From nation-centric to world-centric approaches

Excerpted from an interview by PCDN’s Maha Hilal with John Bunzl of Simpol (Simultaneous Policy):

Can you explain what you mean by conceptualizing problems nation-centrically?

Yes, let me give you an example. Let’s take the problem of horrendously excessive bankers’ bonuses. Most people, when they’re confronted by this get very angry. They get angry with greedy bankers and they get angry with their government for not regulating the banks, or for not taxing them. But that’s because they’re seeing the problem nation-centrically. They think our government needs to act and believe our government has the power to act.

But when you move up to a world-centric level of conceptual thinking you realize that banks operate in the competitive global market where they are more or less forced to pay these top bonuses. Because if they didn’t, they’d only lose their top people to other banks. So with world-centric thinking you not only see this, but also that individual governments can’t regulate because any government that moves first to do so, would only lose their banking business to some other country.

Now, I’m not suggesting individual governments can’t do anything at all, don’t get me wrong. What I’m suggesting is that only global cooperation amongst all, or virtually all, governments can really solve the problem. Generally speaking, most people today still believe too much that their government has the power to solve these kind of problems. But in a globalized world, the fact is they don’t. But because people still think they do, they get very angry when their government fails to act. They just think their government is negligent or corrupt. But the real fact is that, because of the vicious circle they’re stuck in, governments in a globalized world only have about 20% of the power they would really need. The other 80% can only be achieved, in my view, by some form of global governance or simultaneous action. So when we move to world-centric thinking, we realize that only global governance can solve today’s global problems.

What is world centric thinking? (I know you’ve kind of touched on this)

World-centric thinking would really be a recognition that not just governments but corporations and banks are locked in this vicious circle. That’s because if corporations and banks don’t keep their stock prices up, they’ll lose out to their competitors. Meantime, as we saw, governments are locked in the vicious circle of not being able to regulate because of the fear of competitive disadvantage. So when you think world-centrically, you realize that actually this isn’t about blaming and shaming corporations or governments. Of course that’s not to say there aren’t some evil ones out there, but in the broad scheme of things, you start to realize that what we really need is global governance; that if you have a global economy, you have to have some form of binding global governance-we will never solve anything without it.

Take a look, for example, at the European Union and the Euro crisis. There you see that even the mighty EU is not big enough, is not global enough to withstand the power of global bond markets. Global bond markets, because they are global, and because Europe is only European, can run rings around Europe without any problem and will reduce one European economy after another to economic basket cases.

So, our thinking needs to catch up to this world-centric level where we deeply “get” that actually global governance is not some scary kind of ‘black helicopter’ idea of us being dominated by a monolithic government bureaucracy, but rather, that it’s a question of cooperation; of reaching a global agreement which releases us from the chains that global problems are now increasingly tightening around us. The Euro crisis is a perfect example of why only global cooperation will do. So it’s our thinking that really needs to change and move up to a world-centric, systemic level.

Can you talk about what it would mean to have a global economy?

Well we already have one. That means capital and corporations now move globally and relatively freely and can basically set-up where they want and can move resources and capital from one part of the world to another at the click of a computer mouse. So to my mind, we already have a global economy. What we don’t have is the governance structure to hold it and regulate it. It’s like having the Olympic Games but without any rules or enforcement. You’d end up with a chaotic free for all. It’s actually not difficult to understand. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but that’s how it seems to me.

What is the difference between government and governance?

I’m glad you asked that. When I talk about government, I mean a full, centralized government with all its attendant bureaucracy, as we would understand it in the U.S. or in Western Europe. This, then, is the Western conception of government and of course that is exactly the problem. Because, when people talk about global governance, what do we do? We take our mental model of national government and blow it up to the global level. So we think global governance will necessarily be the same as national government.

But to me, global governance is something quite different. What it means is that you can have the global regulations, agreements and enforcement that you need, but you don’t have to have a centralized government in order to achieve it, and it doesn’t have to be top-down. And that’s where the Simultaneous Policy potentially comes in.

The Simultaneous Policy (or Simpol for short) offers us a way for global governance to come from the bottom up. With Simpol, citizens not only use their votes to drive their politicians towards global cooperation, they also use the internet and various policy development tools to actually agree the policies themselves. I will explain later exactly how Simpol works but the point is that you don’t have to have a centralized global government to achieve global governance. You can in principle achieve the necessary global coverage of regulations without some kind of monolithic, centralized global bureaucracy, which I think most people, including me, wouldn’t want to see.

I totally understand a lot people in the States, who are quite libertarian minded, some perhaps overly so, who have an instinct for freedom and for no more constraint or government than is absolutely necessary, and I would agree with them. But you don’t need a centralized government at the global level. What you need is the regulation, negotiated compensations and agreement which make it in everybody’s interest to cooperate.

What would global governance look like?

Well, first let me say that the way the world is trying to solve its problems now is a joke, because today’s international treaties only deal with one issue at a time, like carbon emissions. But the problem is that every single issue has winners and losers, right? So if you have just one issue on its own, like carbon emisions, you’re never going to get cooperation because the big losers are never going to cooperate. That’s why the U.S. and China don’t.

But, if you took two complementary issues together, things could be very different. For argument’s sake, say we took a currency transactions (Tobin) tax and negotiated that alongside a carbon emissions agreement, you would then have billions of dollars raised from the tax to pay off the big losers on the carbon emissions part of the agreement. That’s a pretty crude example, of course, but all I’m just suggesting is that, until we start mixing two or more complementary issues together that build opportunities for trade-offs, we will never, ever, solve anything. But mix two or more issues together, and you start to see that, actually, we can make meaningful agreements that are in everybody’s interest. This, to my mind, is what global governance should start to look like.

To envision it, all we need to ask is: Why do we cooperate? We cooperate because it’s in our interest. So we need to think about how we make global cooperation in everyone’s interests. You know, most people think cooperation is about self-sacrifice, But, cooperation is actually about self-interest. But it’s question of how you organize it and manage it in such a way that it actually happens. And again, that’s the kind of framework that Simpol offers the world.

How can be the advantages of cooperation between states be better promoted?

Well, this is a great question. The trouble, I think, is that governments are so pre-occupied and embedded in the whole mindset of how to keep their national economy competitive—they’re so stuck in the competitive mindset—that they can’t even think of cooperation. They can’t even think about what we could do if we all cooperated together; if we implemented these things simultaneously; if we combined complementary issues together. Sadly, they can’t even think about that. And that’s why we need a bottom-up, civil society movement, to actually help our politicians to understand what cooperation is about and how they can actually achieve it. But I don’t think politicians are going to do this by themselves and that’s why it’s so important that we citizens use a tool like Simpol to get the penny to drop.

What is your opinion about consumerism and in particular, what do you think about the power of each citizen to stop buying goods whose production implies pollution, exploitation (of man’s labour, natural resources of poorer countries and conflict or instability maintenance, etc) or any other form of oppression of life, as a tool for change from the bottom. Isn’t this a good way to start thinking out of the box and seeing where the real power is?

I think ideas like ethical consumerism or fair trade are valid, but the problem is that, in our globalized world, the power of the individual consumer tends to be very diffuse. You can get consumers to act quite effectively on very immediate “lightening rod” issues. For example, some decades ago, there was the Brent Spar oil platform, which I think Shell wanted to dump into the middle of the Atlantic or something—I can’t quite remember what the whole scenario was. But it was a huge “lightening rod” issue and consumers, by the thousands, stopped buying Shell petrol and that forced the company into changing its policy.

Now, that kind of action works when you’ve got a very focused, concentrated, immediate issue that galvanizes thousands and thousands of people. But the fact is, that 99% of our problems in the world don’t revolve around an oil platform or some “lightening rod” issue and therefore, to get enough consumers to make enough difference at the same time to make all companies adopt sustainable behavior, is almost impossible. That’s why, ultimately, we have to do this through politics, because the question is not how to make some trade fair, it is how do we make all trade fair. How do we solve this problem properly, not just piecemeal. To my mind, ethical consumerism is great and of course it should be supported, but it’s not really a substitute for the kind of global governance solution I’ve been talking about.”

For more information about Simultaneous Policy watch this video interview with founder John Bunzl:

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