Tue, Dec 10, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Governance in the global information age

By Joseph Nye

As a result, a Kenyan farmer in a remote district can now obtain information about crop prices or transfer funds, without having to travel long distances and wait in lines.

While such initiatives cannot solve the problem of inequality, they can help to relieve some of its most damaging effects.

At a time of rapid social change and relentless technological advancement, efforts to improve governance — at the local, national or international level — will require careful thought and experimentation in order to determine how to balance inclusive decision-making with the ever-evolving needs of markets. As the US diplomat Harlan Cleveland once asked, “How will we get everybody in on the act, and still get some action?”

Consider international institutions. Today, the world is organized into about 200 countries; in all likelihood, it will be in 2050 as well. However, only 16 governmental entities account for two-thirds of the world’s income and two-thirds of its population. Many have advocated the use of “double majorities” — which require a majority of votes according to two separate criteria, population and economic output — to elicit action from a manageable number of states while enhancing weaker states’ influence in decisionmaking.

However, though the G20 has moved in this direction, the approach to setting a global agenda remains flawed. Indeed, it seems to be most effective in times of crisis; in more normal times, as we have seen, the G20 struggles to get things done.

Moreover, even if the double-majority system helps to empower some weaker states, it does not account for the role of the world’s smallest countries in global decisionmaking processes. Although these countries represent a small share of the global population, they comprise a significant majority of the total number of countries.

One potential solution would be for states to represent each other, as occurs in the IMF. However, the fund’s experience exposes significant challenges in implementation.

World leaders have not yet figured out how to reconcile the moral conviction that all people are equal with the simple fact that all countries are not.

In a global information age, governance systems capable of addressing fundamental issues like security, welfare, liberty and identity will require coalitions that are small enough to function efficiently and a decision concerning what to do about those who are underrepresented.

Obviously, all of this calls for a lot more investigation. Exploring potential future scenarios, as the WEF has done, is an important step in the right direction.

Joseph Nye is a professor at Harvard University and chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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