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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nation States and the "The Three-Layered Chess Box"

In an examination reminiscent of Dani Rodrik's "Political Trilemma," Tomas David-Barrett exams the international economy using Joseph Nye's "three-dimensional, three-layered box":

The Three-Layered Chess Box, by Tomas David-Barrett: A central question of global economics concerns the architecture of policy institutions. If you regard the global socio-economic system as a single unit -- a not entirely unreasonable assumption, perhaps -- then it is strikingly obvious that the system's optimal management would call for much stronger global governance functions than exist today. Global economics calls for efficient global monetary and fiscal policy, global financial regulation, enforceable global solutions to the global climatic issues, the rapid loss of biodiversity, overfishing, and so on. This just does not happen. The 2007-2009 crisis of the global economy was perhaps the best chance so far to create on overarching economic policy umbrella for the world economy, an opportunity left unused despite the multitude of summits ending with the Great Leaders' press conferences, which in turn were followed by uniformly unilateral action. The failure of Copenhagen ... speaks of similar ineptitude when it comes to managing the climate.

Why is this? Why are sovereign states so reluctant to coordinate policy, let alone give up power for the protection of the shared economic and ecological commons?

Tuesday I got to meet an international relations thinker, Joseph Nye. He, as an extension of his earlier innovation smart power, suggests that the traditional two-dimensional chess board of the power game among states should be replaced by a three-dimensional, three-layered box, in which the traditional hard power layer is accompanied by one where the dynamics among economies take place, and another one where transnational sociopolitical processes dominate.

From a global economics point of view this model is strikingly state-centered. If the main focus of the analysis is military power, compared to which other forms of inter-state persuasion can be softer or alternative, then the natural unit of analysis is of where the military is: the sovereign state. Yet, there seems to be something wrong with this picture.

The economy layer of Joseph Nye’s analysis has changed tremendously in the past hundred years. While even a few decades ago each national economy more or less corresponded to a state, we are hard-pressed to find truly local economic processes today. Finance is global wherever you go. Manufacturing systems that used to be local, then became regional, are now predominantly global. The pharmaceutical market is global. Raw materials are global. The transportation system is global. Even the ultimate local product, that of farming, has gone global. Therefore, perhaps it can be argued that there is no layer that is formed by national economies. Although it’s tempting to talk about the Chinese economy, the Indian economy, the American economy, or even the European economy, these are increasingly useless categories. Their borders became fuzzy. Integration into one large economic system, the emergence of a truly global economy seems to be a more appealing model.

The trouble is that the rise of the new, global organizational level has not been accompanied by governance institutions with the same scope. We are trying to manage what is essentially a global process using national level economic policy institutions.

The transnationals, that is, the third layer that Joseph Nye suggests as a building block of the three-dimensional global power structure, has similar problems. For what a decade ago might have been somewhat negligible side phenomena, such as NGO efforts in international reaction of the Haitian earthquake, or the anti-malaria activities of the Gates foundation, or the PR exercises of Greenpeace, is now giving way to a global movement. The trigger, it seems to be increasingly obvious, is a major ecological catastrophe that is to dominate the coming decades. The rapidly changing climate, and the collapsing biodiversity is creating a strong demand for collective global action. Just as in the case of the global economy, we are trying to meet this demand using state-level governance tools, and hence are predictably falling short.

And thus one might turn the logic around, and ask if it is the location of the hard power, the fact that it is anchored to the bureaucracy of the sovereign state which stops the formation of the global governance institutions. In other words, is it possible that the failure of Copenhagen, the never-emergence of a global financial regulatory system, or the we-have-not-even-got-done-to-tackle-it overlogging and overfishing problems stay unresolved because of states that mistake their hard power for global omnipotence. ... Or, perhaps, could there be a general link between the hard power of a state and its unwillingness to to hand over governance functions to transnational institutions? ...

[The post goes on to try to find empirical support for the hypothesis in the last sentence.]

    Posted by on Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 02:43 PM in Economics, International Trade, Politics | Permalink  Comments (8)


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