Friday, October 18, 2013

Interlude I - The Age of the Nation-State

One of the reasons I've been more off-and-on with this blog than usual over the last couple months is that I've been taking a class online, at a website called edX. While the courses are free, they're set up and run by actual college professors, and sometimes even count for college credit if you're so inclined. For no other reason than self-improvement, I enrolled in a class called The Age of Globalization, by University of Texas at Austin professor John Hoberman.

It's been very rewarding so far, but in addition to lots of reading and video lectures, each week ends with an essay question--which nicely (or unfortunately) overlaps with the time that I'd normally be writing about a reason I enjoy paying taxes. While the subject matter is definitely more off-topic than I usually get here, some of what I've been writing about does have a bit of thematic overlap with this blog--the principles of modern society, the benefits of working together, and so on. So in an effort to keep from totally ignoring this thing until the class is done, I thought I'd share a few of my globalization essays here in place of my normal entries. You can expect things to get back to normal when the class ends this December, though something may jump out at me in the meantime that demands a normal entry; only time will tell.

Describe three (3) reasons why you believe that the nation-state IS or IS NOT losing its power, influence, and independence in today's globalized world.

Without a doubt, globalization is absolutely drawing the age of the nation-state to a close--in terms of power, influence, and independence.

In terms of power: a nation-state's strength lies in its ability to govern the behavior of its members. But the rise of capitalism, and then multinational capitalism, has seen commercial power exceed the reach of governmental power in many ways. Not only do world governments no longer have the ability to regulate commercial behavior where enormous multinationals are concerned, in the case of many nations, it's actually against the interests or their societies to do so--hence the concept of "too big to fail". Even if one nation decided to buckle down and get serious about regulating, say, shipbreaking (even a nation with the reach of the United States), the shipping companies affected by this change in policy would be out of the nation's reach, as all their shipbreaking operations are elsewhere in the world. And because of the size and scope of these companies, the US can either do business with them or suffer serious commercial consequences of its own.

In terms of influence: ironically, the failure of the European Union to earn even a hint of the kind of loyalty European citizens already feel for their respective nations is a sign of those nations' fading influence. In World War II, the Allied Powers were every bit the unilateral, anti-democratic entity the EU parliament embodies today, but because it was a time of war, the citizens of allied nations believed in what the Allies were doing and truly saw citizens from other Allied nations as brothers in world society. Now, without so existential a threat to rally people behind, the EU represents nothing to the European people but another layer of bureaucracy that at best is unnecessary and at worst is something to ignore. While this disregard does not seem to carry over to European citizens' sense of national pride, I believe that this pride is now largely vestigial; if they truly listened to their national leaders, and their leaders wished for that devotion to be transferred to the EU, it would be done, as simple as that.

In terms of independence: as previous sections of this course have demonstrated, national independence is the first thing to go in the age of globalization. The only true independence now lies in the global free market, which allowed for the rise of multinational corporations like McDonald's and Walmart. Ultimately, the power companies like these represent is demonstrated by the rise, now, of state-owned enterprise. It's not enough now for a historically unimportant, second-world nation like Brazil to do well within its own borders; to really make it in a globalized world they much use the sway of their governments to foster multinationals of their own--and only then use the money and prestige that comes from a successful multinational to boost their own standard of living. Of course, as even SOEs become too large to survive as state-owned entities, even they must eventually break away from their host nations--as we're now seeing. What happens next is unclear, but it can't be good for those nations.

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