
12.15.2008 10:51am
Edmund Unneland (mail) (www):
Somin writes:


UN/Council on Foreign Relations/Masonic conspiracy



You forgot the Bilderbergers, the Conference Board, the Rockefellers, Elizabeth II ...

What's actually scary is how easily I can step into the shoes of the "black helicopter" set ...
12.15.2008 11:26am
SSFC (www):
Sounds like Carroll Quigley is not to be believed.


And yet he was Bill Clinton's favorite professor at Georgetown. Imagine that.

When the Daleks come, I will support a world government. Until then, I support minarchism.
12.15.2008 12:14pm
PlugInMonster:

martinned (mail) (www):
@Henry Schaffer: Good point. But, then again, would it need one? In most civilised countries, fire arms are a matter of criminal law, and criminal law is mostly a local issue, except when we're talking about extradition/arrest warrants or international trade in fire arms. So as long as the vertical balance of power is safeguarded, and each level's competences carefully described, the "world government" would have neither the ability or the desire to take away your gun(s).


Some of us take our 2nd amendment rights VERY seriously. We don't enjoy being mocked.
12.15.2008 12:45pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@PlugInMonster: You don't have to tell me that. I assure you I was quite serious. The kind of "world government" that I was thinking of wouldn't need a 2nd amendment any more than, say, the Universal Postal Union does. It would have neither the desire nor the ability to do something about gun ownership.
12.15.2008 12:52pm
martinned (mail) (www):
Extension: For example, since a world government by definition has no foreign enemies to worry about, why would it need an army? Even if it needed some kind of peace keeping force, placing control over such forces in the hands of nation states would be an important vertical check, i.e. a strengthening of vertical separation of powers akin to the state control over the militia in the early US.
12.15.2008 12:59pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
When the Daleks come, I will support a world government.


I would think that even a Dalek invasion would make you hesitant to embrace world government given the sort of politicians who rise to power in the Whoniverse.
12.15.2008 1:02pm
martinned (mail) (www):

I would think that even a Dalek invasion would make you hesitant to embrace world government given the sort of politicians who rise to power in the Whoniverse.

Wasn't that some kind of mind control thing? Anyway, they're not all bad.
12.15.2008 1:07pm
ys:

martinned (mail) (www):
Extension: For example, since a world government by definition has no foreign enemies to worry about, why would it need an army?

To put down domestic uprisings, of course. Remember the Duke of Alba?
12.15.2008 2:18pm
martinned (mail) (www):

Remember the Duke of Alba?

Not personally, but yes, point taken. Then again, why would that require a global standing army? Why not supress such an insurrection with an ad hoc coalition army? (Which is essentially what George Washington did in 1794. He used state militia forces to supress the rebellion, mostly from Pennsylvania itself and from Virginia. If those states had felt that his use of force was illegitimate, they could have easily denied him the use of those forces. Vertical separation of power...)
12.15.2008 2:30pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Wasn't that some kind of mind control thing? Anyway, they're not all bad.


I'm not entirely sure about Harriet Jones. On the one hand, I generally approve of wiping out hostile alien invaders rather than allowing them to leave and return to reinvade but the Doctor (who knows a lot more about the future than he lets on) thought she was bad enough to have her removed from office.
12.15.2008 4:19pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Although truth be told, I'm a little less worried about a Harold Saxon or Harriet Jones becoming the leader of a world government than I am about Obama's new "car czar" forcing automakers to start installing ATMOS devices. ;)
12.15.2008 4:25pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
1) World government would put an end to the ceaseless wars between nation-states, which are a cause of mass death and misery, and cause nations to waste vast quantities of resources on nonproductive standing armies and armaments development even in peacetime.


The only way a world government would end war would be if it had a monopoly on force and the only military (contrary to martinned's idea of a militia system). In which case the "mass death and misery" of "wars between nation-states" could be replaced with the "mass death and misery" of tyranny and enslavement.

2) World government would reduce the ability of local governments to impose protectionist trade policies, enabling "international" trade to prosper more than it currently does.


I'm not a fan of protectionist policies against international trade but their cost is miniscule compared to the cost that taxation and regulation of domestic industry creates for consumers and taxpayers. Given the political leanings of most of the proponents of world government, I don't doubt that with fewer barriers to international trade will come a global regulatory and taxation body that imposes higher levels of both taxation and regulation but on a global scale. No thanks.

3) Immigration and emigration currently suffer from substantial government-imposed barriers. If you are from the poor world and want to move to the U.S., you are SOL unless you can are unusually well-off and well-educated for your nation (or you can convince an American to marry you). And American immigration policy is relatively lax: try becoming a citizen of Japan. World government would make movement from one part of the world to another much easier.


I think A. Zarkov addressed that rather well.

4) It would simplify the global coordination needed to defend against an alien invasion. (If you're going to bring up science-fiction scenarios as part of the downside, I can bring them up as part of the upside).


Global coordination of what? A single "world military" would probably look like the anemic military of the continental European powers and be unable to mount much of a defense. In contrast, while some consider the amount of money and resources spent on the military to be "wasteful," the flip-sides is that years of a global arms race have given us a much higher level of technology (including military-applicable technology) and the ability to field a much stronger army, navy, etc.
12.15.2008 4:48pm
Madison:
In contrast, while some consider the amount of money and resources spent on the military to be "wasteful," the flip-sides is that years of a global arms race have given us a much higher level of technology (including military-applicable technology) and the ability to field a much stronger army, navy, etc.


Whether wasteful or not, I am certain technology development insentives exist apart from military demand (like, making money). And it's pretty basic economics that if you are using resources for one thing (military), they are not available for another (other stuff).
12.15.2008 5:32pm
Mr. Wizard:
@Bama 1L:

War or the threat of war pushes states toward totalitarianism. In the current multistate system, each state has to worry about war with other states as well as global threats like climate change, comet strike, etc. But there's no war or threat of war under world governmet.



As we write this, there is a major war going on. On one side is a huge government, and on the other is no government at all. So don't expect world government to eliminate war.
12.15.2008 5:57pm
martinned (mail) (www):

The only way a world government would end war would be if it had a monopoly on force and the only military (contrary to martinned's idea of a militia system). In which case the "mass death and misery" of "wars between nation-states" could be replaced with the "mass death and misery" of tyranny and enslavement.

Hardly. I can do no better than to refer you to Europe's answer to the Gettysburg address to tell you why:
"The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims. The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible."

I would note, though, that mostly due to GATT, war is already "unthinkable" between most of the world's most developed nations. (Score 1 for world government.)


I'm not a fan of protectionist policies against international trade but their cost is miniscule compared to the cost that taxation and regulation of domestic industry creates for consumers and taxpayers. Given the political leanings of most of the proponents of world government, I don't doubt that with fewer barriers to international trade will come a global regulatory and taxation body that imposes higher levels of both taxation and regulation but on a global scale. No thanks.

Hmmm, let's see. First of all, you'll agree that there is (or rather: should be) a difference between the rules that define a system of government/governance and the policies that are subsequently enacted by said government. So a world government is not by definition left-wing, right-wing, communist, or any (other) -ism.

Assuming we agree thus far, essentially your objection is that (foreign) people are stupid and, if given the chance, would vote for the wrong thing. Then again, the American people elected Bush in two successive elections, so I'm afraid that is one of those inescapable drawbacks of democracy that prof. Somin writes about from time to time.

Incidentally, there is no necessary connection between the creation of some kind of world government and a particular policy on immigration. Within the EU, all travel is free, but much less so than when the Community was first created. At the time, the six member states were similar enough that free movement of workers was to no one's clear disadvantage. These days, new member states usually have to wait years before their citizens are allowed to travel and emigrate as freely as I am. In principle, there is no reason why Turkey, for example, might not be permanently excluded from this part of the Treaty. The law is what the Member States make it, and they can write it as they please.

Finally, I have to object to the innovation argument for military spending. That is a very strange argument to be made on this blog, of all places. How does one know that the innovation thus generated is worth the expense? Because the government says so? The fact that this technology wasn't developed in the normal market is usually at least a strong clue that it wasn't a very sensible investment, originally.
12.15.2008 6:12pm
Frenchman:

Unfortunately, for you, I have a very lax policy on banning commenters. So you will have to do something far more egregious if you want to get yourself banned (at least by me).

Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries, now ban me before I taunt you a second time!

I don't fear the world government, especially if there's at least one representative per million people and a popular vote is required to raise taxes. A dictator might have more effect, but is also much easier to overthrow.
12.15.2008 6:17pm
Joshua:
Another tiny weakness of a world government is that such a beast would require a "world capital" city in which to be based. A city that, like any other in the world, can disappear under a mushroom cloud from a rebel's or terrorist's nuke in the blink of an eye, and take the heart of the world government with it.
12.15.2008 8:15pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
The world government could run virtually over the internet. There wouldn't have to be a capital. Any parliament could be held over NetMeeting, or some souped up version of it. Thus, the internet could do for gov't what it was originally designed to do for defense, and the threat of a single mushroom cloud could literally be diffused. We are talking science fiction here.
12.15.2008 10:20pm
Portland (mail):

Obviously, few political leaders have endorsed such views. But many - especially in Western Europe - do support major expansions in the power of international institutions that point in that direction.


Wouldn't it make more sense, then, to either provide evidence that more robust international institutions are likely to lead to world government, or make the case against better institutions per se? World government is such a marginal concept, I can only think it is stronger international institutions which the author is attempting to discredit using the red herring of a world government.

That said, the arguments he makes against it are weak. The record of cooperation between the big powers of any age has invariably been lousy; they function as rivals, not allies. International competition, as opposed to market competition, is destructive and not salutary; the more powerful society, not the better society, prevails. An efficient, free, well-governed small country may be swallowed up by a larger one, for example.

The OP says nothing about wars between nations, which have consumed hundreds of millions of lives in the past century alone. Nor does he proffer any proof that a single government will stifle diversity; he simply appeals to the prejudices of his audience, many of whom will believe anything bad anyone says about any government, real or imaginary.

In reality, history offers many examples of governments successfully accommodating linguistic, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. Local autonomy, including different methods of government, can and does coexist with large governments. Indeed, I can think of few examples of large empires, including our own, that have not had territorial exceptions to the typical methods of local rule.

The analysis of totalitarianism is pure crap. I wouldn't dignify it by taking it apart. Every single assertion the author makes is wrong, start with the first one; that such powers fail because of outside rivals. Pure myth. If anything, rival nations strengthen totalitarians, who cannot function without many enemies to justify their oppressive state apparatus.

Overall a weak effort.
12.16.2008 12:49am
David Warner:
"World government is such a marginal concept, I can only think it is stronger international institutions which the author is attempting to discredit using the red herring of a world government."

Nobody here but us chickens...
12.16.2008 7:24am
T.S. Jones:
>>In the international law field, many prominent writers, such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and Harold Koh, support proposals for "global governance" which would give international institutions enough power to make them roughly equivalent to a world government.<<

Just seeing AMS and Dean Koh in the same sentence is nearly enough to make my head explode. Two people with views so diametrically opposed to mine I fear that if we ever shook hands there'd be a matter/anti-matter explosion. God help us if Obama appoints Koh to the Supreme Court and he's confirmed.
12.17.2008 12:08am

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