What might a Market World demand of emerging nations?

Just after the 1990 end of the Cold War, Californian futurologist Peter Schwartz sketched three scenarios for 2005. 'New Empires' envisaged several large blocs engaged in trade wars. 'Change without Progress' foresaw a troubled world of ethnic revolution, global gang wars, corporate raiders, hackers, and 'portable radio-connected telephones'. In the third scenario, capitalism would have created a peaceful 'Market World'.

In 2004 what we have is 'all of the above'. As conservative intellectual Enoch Powell wrote of 1971 Britain, we the people of Earth are 'still to decide' on 'who rules, on what principles, and what sort of people' we wish to be.

First, recall our New Empire trade blocs. In the west the US, as reigning superpower, weighs in with GDP exceeding $9-trillion. In the middle the challenger, 25 countries of the expanded EU, hopes to coordinate its greater $11-trillion. And finally, still in training in the east, we can foresee an SE (Sino-EastAsia) in which former middle-earth superpower China co-operates with likeminded Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. SE's GDP is also $10-trillion, largely Japanese at present but with China catching up extremely fast.

For comparative perspective, the World Bank quotes South Africa's 2002 GDP (in the same constant 1995 US dollars) at $182-billion. That's roughly 1.8% of the size of each big trade bloc, and total African GDP still only triples SA's to $552-billion.

The Change Without Progress scenario was certainly strengthened by 9/11. Following Afghanistan and Iraq we may yet see decades of action including war to constrain terrorists and various resentful states that harbour, finance and arm them to attack the global peace and free movement of people and goods. Since losing such 'action including war' is (in BJ Vorster's words) too ghastly to contemplate, let us instead contemplate having won it.

During the 90s a peaceful capitalist Market World seemed 'on the cards', even imminent after Bosnia. Certainly a few outbreaks of inter-bloc protectionism flared up between the old world and the new, but nothing serious. More portentously, China seems sensibly to have chosen the co-operative 'silk road' trade-route to prosperity rather than serious trade-protectionist or military confrontation.

With luck the war on terrorism won't irreversibly remove too much individual liberty, in which case we can look forward to an eventual resurgence of global peace and capitalist co-prosperity. Thereafter, though, how will Market World cope with the occasional rogue state and numerous failed states?

Texas University law professor Phillip Bobbitt envisages the US global power and an EU 'umbrella state' as a kind of Group of Two (G2) to exemplify humane policies and co-operation in tackling transnational issues. I want to add the emerging SE 'umbrella state' which at current growth rates would far exceed US or EU gross GDP by the 2020s and hence can hardly remain on the 'Japanese' global sidelines.

Global governance needs no global government, notes Bobbit. Every society of autonomous individuals has a limiting constitution, and the society of states is no different. But think of Abu Ghraib. In seeking freedom from coercion by other states and individuals, every participative state may have to be seen to respect the rights of its own people or forfeit its moral authority to sneers of 'double standards' and 'hypocrite'.

Alongside US-type superpowers in the 'market in sovereignty', EU-like 'umbrella states' may offer a zone of free trade or defence. Beneath such umbrellas some common areas of legal jurisdiction may evolve, such as Ireland, Korea, Palestine, India-Pakistan-Bangladesh. Also under such cover, small societies and cultures might shelter and only retain control over cultural matters such as education, language and religion. It's high time the polite but unworkable fiction of separate-but-equal sovereign states is abandoned. But then, as with scrapping one-man-one-vote-once-in-a-while 'democracy', might not all alternatives prove even worse?

Naturally if 'unfairly', the world's 'transnational problems' will always be defined and prioritised by individuals and states with the resources, moral standing and will to tackle them. As with individual or family problems such as domestic violence, often and often the 'host country' bitterly resents outside interference. What government will welcome being labelled 'failed state', 'rogue state' or member-number-seven of 'the axis of evil'? But we must be cruel (to states) to be kind (to people). This naming-shaming-tackling hurdle shouldn't paralyse 'good men (or states) and true' into the inaction that enables evil to triumph.

If the intense current resentment of America by some of its own citizens and foreign friends is predicated largely upon its sole-superpower status, G2 (or G3) pre-emptive medicine may slide easier down the global gullet. But pre-emption there will clearly have to be, whether to stop a rogue state from acquiring nuclear capability, a failed state from letting its population starve to death, or a variety of other 'future-unacceptable' outcomes.

As Bobbitt suggests, a constitution of the emerging Market-World society of states should not give privilege to nations. They generally don't have enough self-interest to address global problems, hence the UN's impotence. Instead we should enshrine the health, safety and opportunity of the people of the planet. As individuals, that is, rather than via their always self-interested and often self-appointed 'representatives'.

Any problem? Well, any laggard state may fear that sooner or later some form of pre-emptive global pressure to shape up will bear down relentlessly upon it. But surely this will be a good fear and a good pressure? It will not make sense (or humane kindness) if Market World stands back while 'failed state' governments harm their people and 'rogue state' agents disrupt global peace and prosperity.

Author: Dr Jim Harris is a freelance researcher and writer. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the authorÂ’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.

FMF Feature Article \30 November 2004 - Policy Bulletin / 21 July 2009
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