or Global Democracy?
Chris Chase-Dunn and Kirk Lawrence
Institute for Research on World-Systems
University of California-Riverside
[v. 8-03-09, 10381 words]
This paper discusses developments in the first decade of the 21st century and uses the comparative world-systems perspective to consider possible scenarios for the next several decades. Prediction is always a risky business, but some things are actually quite predictable, while others are less so. Natural cycles such as the seasons will continue, although human-caused global warming may be changing them to some extent. Human demographic processes are fairly predictable as well. Because of the spread of the demographic transition (to lower birth rates) in the Global South, demographers predict that the total population of the Earth will peak around 2075. The steepness and duration of this continuing rise will determine how many people there will eventually be on Earth - estimates vary from 8 to 12 billion. The timing and height will be affected by the usual factors: food supply, diseases, and natural and human caused disasters. The education of women and their employment in jobs outside the home are the main things that affect the demographic transition. Its rapidity or slowness and the consequent size of the global population will have a huge impact on the effort to move toward a more sustainable global economy. The fewer humans that need to be accommodated, the easier the required adjustments will be. Of course, taking a very long-term perspective, the sun will burn out, our solar system will turn very cold, and life will no longer be possible. But that will take another 4 billion years (Christian 2004:487).
This paper considers the likely trends as well as the major challenges that humanity will face on the scale of immediate concern: the next 50-100 years. Like the birth and death rates and the total population, the timing and strength of these challenges and their interactions with each other will greatly influence how well we are able to cope with them and how much disruption and tragedy they will cause. As in the past, large challenges are also opportunities for innovation and for reorganizing human institutions. The point of this essay is not to be scary. Nor will we simply assume that all problems can be easily resolved. Our world-systems perspective leads us to see some disturbing similarities, but also some important differences, between what happened during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century and what seems to be happening in the early 21st century.
Major Challenges of the 21st Century
There are three major crises that loom in the early decades of the 21st century:
· global inequalities,
· ecological degradation, and
a failed system
of global governance in the wake of
Careful studies of trends in income inequality show that a huge global gap emerged during the 19th century between the average incomes of people living in the core countries and the average incomes of people in the non-core. That gap has not decreased despite all the efforts to develop the non-core societies (Bornschier 2008). The global income gap has not gotten worse during the period of neo-liberal policies, but neither has it gotten better. There is a huge, yawning chasm between the rich and the poor of the world that is not going away. Those who are concerned about inequality should be aware of, and focus upon, this huge global gap. It is far larger than the inequalities that exist within most national societies.
This said, there has not been absolute immiseration, except in a few small regions, over the last century. Average incomes in most of the core and most of the non-core have both increased, but at rates that have reproduced the huge gap. Trends within particular countries have varied. Some have increased and others have decreased.
The causes of the global income gap include the uneven development of technologies and labor productivity, but also the operation of political and financial institutions. Wages went up in the core as industrialization increased the productivity of labor. But the core/non-core differences in income are much greater than the differences in labor productivity. Colonialism contributed to global inequality by allowing core countries to use the law as an instrument of exploitation and domination. Since decolonization, most countries of the non-core have experienced relative underdevelopment because of dependence on foreign investment and the operation of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.
Dependence on foreign investment means that foreigners own and control a relatively large part of a national economy. Crossnational comparative research has shown that investment dependence slows economic growth and increases within-country income inequality (Bornschier and Chase-Dunn 1985). The operations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have greatly favored core countries, especially since the rise of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” in the 1980s. Structural adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed by the International Monetary Fund have increased inequality in many countries. The World Trade Organization, despite its free trade ideology, has presided over a situation in which free trade has been imposed on non-core countries while core countries have been allowed to maintain protective tariffs and trade quotas, especially on agricultural goods.. Thus global inequalities are partly a matter of uneven development and partly due to what Andre Gunder Frank (1966) called “the development of underdevelopment” -- global institutions that favor the core countries and reproduce low levels of economic development in most of the non-core.
But why is this a problem? Despite the continuation of the huge global gap in incomes, most non-core countries have experienced some growth of average incomes. Life expectancy has gone up, and most countries are beginning the demographic transition to lower birth rates. Should not these things make people happy?
Political scientists and sociologists have long understood that people’s perceptions of a fair distribution of rewards -- distributive justice -- are largely a function of “relative deprivation.” Whether people are happy or not, and whether or not they feel exploited, is highly dependent on with what they compare their circumstances. If people in the non-core compared their levels of consumption with those of their parents most would perceive an improvement because life expectancies and average levels of living have increased, and so they should be content. But mass media and nearly instantaneous global communications have produced a situation in which people in poor countries increasingly compare their lives with those in rich countries. They see on television how people in core countries live. And they aspire to live that way.
Another contextual factor that makes continuing huge global inequalities a problem is the broad institutionalization of beliefs in the sanctity of equality. Equality is a value that is found in all the world religions and that was given powerful support by the European Enlightenment and the spread of secular humanism. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a foundational charter of global culture that is widely supported by the peoples of the world. Most local cultures have shifted toward individualized and merit-based ideologies of distributive justice and away from ideologies such as the caste system that justify inequalities based on categories that are inherited at birth (so-called ascriptive characteristics). Racism and gender inequality are held to be illegitimate nearly everywhere despite that strong currents of these old inequalities are still operating. In this cultural and political context the existence of huge global inequalities appears to be unjust to broad segments of humanity in both the core and the non-core, and the frustrations of those who have unsuccessfully tried to better their condition has led to unhappiness with the existing systems of governance. International inequalities were masked when national societies were thought to be largely unconnected systems, each with its own unique history. But the increasing realization that national societies exist within, and are strongly affected by, a larger global system encourages people to compare themselves to those in other societies and to see the whole world as a system of distributive justice.
These developments parallel to some extent what happened a century ago, but the likelihood of another “Age of Extremes” or a Malthusian correction may also be exacerbated by some new twists. The number of people on Earth was only 1.65 billion when the 20th century began, whereas at the beginning of the 21st century there were 6 billion. Moreover, fossil fuels were becoming less expensive as oil was replacing coal as the major source of energy (Podobnik 2006). It was this use of inexpensive but non-renewable fossil energy that made the geometric expansion and industrialization of humanity possible.
we are facing global warming as a consequence of the spread and rapid expansion
of industrial production and energy-intensive consumption, and energy is once
again becoming more expensive. The low hanging “ancient sunlight” in coal and
oil has been picked. “Peak oil” is rapidly approaching, “clean coal” and
nuclear fusion remain dreams, and the price of energy will go up no matter how
much we invest in new kinds of energy production (Heinberg 2004). None of the
existing alternative technologies offer low-priced energy of the kind that has
made the huge expansion possible. Many believe that overshoot has already
occurred in terms of how many humans are alive, and how much energy is being
used by some of them, especially those in the core. Adjusting to rising energy
costs and dealing with the environmental degradation caused by industrial
society will be difficult, and the longer it takes the harder it will be.
Ecological problems are not new, but this time they are on a global scale. Peak
oil and rising costs of other resources are likely to cause resource wars that
can exacerbate the problems of global governance. The war in
The first decade of the 21th century has seen a continuation of many large-scale processes that were under way in the last half of the 20th. Urbanization of the Global South continued as the policies of neoliberalism gave powerful support to the “Live Stock Revolution” in which animal husbandry on the family ranch was replaced by large-scale production of eggs, milk and meat. This, and industrialized farming, were encouraged by the export expansion policies of the IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). One consequence was the ejection of millions of small farmers from the land.
For most of these former rural residents migration to the megacities meant moving to huge slums and gaining a precarious living in the “informal sector” of services and small-scale production. These huge slums lack adequate water or sewage infrastructure. The budget cuts mandated by the SAPs, required by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for further loans, have often decimated public health systems. And so the slums have become breeding grounds for new forms of communicable diseases, including new strains of avian flu that pose huge health risks to the peoples of both the core and the non-core. These diseases are rapidly transmitted by intercontinental air travel. Many public health experts believe that a flu pandemic similar in scope and lethality to that of the infamous 1918 disaster is highly likely to occur in the near future (Crosby 2007). Most of the national governments have failed to adequately prepare for such an eventuality, and so a massive die-off is a likely outcome. Like most disasters, the lethality will be much greater among the poor, especially in the megacities of the Global South (Davis 2005).
Peter Taylor (1996) points to the important fact, which he calls “world impasse,” that it is an ecological impossibility for the global poor to catch up with the global rich. If the Chinese people eat as many eggs per person and drive as many cars as the Americans do the biosphere will cease to function. Thus global equalization will require that the rich go down to meet the poor who are coming up. This is a huge problem that no one wants to discuss, especially in the core countries. Mentioning this in polite conversation is usually considered to be in poor taste.
The Democratic Deficit
Institutions of global governance have been
evolving for centuries. The system of sovereign states was extended to the
non-core in waves of decolonization and international organizations have
emerged, grown in number and size, and taken on increasingly specialized and
differentiated functions since the Napoleonic Wars. Democracy is still a
contested concept, despite the triumphalism on the part of neoliberals after
the demise of the
The existing institutions of global governance exhibit what many observers have called a “democratic deficit.” This means that, by even the weakest standards, the institutions of power in the global system are not democratic. The world polity, despite the emergence and growth of international organizations, is still mainly operating according to the logic of the system of sovereign states and global governance continues to take the form of hegemonic power exercised by a single national state.
The main international organizations with general responsibilities for international and global governance are:
· the regional military apparatuses such as NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), SEATO (the South East Asian Treaty Organization), etc.
· the United Nations and
the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The regional treaty organizations are key institutions in the global
system that are intended to provide security and military cooperation. They,
and the other international institutions of global governance lack what Jackie
Smith (2008: 11) calls “external” legitimacy, meaning that they are not at all
subject to popular consent. The also lack what Smith calls “internal
legitimacy” – because their policies and actions do not represent the consensus
of all the world’s national governments. This is not just because they are
regional organizations. They are primarily controlled by the great powers that
are their members, mainly the
The UN and the IFIs are increasingly seen as both
incapable of dealing with challenges such as global warming, and as primarily
controlled by the
The IFIs have been targeted by large social
movement protests since the anti-IMF riots in the 1980s because of the
unpopularity of the structural adjustment programs that they began imposing on
non-core countries after the rise of the neoliberal
UN, though survey research shows that it is far less unpopular than the IFIs,
is widely believed to be undemocratic even though the General Assembly of the
U.N. makes decisions based on the principle of “one nation, one vote”. Both
the U.N. General Assembly has little real power. It is known as a debating
society. The important decisions about
“collective security” – when to deploy U.N. peace-keeping forces – are the
responsibility of the Security Council. The Security Council has five permanent
members – the countries that won World War II.
Neither the U.N. nor any other major international institution tries to directly represent the wishes of the world’s peoples. There is no global popular assembly or parliament. George Monbiot (2003) and others have proposed the formation of a global parliament, but such an institution is as yet only an idea.
IFIs are even less democratic than the U.N. The Director of the World Bank is
always from the
The World Revolution of 20xx
The world-system has certainly become more integrated in the latest wave of globalization. The current high degree of economic integration is already higher than the peak in the 19th century, but we should also remember that waves of globalization have always been followed by periods of deglobalization in which long-distance interaction decreases, and this is likely to also be true of the future even though most analysts find this difficult to imagine. As political globalization – the formation of a single global polity, the extension of the interstate system to the whole periphery, the growing size of the hegemon compared to earlier hegemonies and the growth and elaboration of international political and financial organizations—has become denser, world revolutions have become more frequent and have started to overlap one another. Originally formulated by Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989, see also Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000), world revolutions are rebellions spread across the world-system that cluster together in time in ways that pose huge challenges for the core powers and the hegemon. These clustered rebellions are an important cause of the evolution of global governance because enlightened conservatives consolidate new hegemonies by making compromises in which they adopt some the demands of earlier world revolutions in order to preserve or extend hegemony at a later date. Thus the evolution of global governance by means of hegemony is the outcome of a struggle among competing elites in a context of repeated rebellions from “below,” and below includes both subordinated classes within societies and also popular movements from the periphery and the semiperiphery.
There is another world revolution occurring now and it is too soon to pick a symbolic year of a key event or development that connotes its character. Thus we shall call it the world revolution of 20xx (Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer 2009). As with earlier world revolutions, it is a constellation of local, national and transnational rebellions and protest movements that cluster in time. These challenge the global powers simply because they all occur in the same period. The institutions of global governance have to contend with rebellion on many fronts. This is analogous to a single national state getting into more than one war at the same time. But the world revolution of 20xx includes more transnational rebellions and movements than any of the earlier world revolutions have had. This is a consequence of the saturation of the modern societies by mass media forms of communication, the low cost of long-distance transportation and communications, and the Internet, which allows nearly instant communication among peoples and organizations all over the planet.
The phenomenon of transnational social movements and global political parties that began in the 19th and 20th centuries has grown to the point that there is now a vibrant global civil society of world citizens who consciously act in the arena of world politics. No one knows how large this group of cosmopolitan world citizens is at present. Obviously the people who consciously think of themselves as acting in world politics remain a small minority of the global population. Most people continue to participate mainly at local or national levels. But this cosmopolitan minority of world citizens is undoubtedly larger than ever before, and it includes substantial numbers of farmers, workers and students as well as the usual collection of scientists and intellectuals, journalists, statesmen , and religious leaders that have acted in world politics for centuries.
(2008) claims that global capitalism has erased the core/periphery hierarchy
and transformed the whole earth into a single world society with a single
transnational class structure. The insight about the growing systemness of the
world-system is useful, but both the interstate system and national societies
continue to be important socially-structured institutions in the contemporary
world (Sassen 2006). Overstating the completeness of transnationalization and
world society formation becomes most obvious in the claim that the core-periphery
hierarchy has been entirely replaced by “peripheralization of the core” and the
emergence of clusters of monopoly privilege in parts of the non-core. Robinson
himself reports that that call-center workers in
No one knows the real numbers of those who are consciously participating in a global arena of politics, but it is obvious that the numbers have grown in recent decades as social movements have discovered that local and national political activities often cannot resolve problems that appear to have been created by global processes. Local and national social movements have also been able to gain additional leverage by accessing resources from abroad or by appealing to international institutions. This process, called “scale-shift” by scholars studying social movements, has produced a vibrant and diverse global civil society (e.g. Reitan 2007).
The world revolution of 20xx has primarily been a reaction against what we have called the neoliberal globalization project. Arguably it began with the anti-IMF riots that broke out in the 1980s when the Structural Adjustment Programs caused prices of food and transportation to rise in many of the cities of the global south.
The World Social Forum
(WSF) was established in 2001 as a counter-hegemonic popular project focusing
on issues of global justice and democracy.
It was initially organized by European and Latin American NGOs who were miffed
at being excluded from the World Economic Forum (WEF) that has met in
We are going to discuss the major structural alternatives for the trajectory of the world-system during the twenty-first century by positing three basic scenarios (and then discussing possible combinations and changing sequences):
1. Another round of U. S. economic hegemony based on comparative advantage in new lead industries and another round of U.S. political hegemony (instead of supremacy).
3. Capable, democratic, multilateral and legitimate global governance strongly supported by progressive transnational social movements and global parties, semiperipheral democratic socialist regimes, and important movements and parties in the core and the periphery. This new global polity accomplishes environmental restoration and the reduction of global inequalities.
Future Scenario #1:A Second U. S. Hegemony
Modelski and Thompson (1994) contend that there were two British
hegemonies, one in the 18th century and another one in 19th
century. They contend that under some circumstances a hegemon can succeed
itself. The logic of sclerosis can be overcome if new internal interest groups
who are partisans of new industries can overcome the power of the vested
interests of the old industries. Normally this is not possible within the
confines of a single national polity and this explains why hegemony usually
moves on and why uneven development is geographically mobile. If this were typical regions with a
comparative advantage would last for millennia rather than centuries and
most explicit argument for the likelihood of another round of
also notes that
is well-known that the
Biotechnology and nanotechnology have greater possibilities. And green technology that allows more efficient use of natural resources is also a possibility. A new political regime with a strong industrial policy of renewal that was willing to husband resources and invest in education and product development, and that could overcome the internal resistance to new taxes by mobilizing a popular constituency to support these projects might have a chance of success.
One advantage of such a development that might find support from abroad is that the current unipolar structure of the global military apparatus could be maintained, thus obviating any likelihood of future war among powerful national states. This should relieve those who fear that another round of hegemonic rivalry might descend into world war, as it always has in the past. Such a unipolar structure of military power could also be made more legitimate by bringing it under the auspices of the United Nations or of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And if this were combined with a larger disarmament of national forces, the size and expense of the global military apparatus could be reduced.
Future Scenario #2: Collapse -- Rivalry, Ecocatastrophe and Deglobalization
second structural scenario is that of continued
Regarding differences, we have already
mentioned that British decline and the inter-regnum between the British and
This energy cost differences probably slants the system toward chaos. It is well-known that the rise of greater centralization and state-formation in the long run is tied to the ability of complex systems to capture free energy. Hierarchies and further differentiation are expensive in energy terms. Reductions in the availability of free energy have often been associated with the collapse of hierarchies and of complex divisions of labor (Tainter 1988). The peaks of renewable resources probably also raise the probability of future resource wars, especially in the absence of a strong and legitimate hegemon or a legitimate global state.
size difference probably slants against a fast collapse. Even the economic
challengers have a vested interested in the current U.S.-centered financial
system and are unlikely to do anything that will undermine it. They own too
environmental catastrophes are likely due to industrialization and population
growth overshoots and overconsumption in the core. Global warming may be slowed
down by reducing the production of greenhouse gases now that the new
Deglobalization means less international trade, less international investment and the reemergence of greater local and national self-reliance for the production of goods and services. The rise of transportation costs because of rising energy prices is one factor that should reduce international trade. Efforts to reduce carbon emissions may will also involve greater regulation of long distance transportation by air, ship and truck and this will encourage a return to more local and regional circuits of production and consumption. International investment will decline if there is greater international conflict because the risks associated with investments in distant locations will increase.
Greater local self-reliance will be good for manufacturing and for farmers in places where imports have been driving locals out of business. But the cost of some goods will go up. Services may continue to be supplied internationally if the global communications grid is maintained. It is expensive to maintain the satellites and cables, but this may be a good investment because long-distance communication can increasingly substitute for long-distance transportation. International business and political meetings can be held in cyberspace rather than by flying people from continent to continent. The carbon footprint of transoceanic communication is considerably smaller than the carbon footprint of transportation because information is lighter than people. But the infrastructure of global communication also relies on international cooperation, and so the rise of conflict might make communications less reliable or the big grid might even come down.
Future Scenario #3: A Global Democratic and Sustainable Commonwealth
Eventually the human species will probably escape from the spiral of population pressure and ecological degradation that has driven human socio-cultural evolution since the Stone Age. If the demographic transition continues its march through the Global South this is likely to occur by the year 2100 or so. After the total human population ceases to rise it will still take time to become adjusted to the economic, environmental and political problems that will result from a global population of 8, 10 or 12 million people. And even then history will not end because human institutional structures will continue to evolve and to generate new challenges.
But the focus of this essay is the next several decades. Many observers of human socio-cultural evolution predict the emergence of a single Earth-wide state based on the long term trend of polities to get larger (Lawrence 2009). Projecting from historical trends, Raoul Narroll forecasts the probability of a world state emerging by 2125 of .40, and .95 by 2750; his student, Louis Marano, predicted a world empire around 3500 C.E. Robert Carneiro (2004) projects the decline in autonomous political units from 600,000 in 1500 B.C.E. to a single global government in 2300 C.E.
The problem raised by the analysis above is that the existing institutions of global governance are in crisis and a new structure that is both legitimate and capable needs to emerge to enable the humans to deal with the problems that we have created for ourselves. But what could speed global state formation up such that an effective and democratic global government could be formed by the middle of the 21st century? This is the third scenario that we will imagine as a possible middle-run future.
recall that in our understanding of the evolution of global governance world
state formation has been occuring since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
The Concert of Europe was a multilateral international organization with
explicit political intent – the prevention of future revolutions of the type
that emerged in
All the previous advances in global state formation have taken place after a hegemon has declined and challengers have been defeated in a world war among hegemonic rivals. Recall that in Warren Wagar’s (1999) future scenario discussed above a global socialist state is able to emerge only after a huge war among core states in which two thirds of the world’s population are killed – a similar scenario is also suggested by Patomäki. The idea here is that major organizational changes emerge after huge catastrophes when the existing global governance institutions are in disarray and need to be rebuilt. But using a global war as a deus ex machina in a science fiction novel is quite different from planning and implementing a real strategy that relies on a huge disaster in order to bring about change – “disaster socialism,” to borrow a phrase suggested by Naomi Klein’s (2007) discussion of how neoliberal globalizers have been able to make hay out of tragedies. Obviously political actors who seek to promote the emergence of an effective and democratic global state must also do all that they can to try to prevent another war among the great powers. Humanistic morality must trump the possibility of strategic advantage.
This said, it is very likely that major calamities will occur in the coming decades regardless of the efforts of far-sighted citizens and social movements. That is why we have imagined the collapse scenario above. And it would make both tactical and strategic sense to have plans for how to move forward if indeed a perfect storm of calamities were to come about.
But let us imagine how an effective and democratic global government might emerge in the absence of a huge calamity. Instead we will suppose that a series of moderate-sized ecological, economic and political calamities that are somewhat spaced out in time can suffice to provide sufficient disruption of the existing world order and motivation for its reconstruction along more cooperative, effective and democratic lines.
The scenario we have in mind involves a network of alliances among progressive social movements and political regimes of countries in the Global South along with some allies in the Global North. We are especially sanguine about the possibility of relatively powerful semiperipheral states coming to be controlled by democratic socialist regimes that can provide resources to progressive global parties and movements. The long-term pattern of semiperipheral development that has operated in the socio-cultural evolution of world-systems at least since the rise of paramount chiefdoms suggests that the “advantages of backwardness” may again play an important role in the coming world revolution (Lawrence 2009; Chase-Dunn and Boswell 2009).
scenario would involve a coalescent party-network of the new global Left that
would emerge from the existing “movement of movements” participating in the
World Social Forum process. Positive
exemplars of what is possible have historically emerged as “globalizations from
below” (della Porta et al. 2006). For example, the direct democracy of the
various workers’ councils that have appeared, such as in the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917,
the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, the Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973, and
the Seattle General Strike of 1919. And these are still occurring in factory
first WSF, and its visions for an alternative style of governance, was
initially organized by the Brazilian
labor movement and the landless peasant movement, and the meetings have been
held exclusively, with the exception of regional gatherings, in countries
outside of the dominant western powers:
and Chase-Dunn are proponents of the belief in the possibility for the creation
of a new system logic out of the ashes of the old. But for this advance in
system complexity – a vertical and horizontal increase in interconnection – to
come to fruition, it will be imperative for its base to be built on a new
energy regime. It is possible, however, that the current systemic clashes over
securing diminishing petroleum supplies, what Foster (2008a) calls “energy
imperialism,” and Brown (2008) calls the “geopolitics of scarcity” will result
in interstate war – one of Patomäki’s future scenarios. Indeed, as its economic
and political power wanes, the
Considering the options we face in a post-peak
world, one result would see conflict over resources as a possible path. Another
is the techno-fix, in which we rely upon innovation to rescue us, as Boserup
once envisaged for food supply when facing population pressures (Boserup,
1965). While technology has clearly allowed for greater food production and
also energy efficiencies, research has demonstrated the failed hope of
ecological modernization theory’s “environmental Kuznet’s curve,” in which
development reduces environmental impact (
A new energy regime is necessary from a perspective championing the long-term sustainability of our bio- and geosphere. Moreover, we believe that the global collectivity should decide the direction forward and the best way to accomplish this is via a low-energy global state. A reduction in the overall complexity of the world-system is needed. We already have the framework of a proto-global state, with world-level institutions, such as the United Nations, World Health Organization, and the International Criminal Court. The global-level of governance must be strengthened. This can be accomplished by eliminating redundancies. For example, transferring security responsibility to a global institution could reduce the extensive military industrial complexes maintained by nation-states but also by NATO other groups. (We are hopeful that a global democratic and rational commonwealth would also need a much smaller military than extant throughout the world today). The legitimacy of world institutions has also been undermined; e.g., the United Nations Security Council or the World Trade Organization, are nowhere close to fully representative. A global democratic government must have the support of – at least – the majority of the world’s people. Legitimate and substantive democracy is difficult to develop, sustain, and has often been reversed (Tilly 2007). But it is what we must strive for. Ulrich Beck claims that globalization has increased cosmopolitanism, a recognition and appreciation of differences, and this is important if nationalistic and xenophobic divisiveness is to be eliminated (Beck, 2005). But we need more than a few enlightened cosmopolitans – we need a global movement.
Strengthening the local level of governance will also be important. A number of people have advocated self-governing local communities, with Lester Brown suggesting that we already are moving toward local energy and food production (Brown, 2008). Here, we prefer the line with taken by Wagar, who supports the idea of local communities but also a global-level community of communities and a world political party (Wager, 1999). Similarly, there are those that have called for a global peoples parliament and that inventions such as the Internet has made it easier to come together on multiple scales and imagine such a scenario (Hopkins 2008). Global meetings such as those held by the World Social Forum (WSF) involve intercontinental travel by large numbers of individuals who attend small meetings and large gatherings. These meetings are expensive in both money and carbon terms. A much cheaper and cleaner alternative to flying humans from continent to continent so that they may communicate face-to-face is emerging in 3-d interactive digital worlds such as in “Second Life.”
The new governance structure must also ensure a
more equitable share in the costs and benefits of sharing the planet, including
wealth distribution and resource use. For example, nearly a third of the
world’s population does not have residential electricity at all (Smil 2008:
258-259). But we cannot afford to continue or expand core-like lifestyles. It
is estimated that we need five earths for everyone in the world to live like
the average person in the
The semiperiphery is structurally advantaged to
take the lead in this endeavor. From an energy/ecology standpoint, there are
already impressive innovations. For example,
world-system has been marked by waves of increasing democracy and global state
formation. This should continue. The form that will best suited for the future,
as envisioned in this chapter, is a global democratic and rational
commonwealth. The source of that sweeping change is already emerging in the
semiperiphery and the periphery, of the global hierarchy. Indeed, it is the
semiperiphery that should be scrutinized for leadership in this transition to a
new world-system. The most powerful challenges to capitalism in the 20th century
came from semiperipheral
The historically transformative role of the semiperiphery is expected to continue. The ways of the core are not sustainable. The semiperipheral way may not be either, but it is closer to where we need to go and provides a window into what a post peak system could look like. But regardless of the source of change, it is certain that the future world-system will look much different than it does today. While we have argued for the desirability of a collectively rational global democratic commonwealth, built from the bottom up, and a set of scenarios that demonstrate its need, it is not assumed to be the only or the best solution. It is only put forth in that hope that it will be considered in planning for a world-system that will be peaceful, equitable and just, while sustaining and improving the biosphere.
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