I have recently come across an old blog post by Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy arguing against world government. Somin’s argument echoed Michelangelo’s here at the consortium, and in particular one aspect of their argument stands out for being especially short-sighted: That of a lack of competition or “diversity in governance” would be the inevitable result of a world government.
Now, a libertarian world government would be federal in nature, so if Somin and Michelangelo are arguing against a different kind of world government they may have a point (I don’t know of many arguments in favor of world government that are not federal in nature, and it wouldn’t be worth my time to read up on any such ludicrous proposals), but when addressing arguments in favor of world government from a libertarian perspective opponents must realize that it is federation they are skeptical of.
Here is how I address the opposition to a world government because competition (and, thus, diversity) would become diminished:
Libertarians generally argue that federalism is the best option we, as humans, have because it allows for competition between administrative units. This competition is enhanced and respected by the people it affects because of the rules set in place and enforced by a federal authority. So, for example, everyone in the US federation generally has their individual rights protected (there are always exceptions, of course, including blacks, Natives, felons, immigrants, and religious minorities), including freedom of movement. Under this general framework different administrative units come up with different policies concerning taxes, education, transportation, etc. This competitive framework makes policies better overall, in all 50 states, without having to resort to a central, one-size-fits-all policy.
It is true that the US could be better, and it is true that federal democracy may be inferior to anarchy, but it is also true that we live in a world of second bests, and comparatively speaking, the US has one of the highest standards of living in the world so I don’t see why this should not be taken as a sort of rough estimate for where libertarians should be aiming.
Is everybody in agreement that federalism is the least worst workable option largely because of the competition it allows for?
Okay then. It somehow follows, for opponents of world federalism, that if the US federal system were to add every administrative unit in the world into its system that competition would suddenly cease.
Okay, I am being a jerk about this line of reasoning. It actually goes something like this: Because the US and Russia have different systems of governance, they are competing with each other. Fair enough, but it does not follow that this competition is a good thing. If I recall correctly, there are good kinds of competition and there are bad kinds of competition. Walmart versus Target is good competition. Lobbying for political favors is good competition (consider the alternatives, i.e. Russia). Building up military capabilities is bad competition. Pitting human rights-abusing regimes against liberal democracies is bad competition, too, but this last scenario is precisely what opponents of world federalism argue is desirable about the status quo.
World government wouldn’t eliminate competition, it would enhance it by focusing governmental duties on policy issues and standardizing a regime of rights protection based on the notion of the free and sovereign individual.
Comparing the US to, say, Gabon or China is not competition. It is an injustice, and one that ignores the plight of billions of people living under despotic regimes. Competition is not what happens when 5 million people live in a liberal democracy and 5 million more live in a one party socialist state. Competition is what happens when all 10 million people are free to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster whenever and wherever they please, but only half of them pay a sales tax (the other half have banned plastic bags through plebiscite, of course).
Even if my competition-is-enhanced-by-federalism argument does not convince the opponent of world government, the fact that his own argument for more competition, through state sovereignty, should.
Consider the following scenario in regards to competition and world federalism: The state of Durango, in the United States of Mexico, is fed up with Mexico City’s corruption and inefficiency. The leaders of Durango, and a significant population of Durango (say, 60-65%), all would be thrilled to leave the Mexican federation. However, Durango knows that independence would be much worse than federation, so it continues to stay within the Mexican federation and simmers with despair and loathing.
Under the status quo – competition through state sovereignty – Duranguense have no options whatsoever, except to keep electing reformers to political office at the federal level and hope for a reform bloc to coalesce. How is this competitive?
Now, consider the scenario outlined above again. The federation of 50 American states has adopted a statute that allows for disgruntled administrative units elsewhere in the world to apply for admission into the union. Duranguense suddenly have an option. Not only that, but Mexico City suddenly has competition, and little of it can be snuffed out through repressive domestic policies.
Does this make sense? Am I knocking down a straw man? If so, please don’t hesitate to take me to task in the ‘comments’ threads!
7 thoughts on ““The Lack of Competition/Diversity”: One objection to world government that shouldn’t be made”
Well, if nothing else this post has stimulated me to ask something I’ve been wondering about…..how does world federation work with voluntary citizenship [ala Michaelangelo’s recent post]? If polities consist of citizens where every citizen wants to share citizenship with everyone else in the polity there will be a very very large number of very very small polities. Coordination costs seem…..intimidating.
That’s a good question, Dr A.
A good question indeed.
I would start by suggesting that voluntary citizenship is a somewhat incoherent idea. Citizenship, to me at least, implies membership within an explicitly political unit. Michelangelo’s examples did not quite meet my rough definition of the term.
I still think that voluntary citizenship could be a coherent idea, but it would have to be in the form of, say, Duranguense wanting to belong to the US federal union rather than the Mexican federal union.
If the world ever united politically into federation, and some polities no longer wanted to be a part of such a federation, there would have to be be a mechanism to allow them to leave (much like the Scottish example; ps: this.).
Either way you dice it, though, a more libertarian world would indeed involve “a very very large number of very very small polities.” This is what is aimed for, at least by me, provided these small polities are united politically at some sort of minimal, federal level that guarantees individual rights. These small polities would have to be united politically precisely to deal with the coordination costs that you perceive. Such costs would not disappear, but federal political union tends to render these costs affordable relative to the alternatives.
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I think you make an interesting point, but allow me a bit of push back. The world government would set the rules of how federated entities would interact. This would be like standards and protocols. You are correct that a set of shared standards can allow for enhanced competition, of the good variety (what I call constructive competition). This would be a good thing.
However the same shared standards would lock in the world to one set of protocols, thus reducing the discovery via variation and selection of the shared institutions themselves.
Thus we would see more short range constructive competition between states, and less long term exploration of new and potentially better institutional standards.
New laptop comes in tomorrow. I have read this. Will have better answer soon.
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