Why Should We Care?

There are two threads running through these essays. The first is about who is actually running the world, which probably is of concern mostly to scholars and pundits. The second is, who should be running the world, and toward what ends.

On the first, Dan, I think you don’t really mean your original assertion that “small states and nonstate actors do not affect governance outcomes.” Frequently they do. Certainly businesses have a big impact on regulatory decisions at national and particularly international levels. In areas from Internet governance to the insurance industry phytosanitary standards, there’s a lot of “self-regulation” going on, with private actors negotiating and setting the rules themselves. With regard to civil society, the 1990s saw an explosion of books documenting the impact of transnational civil society networks on one issue after another, from landmines to nuclear arms control to most environmental issues. No, of course civil society groups do not independently make and enforce policy. But they do matter, a lot and often.

Dan, your more interesting point is that, as Kal noted, the world remains “bumpy,” not flat. Even the powerful forces behind economic integration aren’t driving the world to a uniform stage of policy convergence. That means the real question is: what explains the bumpiness? Or, in your terms, under what conditions do states retain substantial autonomy to set regulatory policy in the era of globalization? That’s the question you really seem to be addressing. Your answer seems to be: “great powers with clearly defined interests can resist pressures for policy convegence.” I completely agree. State power still matters. But it is not all that matters, because most states aren’t great powers, and most great powers frequently have pretty cloudy and changeable ideas of what constitutes their own interests.

That is both good news and bad, because it means there are multiple options for running the world. Sometimes it will be great power agreement, sometimes not. Usually it’s an unholy mess with many contending actors. But what is lacking in almost all of these options are well-developed procedures for ensuring that people affected by the rules have some input into making them, and some way of holding rule-makers accountable. How should global rules be set?

Kal’s right that we are moving, without much thought, into a world where matters that used to be handled at the domestic level are being addressed internationally. But people have spent centuries developing procedures to provide for at least a modicum of public participation in and accountability of national-level decision making systems. Those administrative law procedures, with all their flaws, are crucial. They fill in the gap between the blunt instrument of elections and the day-to-day rulemaking that has such an enormous impact on people’s lives. They allow people affected by rules and proposed rules to comment on those rules, pursue judicial remedies to bureaucracy run amok, etc.

Global administrative law, by contrast, is woefully underdeveloped. That’s why, as Kal notes, we hear so much now about demands for transparency and accountability at the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank. That’s why humanitarian relief groups have banded together in the “Humanitarian Accountability Project” to develop rules so that the intended beneficiaries – refugees and internally displaced persons needing humanitarian relief – have some voice in how the relief groups treat them.

So we’re in a messy stage of global governance. The big question now is, what do we do about it?

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Drawing from his recent book, All Politics is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, Tufts University’s Daniel Drezner explains that “for many issues that comprise the daily substance of our lives … the politics have gone global.” However, he argues, the intellectual response to this development has been out of proportion to its real extent. When great powers coordinate on regulatory standards, that may be enough to shift the rest of the globe. But, as Drezner illustrates from examples ranging from the Internet to genetically modified foods, when the costs of adjustment are too high for states with economic heft, global regulatory coordination tends not to be forthcoming. In the end, we get neither a “race to the bottom,” nor liberation from the state through jurisdictional competition. “Globalization is not irrelevant to global governance,” Drezner concludes, “but it is not transformative either.”

Response Essays

  • Ann Florini, director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore and senior fellow at the Brookings Institutions disagrees with Daniel Drezner’s claim that global governance remains dominated by a few great state powers. “We’re heading for a multi-polar system where very different kinds of states, at very different levels of development, will matter,” Florini argues. And, she maintains, “ ‘regulation’ is no longer done only by governments.” For example, corporations, not states, put international protection of intellectual property rights on the table, but it was small states and pressure from civil society groups that eventually determined effective policy. Florini suggests Drezner’s analysis is confused by an over-simple idea of the interests of great states. “How states define what their interests are is one of the most important ways globalization is affecting outcomes in global rule-making.”

  • Jeremy A. Rabkin, professor of law at George Mason, writes, “one can accept almost everything [Drezner] says in his essay and still think the challenges we face now are different, in important ways, from the patterns we had become accustomed to in the past.” The collapse of communism and the discrediting of socialism has led to a world in which “states now are so entangled in international regimes — because so entangled in international exchange — that the accepted rules of international economic conduct are now recognized to be very important.” Though the U.S. can in principle block international rules contrary to its overall interests, domestic interests jump at the chance to push their narrow agendas, it is often easier to go along than to fight, and some marginal changes occur simply through neglect. But “marginal changes can add up to sizable effects in the aggregate.”

  • “In the main [Drezner’s] argument is persuasive,” writes Kal Raustiala, director of UCLA’s Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations. However, the continued preeminence of states on the world stage “is a bit more ambiguous and complex than Drezner suggests.” Raustiala argues that critics of globalization increasingly “expect more openness, more transparency, more accountability; in other words, a process more like domestic governance.” Raustiala contends that can learn something important by looking to domestic politics: powerful lobbyists and special interests did not emerge because the state was getting weaker. “The rise of interdependence and NGOs in American society didn’t signal the end of the state; it signaled the growth of the state.”