The “Thickening” of Global Government

I agree with Kal that the combination of a shift to multipolarity, combined with the “thickening” of global governance structures, leads us to a very uncertain future. Simply put, an increase in the number of great powers will increase the likelihood of forum creation and forum shopping. The normative effects of this shift could cut in one of two ways.

The first possibility is that the thickening will actually lead to a market for global governance. Because substitutable structures exist, there will be an incentive for each organization to perform better, in order to attract more adherents. Even if some parts of the globe did not sign on, the effect could be something like “efficient subsidiarity.” This competition for governance leads to a world in which each organization improves itself because of the fear of great power exit. No one organization could claim a monopoly on any particular issue, but like-minded states would be able to cooperate.

The second possibility, which I talked about in my last post, is a tragedy of the institutional commons. This is more likely to take place in two situations. Either there are cases where cooperation among like-minded actors is insufficient to solve the governance problem, or there are cases where the adjustment costs are so high that noncooperation is the best outcome for all concerned.

In the end, I suspect that there will be as many problems that fall into the latter category as the former. We face a number of big public goods issues, such as global warming or the prevention of pandemics, where there is no great power concert.

As for adjustment costs, they will rise in our globalized future. The expansion of tradable activities has begun to impinge on longstanding service sectors, such as accounting, medicine, education, and the law. Many of the services that are rapidly becoming tradable—airlines, education, telecommunications, utilities—have been traditionally run by state-owned enterprises. This means that the forces behind globalization will affect professions, workers, and state-run institutions that have been set in their ways of doing business for centuries.

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.”