About the Policy Blog
If you were to redesign economics and government for the 21st century, what would it look like?
Three changes are reshaping the world in which we live.
One is the transformation of government into the cloud; from a physical institution to a virtual service and later, presence.
The second is globalisation. Real globalisation: a world without nation-states.
The third and final shift is the relative demise of western civilisation, and what that means for individual autonomy and democracy if things don't change.
Subscribe below to find out more about these three policy pillars, and watch a short explanatory video.
*Note on premium articles: the policyblog is experimenting with paid subscriptions for long-form research in a geopolitics private members area. At the current time, $5 unlocks everything for a month, with $50 covering 12 months of content. This section of the policyblog remains invite only.
I. The Transformation of Government:
“There is the idea that society can run without a hierarchical bureaucratic government being involved at every step, if only we can hit on the right set of rules for peer-to-peer interaction. So where design of the Internet and the Web is a search for a set of rules which will allow computers to work together in harmony, so our spiritual and social quest is for a set of rules which allow people to work together in harmony” (Tim Berners-Lee, The World Wide Web and the “Web of Life”, 1998).
Government is going digital. In the UK, that might mean applying for a passport, insuring your car, or paying tax online. In countries such as the UAE, China or India, the majority of interaction with the government now takes place across smartphones or web enabled services. In fact an ever growing proportion of the world's population now access government services over the internet, rather than physical institutions.
This transformation will only accelerate over the coming years as nation-states race to take advantage of the data, cost-savings and efficiency digital services provide. As emerging technologies such as 5G, AI data-analysis and blockchain smart contracts expand the penetration of government into our lives, this transformation will shift from the incidental functions of government to the substantive meaning of government.
What rights do citizens have in cyberspace? How do democracy and the separation of powers work on the blockchain? As financial networks become decentralised and our interactions with government are administered across virtual machines and fiber-optic cables, will the legal and territorial jurisdiction of the nation-state lose meaning?
II. Fall of Nation States
"He liked to boast that in 1921 he created the British mandate of Trans-Jordan, the first incarnation of what still is the Kingdom of Jordan, 'with the stroke of a pen, one Sunday afternoon in Cairo.'
(Winston Churchill's Hiccup, Frank Jacobs, NYT, 2012).
Global governance systems remain based on the post World War II logic of nation-states, rather than the emerging logic of the network. Existing global institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and meetings such as the G6 evince a desire to ‘administer’ globalisation rather than set it free. The connotations of early twenty-first century globalisation with technocracy, authoritarianism and elitism are often justified.
Yet globalisation, like cyberspace, is not a moral value. It is an irreversible and sometimes hopeful geopolitical trend. Cooperation between societies across borders in continuous real-time is more sustainable than competition between nation-states over food, energy and military resources.
What would a global world of a thousand cultures and languages look like? How will it provide opportunities to the un-banked, internally displaced, passport restricted or resource deprived? What if direct democracy were available to every person on Earth?
III. Serfdom & Freedom (Avatars & Pharaohs)
“This code presents the greatest threat to liberal or libertarian ideas, as well as their greatest promise. We can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to protect values we believe are fundamental, or we can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to allow those values to disappear. There is no middle ground.” (Lessig, Code is Law, 1999).
It's impossible to envision the future if your writing serves the spirit of this time. Our assumptions about how the universe works are incanted into everything we engineer. As the digital colonizes the physical, psychosocial and political realm, the systems we imagine will have vast consequences for human civilisation.
If our beliefs tend towards individual freedom, cyber systems will emerge to codify and architect these values. If our ideals are manipulated toward collectivism, securitization, surveillance and centralized control, then a cyber-regime which embodies these mechanisms could appear, likely to the sound of applause.
In the contemporary West, the strong preference today is for a securitised cyber-regime which simulates freedom on the content, infrastructure and regulatory layer, much as our political systems finesse democracy, and our financial systems simulate capital. In the vacuum of values, the place to search for answers seems to be the past. This is why all the best futurists are often historians.
The policy blog will revisit Greco-Roman political rhetoric, the debates of the enlightenment, Roman Catholic & Abrahamic theories of government, Confucian, Buddhist & Sufi philosophy, the innovations of Cordoba and ancient Egypt, the library of Alexandria, the writings of aesthetics and alchemists, Japan's struggle with modernity, and the intellectual origins of an idea that was ridiculed in the salons of Tocqueville’s Paris: direct, decentralized democracy.
Policy, not politics.