the hypothetical economics of a new world order

March 3, 2013 — 1 Comment

reserve note

When writing Shadow Nation, those whom I asked for creative advice pretty much assumed that any story set a thousand years in the future or more has to have Earth with either a one world government or as a dystopia ruled by the principle of might makes right. You can probably see why. Virtually every piece of science fiction set in the far future defaults to one or the other, and were you inclined to conspiracy theories, you could even say that it’s almost as if the one world elites are brainwashing us into thinking that it’s either a one world government or Mad Max style chaos in the badlands in our eventual future. But realistically, a global government just makes it easier to tell stories that play out on a cosmic scale. Accounting for how 206 sovereign nations and territories will react to alien invasions or first contact would make for an interesting novel but it would also be a very tedious piece of work to execute and easy to over-complicate.

So taking the easy way out, I went with the one world government, but I wanted to do something different with the required backstory. Utopian unification as in Star Trek and consolidating world wars were both out of the question. What does that leave as a reason for nations to unite under one banner? Money. You see, states as we know them are a relatively modern invention born in the middle of the 1600s, and aided by difficulty in communicating across vast distances and the expense and logistical effort of traveling across continents. Shared history and culture would’ve also cemented the nation state. But even today, cultures cross over oceans and communication via the web is bringing people closer together, especially when they have something to trade in an age of virtual commerce and vast logistical hubs and efficient transport. There are still major differences between some cultures that will be hard to reconcile, but regional blocks are growing more and more homogeneous, especially if they start opening borders and free trade zones.

Following through, a regional trading block with free trade should also allow workers to choose jobs they can fill no matter where they live. An engineer in Taiwan should be able to get a job in India or Mongolia if that’s where the demand exceeds the supply. It’s the only way to make free trade and globalization really fair: to demolish protectionism for both goods and jobs. But after a few decades, if not centuries, of this, cultures are more homogenized and so is the population. A group of people that freely lives anywhere throughout the region, using the same money barely even needs borders and separate governments. They would need local government offices for efficient administration of public services, true. But for all intents and purposes, they’re living in one huge nation. And since the borders are now all but irrelevant, may as well save money and get rid of them because they’ll only slow down how quickly goods travel while customs agencies could be put to better use in logistical hubs. Just like that, a dozen or so countries unite.

But now there’s a problem. We have our united blocks all trading with each other, each with their own government, but they can’t just switch to a single currency and take their unification to the final level. Depending on where they are on the planet, these trading blocks would have major discrepancies in their resources and strengths. A single global currency would hobble some of these blocks while boosting others based on which block drives the policy by using its GDP. The better solution would be to allow each block to keep their currencies which arose after the entire territory was fine-tuned into the production and extraction pipelines needed for optimal economic gain. Just like today, these currencies could be traded on an open market and there would need to be international laws covering the trades and exchanges. And don’t forget that there have to be rules allowing for the mobility of workers between trading blocks as well. Now you need some sort of centralized group to manage it all, a council that would take the trading blocks’ concerns, propose new laws, and settle disputes and issues that might arise, like a WTO/IMF hybrid.

This gives us our final narrative step and leads to the book’s International Council. Not really a government as we know one, it’s more of a COO for the planet’s sprawling trading hubs housing more and more people, and growing in size for the sake of efficiency and vertical integration for countless products and services. Layers of government offices are flattened and going from a local office to a global agency takes no time at all while the impact these agencies have is much more powerful because they don’t have to pass through a bureaucratic maze since red tape will slow down trade, costing jobs and inciting popular fury at the polls. Regulation is direct and an offense doesn’t have to be reported through many layers of oversight, it can be dealt with by a local office or swiftly punished by the global government. The International Council wouldn’t set many agendas, it would merely fund competitions for new big ideas and by judged by how well it keeps the economy ticking and help companies crank out new inventions. And when it comes to alien contact, everyone would know exactly where to turn to make the necessary decisions…

[ illustration by K. J. Garbutt ]

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  • TheBrett

    That’s pretty good, and close to how I imagine the actual world will eventually unify. My main quibble is that I think any sort of central “council” being formed out of whole cloth is unlikely, compared to institutions like the UN and the various international organizations (such as the WHO and WTO) being co-opted to serve in that role. So you’d get a gradual convergence of norms and regulations worldwide,with the end result being that nations essentially act in concordance without a lot of actual top-level direction.

    It’s interesting to see settings, though, where that isn’t assumed. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy has Mars as a federal government, but Earth itself is still a squabbling mix of nations and non-governmental entities with great power.