A Brief History Of Human Society

1.4m BC To 2015

VIII. Globalization

Globalization began in the commercial sector, as described above, with international dispute resolution through arbitration, and it has spread to most economic sectors. International – and often global – conventions, ruling bodies, courts, treaties etc etc now cover shipping, airlines, banking, insurance, telecommunications, investment, intellectual property, and even the environment, to pick just some of the most obvious examples. Governments have no power to intervene once they have signed up to such international instruments. Largely but not entirely because of the fight against money laundering and terrorism, international co-operation is now also beginning to impact on taxation and some aspects of criminal law.

It really is only a matter of time before the legislative canvas of a national government will be limited to a few, minor domestic fields, and what is important is that the power which is seeping away from nations is not seeping towards a mighty international ruler (pace the European Union), but into the hands of consultative, rule-based, quasi-democratic, international bodies, of which the WTO is the most obvious example.

So far, at any rate, globalization has been a success: the WTO, the OECD, the UN, the IMF, Greenpeace, Medecins Sans Frontieres, WIPO appear mostly to be beneficial monopolies, although in the OECD's case, at any rate, its behaviour over international taxation has lately called its bona fides into question.

It's an open question whether the WTO, for example, is more groupish than a nation state, but its procedures (and those of most other multinational bodies) are a good deal more transparent and democratic than those of any State, which is a major step in the right direction. What will definitely reintroduce 'groupish' law into the affairs of individuals is however the Internet.

The Internet provides an arena both for the formation of global policies and for 'anti-globalizers' to attack them. Says Joseph Stiglitz18: 'Globalization has reduced the sense of isolation felt in much of the developing world and has given many people in the developing countries access to knowledge well beyond the reach of even the wealthiest in any country a century ago. The antiglobalization protests themselves are a result of this connectedness. Links between activists in different parts of the world, particularly those links forged through Internet communication, brought about the pressure that resulted in the international landmines treaty – despite the opposition of many powerful govenrments.'

At first, the Internet could be seen as anarchic. By empowering the individual, libertarians hoped, the Internet would eat away the fabric of the State from the inside. In fact, the Internet can be used (or abused) by the State just as readily as by the individual. So far, it's difficult to say who is ahead!

Long term, though, the libertarians were probably right, in the sense that the Internet is ideally suited to the development of new models of cooperation between people, whereas its uses for the State are limited to the collection and dissemination of data, and interactions with citizens (financial and otherwise). It doesn't seem likely that the Internet will change the nature of the State (itself an expression of groupishness taken to a pathological extreme); however it will allow the State to become more effective in the exercise of its power over individuals, through electronic information collection systems such as that already operated by the US, and data retention laws.


18 Stiglitz, J (2002) Globalization and its Discontents, W W Norton & Co, New York