Monday, August 13, 2007

The Demosphere

A friend of mine who hasn't bothered to start a blog yet sent me this email in response to my latest post (and to a lengthy google chat):

Notice that the US is hardly consistent in overthrowing governments that aren't supported by the majority of people and replacing them with one that is. In fact, they often do exactly the opposite. I think you should amend your theories that the US is crusading for freedom and democracy in order to account for all these counter-examples. If you said somethine to the effect that the US was mainly looking out for it's own interests (i.e. usually its economic investments in one way or another), and then, only as a very ancillary reason, for the well being of the local people, then that would be much more realistic, but then again, it wouldn't sound nearly as honourable.

By the way, it doesn't surprise me that all these examples exist (I'm sure there are loads more that aren't mentioned), but I don't have time to become an expert on international politics. I think if you want to develop your current theories, you should at least bring up some of these counter-examples and try to knock them down rather than trying to forget about them (for the record I find it kind of disturbing that you are so willing to support the idea that we should forget about relevant history, as in your affirmation of my sarcastic suggestion regarding the history of Iran and Iraq). It will make you sound more fair, not to mention credible. I'll leave it to you to debunk all these crusades for freedom and democracy in disguise.

Finally, for what the anecdotal evidence is worth (sometimes it is worth a lot), I can attest that many Guatemalans explained to me in much greater detail than is given in the article, the history of their armed conflict and the US's involvement. In fact, I sat in on a seminar delineating the entire history at the language school I went to in Quetzaltenango (second biggest city in Guatemala - Mayan name: Xela). Though I certainly don't remember all the details, I can say that the US's overarching interest in United Fruit was indeed the name of their game, even when the government they overturned was elected by the people.

Here's my response:

All of which is very true. I wouldn't try to debate or deny any of it.

I also think it would be pretty hard to debate that a strategy like that pursued in South America, or to an arguably greater degree in the Mid-East over the past half century or so, is likely to prevail in the long run. If the true goal is a global democratic superstate (and as you know that's exactly what I think it is), undermining democracy is counterproductive. The hypocrisy leads to resentment against the US government, both in the target country for direct effects and in the home population (even despite the economic benefits they reap) due to cognitive dissonance.

Looking ahead maybe fifty years I see a world with two institutions that have never existed before: first, a legislative body elected by and responsible to the entire human species, and second, a free trade zone encompassing the entire planet. The second will arise pretty naturally from todays smaller free trade zones (Europe, Asia, and increasingly most of the Americas) merging with each other, a development that would be complementary to the creation of a UDSE. I hereby dub this entity, a global democratic free trade sphere, the demosphere.

I'm not too rigid on this: I could accept everything but a few islands or even a single sizable independent polity from remaining outside the prevailing framework. The free trade zone and the meta-democracy zone don't even have to be contiguous: I could see one polity joining the UDSE without participating in the trade pact, and another doing precisely the opposite. Nevertheless, I'd expect most of the world to belong to both.

The proliferation of free trade deals and the establishment of an international parliament open only to democratic states will conspire to change incentives drastically. Where in the twentieth century it was often more profitable to prop up any dictator who would ensure the smooth operation of US companies, it will instead become crucial to support democracy wherever it takes root, and to extend free trade wherever the opportunity presents. Far more money can be made by maximizing human capital and trading with it, than can be found by using them simply to scour their land for resources.

Indeed, it's very possible that exporting democracy directly could be made profitable. Iraq itself is providing a model of this: the amount of corporate activity in the country, from security to construction, is simply massive. Enormous economic activity is being generated by Iraq's reconstruction; at the moment, it all amounts to speculation, but if Iraq is successful in becoming a stable, democratic state the payoff in terms of mutual trade will far outstrip the investment in time and money. If the system has a moral hazard, this is it. With war profitable again, the democratic core of the UDSE might be tempted to overdue military integration. As the number of involved states and corporations increase, along with their available wealth and capacity for investment, there could well be a brief spike in the number of integrative wars, a bizarre postmodern World War III in which rich states are fighting in order to make the poor rich.

Such an event is best avoided, in my opinion; besides being largely unnecessary (there being a general movement towards free trade and national-scale democracy anyways), it risks creating a unified opposition that could make the formation of a demosphere more time-consuming and costly. At the same time, such a resistance would in itself make such a large-scale military intervention necessary (many believe the current Islamic threat is already such a resistance.) Human nature being what it is, military intervention will be necessary on occasion, but prudence suggests using it only when every other option has failed.

The 20th century was a transitory stage, bridging the mercantile European empires of the 19th century with the demosphere of the 21st. The US came of age in a world shaped by the first, and had to play by its rules while it was still just one of many. Now that it bestrides that world as a colossus, it has the opportunity to remake the world in a shape more to its liking. Given its national character (the best of it, not the worst) and its long-term best interests, along with the overall momentum of history from smaller polities to larger ones, that shape is almost certain to be a demosphere.

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