The Confusing New World
Written by: Joe Morris Doss
The vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has caused all of us to sit up and pay attention to new realities. No one is confident of predicting where that decision may lead, but we all know that important things are going to be different. The fact is, this crisis is due in large measure, perhaps decisively, to the way everything is already changing from what we know and assumed to be relatively permanent.
Even though we know better, we still tend to see history as leading up to now, and somehow feel that this is fundamentally the way it will be – adding in the improvements and rough bumps in the road – world without end. Most of us picture Western history roughly in terms of a movement from the primitive life of tribal hunting and gathering, to agriculturally based ethnic communities that began to settle in defined territories, to a civilization of empires, to some dark ages, that in turn gave rise to rule by feudal lords, and then built to the establishment of princedoms and finally monarchical nations having ethnically homogeneous populations, to culminate in nation-states, increasingly governed as liberal parliamentary democracies, finally forming an international community of nations that hold a rather broadly based common vision of international law and human rights. From here it should be onward and upward with that!
But of course history is always on the move and suddenly we are starting to feel like we are on a runaway horse without a good grip on the reins or a saddle with stirrups. We are in the beginning stages of a technological revolution, which for the time being we might term “the digital age.” But we are also in the crisis of going from a world order grounded in nation-states to, well, whatever globalization is going to become. Already we have gone beyond the straightforward and exclusive governance by governments, and the populations within national territories are less and less defined by a homogeneous ethnic identify.
Governance now occurs, not only through governments that are accountable to the people of a state, but through decisions made and actions taken by market agents (such as multinational corporations, social entrepreneurs, and micro-financiers), inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Some facts to ponder:
- As of 2010, there were about 200 nations that have relations with one another;
- 130 of the countries were unable to feed the population, and had to rely on the generosity of outside resources, many if not most provided through NGO and IGO operations.
- There were close to 100,000 multinational corporations that constantly negotiate with governments and one another;
- There were at least 50,000 transnational NGO’s (Non-governmental Organizations) that consulted on international laws and treaties and intervene in conflict zones to provide assistance to regimes and peoples in need (There was only one as of 1970: Common Cause, a watch-dog organization in the US made famous for the Watergate Reforms)
- Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, half were companies. At the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, corporations had their own pavilions alongside countries;
- HSBC had 20,000 offices in 83 countries, 300,000 employees, and 150 million customers.
- More than 100 countries have external voting rights for citizens of other countries in diaspora and 11 reserve seats in parliament for them.
- In 2006, people of the US (not the government) sent $192 billion to the developing world – most of it in foreign investment, portfolio capital, foundation grants, and philanthropic giving.
A random list providing some sense of NGOs:
Americans for Informed Democracy, World Economic Forum, CARE, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, US Committee to Expand NATO, Clinton Global Initiative, Peace Corps, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Company, Global Business Council for HIV/AIDS, International Campaign for Tibet, Lighting a Billion Lives, Open Society Institute, The Soros Foundation, International Crisis Group, International Rescue Committee, National Solidarity Program, Business for Diplomatic Action, The Business and Human Rights Resource Center, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International, AccountAbility, LeapFrog Investments, The Self-Employed Women’s Association, Kiva, World Wide Water, Clinical Directors Network, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Institute for OneWorld Health, Habitat for Humanity, International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Only governments, and international organizations founded by governmental accords and agreements have the traditional sort of direct accountability to a population that provides legitimacy of power.
Businesses are directly accountable only to shareholders.
NGOs are accountable to standards set by donors, charities, customers, and their own competition. The legitimacy they are granted depends on their authority of expertise, impartiality, representativeness, and transparency of operations.
The ability of NGOs, as well as businesses, to leverage technology and capital enables them at times to bypass governments altogether.
It is a confusing, churning international picture, within a hot house of rapid change and newly arising realities: new powers, failed states, multinational corporations, organized crime, cyber crime, drug cartels, terrorism, powerful families, increased percentage of wealth in the hands of a decreasing percentage of individuals, vast amounts of inherited wealth, religious radicals, humanitarian philanthropists, powerful and independent organizations, and on and on.
Technology and money, not sovereignty, seems increasingly determinative of who has authority and calls the shots.
No wonder we feel that little ol’ us lacks agency. “Grab a ‘hold and ride,” seems more like the order of the day.
But, stand by, more coming.