Thursday, April 17, 2008

Futurism: Global Governance

My last futurism rant got a lot of comments and interesting discussion, so I thought I'd try again...

Global Governance. An idea that finds a lot of traction with idealistic geeks and freethinkers, it sounds like a great idea.

I hate the idea.

"What? But you're an idealistic geek freethinker!"

Yes, but I've studied history.

The basic problem with a global government is that it is a global government. This has several huge, huge problems.

First, governments (like any large group of people) tend to become more important than the things they govern. That is, people within the government will strive to make the government more powerful, even at the expense of those beneath them. Even good people will use the government to aid their local interests at the cost of everywhere else.

Second, elected government officials (which I presume is the idea) are going to pander to their voters, which means we're going to see a lot of representatives pushing for dumb, suicidal policies because the idiot public doesn't understand the first thing about consequences. And, no, it's not just US citizens who are bad at it: even the brightest citizens usually don't think everything through.

Third, any system with a single point of failure (a single government) is just fundamentally bad design. Not "eating fast food" bad, but "driving in the wrong lane" bad. It's a tremendous, insidious, unavoidable, pervasive flaw that literally dooms the system in the long run.

People don't argue against these points. Instead, they say, "but look at all the good it could do!"

There is a long history of power grabs, a long history of evil on the part of whoever is in power. For the most part, a power structure's only limitation is that it has competitors. It has to do well enough to compete with them.

Without that restriction, the power structure can feed itself until there is no more power to be grabbed. It will destroy its power base out of sheer gluttony, down to the highest level of repression it can manage while still remaining in power.

It's not a conspiracy, it's not due to inherent evil... it's just the way that power structures work. Look at governments, unions, trade cartels... there are an almost infinite number of examples. They do good... until they decide they're more important than their goal.

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I'm not saying that we should be isolationists. Not only do I find the idea morally wrong, it also removes the competition that keeps power structures in check and power bases healthy. International trade is important.

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This has pretty much been a rant so far. But, I'm not ranting to no purpose. So far, there hasn't been any futurism in it. Here it comes:

We could do it today.

We have the technology to, say, go and start sustainable farms. Ignoring political and human elements, if we got a thousand people to start a hundred sustainable farms, and kept them in communication to trade information and willing aid, at least half would still be working five years later. My gut tells me closer to 80%.

Of course, that isn't going to happen. Putting aside the various political concerns such as land, zoning, and crop restrictions, you couldn't find a thousand people willing to do it. You might find a thousand people willing to do it for a few months, but then they'll go back to doing whatever they were doing before. Any other job in America is more efficient.

But that won't always be true.

Even if we presume that there is no upcoming global depression from USA's inanity and Europe's stately textbook march into socialism, technology advances every year. Every year, we learn more about how sustainable farming works. We may even invent new, more effective crops for it. And, eventually, it will become more efficient to farm sustainably than to plant a hundred thousand acres of corn and dump oil on it.

The same is true of space. Technically, if I wanted to live on the moon because I'm sick of earthly governments, I could do it. It would cost tens of billions of dollars, but it's technically feasible. Bill Gates could do it, if he didn't mind bankrupting himself in the process.

But in a decade, it will probably only cost a few billion dollars. Bill gates could invite up a couple of his friends.

A decade after that, a few hundred million, then a few million, then tens of thousands... and, eventually, the main cost of living on the moon will be in buying some land to live on up there.

This is the march of technology. It shows no signs of stopping - it shows no signs of even slowing to merely linear growth.

It shows that our current ideals of government and economy are already verging on obsolete, and will probably be considered insane and evil by an increasing percentage of each new generation.

I don't know what the right alternative to a global government is. Maybe some kind of global hang-out where small factions can talk shop and send each other birthday presents.

But a world-size EU or an effective UN are not in the cards. They are not viable forms of government in a future where I can build my own genetically engineered crops in my basement.

I think.

What do you think?

7 comments:

Christopher Weeks said...

I think you're right.

The thing is, technology is inexorably putting power into the hands of the individual -- as opposed to the hands of massive governments. We already note that the US is at war with an NGO, al Qaeda and/or a concept, terror(ism). As the difference between the power of the governing body and the power of the individual grows closer in scope, government -- as organizations with a monopoly on force and protection, will simply stop mattering and fade away. I think.

Craig Perko said...

Here's hoping...

Patrick said...

Great post Craig. I think you could find several million people who would be interested in full-time, sustainable farming. The thing is, if you apply things at enough scale (a few hectares) and with enough integration, you can manage a farmlet that feeds 10 people with a good amount of spare time left over. Then you can make videogames, like Jason Roher.

I'm concerned that there is a risk of misguided or unscrupulous people who fancy themselves elites (unlike the real elites) will try and make global governance happen, mostly as a screen for corporate dynamics. I'm not sure how proportional that risk is to the risk of economic collapse or a renegade superintelligence or grey goo, but I try not to let it dominate my worldview. It's there though. It's more likely than the Hadron Collider wiping out the world, for what that's worth.

Craig Perko said...

Farming is a lot of work.

Anyway, I don't deal with that kind of long shot. If it's less than 2%, who cares about it?

John Nesky said...

I'm in.

As long as I get internet.

Patrick said...

Farming is a lot of work, but there are techniques of design which you can invest into a property to make it less work. For example, chickens eat potatoe bugs.

Get them solar panels, a windmill and/or a local hyrdo turbine, get them satellite internet, and I bet you could get a significant groundswell of the population to re-locate to these rural techno-hippie gardens. The problem is, there currently does not exist a smooth model of investment, but that's just a matter of design and demonstrating attractive data in the results.

Craig Perko said...

I think that time is coming, I don't think it's here yet.