Sat, Oct 12, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Global government can be a force for good if used properly

By Nancy Birdsall


Less obviously, when governments provide funding for the IMF, they can sidestep domestic political resistance to assisting countries in trouble and to rules that yield benefits only in the long term. Indeed, embedding fair rules on trade, finance, development, climate change and other issues in the major global institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank is more important than ever, given the rise of China and other emerging-market economies. With these new powers seeking a place at the geopolitical table, they and the older powers can benefit from mutually agreed global “containment” of their domestic parochialism and short-sightedness.

In other words, global rules and institutions can make it easier and more likely that all involved will hew to their own citizens’ broader interests — and thus to the global commonwealth as well. For example, pledges to cut carbon emissions, while lacking any enforcement mechanism, may be helping countries to do the right thing for their own citizens’ children and grandchildren.

Moreover, fair global rules can help to “democratize” the global market, especially if they are embedded in institutions with a degree of autonomy for highly professional staff who can act with some independence from short-term political pressures. It should come as no surprise that the anti-globalists’ erstwhile punching bags — the World Bank and, increasingly, the IMF and the WTO — are more open and transparent than many of their member states. They thus provide a vehicle for ordinary people to lobby for fairer rules and policies, not only in their own countries, but also in others.


One example of this was the citizen-based movement that fought WTO intellectual property rules, adopted at the behest of the US and other rich countries, that were sustaining high prices for anti-AIDS drugs in Africa. The campaign succeeded, resulting in changes that dramatically increased poor countries’ access to such drugs.

Ultimately, as I argue in greater detail in a paper for the Global Citizens Foundation, ordinary people are better off with global institutions, notwithstanding their weakness relative to their most powerful sovereign members and their lack of legitimacy relative to their democratic members.

Of course, a world “government” could never have democratic legitimacy; for this reason, it is a scary idea. However, like a socialist utopia or pure libertarianism, the idea of world government can illuminate a sensible path for capturing the benefits of a more effective global polity.

Given a fully interdependent global market, we should worry less about the risk of bad rules and policies from imperfect global institutions and more about how to exploit these institutions’ potential to lock in policies at home and abroad that minimize risks and maximize opportunities for people everywhere.

Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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