March 29, 2006


Enough with the globo-gab: Transnationalism may be on the way out -- and not a moment too soon
(MARK STEYN, 3/27/06, Maclean's)

In Redefining Sovereignty, Orrin C. Judd brings together a splendid collection of essays on the tension between national sovereignty and the new transnational entities. Full disclosure: there's an approving quote from me on the front of the book, but other than that I have no stake in its success or failure; don't know Mr. Judd, nor most of his stellar contributors, from Václav Havel and Jesse Helms to Francis Fukuyama and Kofi Annan. The token Canadian is a good choice: David Warren, represented by a fine essay yoking Bush's approach to Islamism with Lincoln's to the Civil War -- liberating the Middle East is not the point of the exercise, any more than liberating the slaves was. But in both cases it was necessary to fulfill the strategic objectives of saving the Union a century and a half ago, and of saving the nation-state system today. As another contributor, Lee Harris, puts it, "The liberal world system has collapsed internally." He means that there are no longer, in Kant's phrase, "maxims of prudence." That's to say, we don't know the limits of behaviour. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map, we cannot reliably assure ourselves (though many foolish experts do) that this is just a bit of rhetorical red meat, a little playing to the gallery for the Saturday-night jihad crowd.

The transnational gabfests aren't much use in this new world. The Kyoto treaty is, in that sense, the quintessential expression of the higher multilateralism: the point of Kyoto is not to do anything about "climate change," but to give the impression of doing something about it, at great expense. If climate change is a pressing issue and if the global economy is responsible -- two pretty big "ifs" -- then Kyoto expends enormous (diplomatic) energy and (fiscal) resources doing nothing about it: even if those who signed on to it actually complied with it instead of just pretending to, all that would happen is that by 2050 the treaty would have reduced global warming by 0.07 degrees -- an amount that's statistically undetectable within annual climate variation.

That's fine for "climate change," which, insofar as there is an imminent threat, is a good half-millennium away. As Kofi Annan, the bespoke embodiment of transnationalism's polite fictions, says, "There is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations." Which is swell if your priority is "legitimacy." That and a dime'll get you a cup of coffee -- unless the tsunami hits and sweeps the lunch counter out to sea. Yet these days, even with natural disasters, the international order divides -- like Bagehot's view of the British constitution -- into its "dignified" and "efficient" halves. The efficient humanitarians -- the Pentagon and the Royal Australian Navy -- have boots on the ground in Indonesia and Sri Lanka within hours, rescuing people, feeding them, housing them. The dignified humanitarians -- the UN's 24/7 permanent humanitarian bureaucracy -- are back in New York holding press conferences to announce they'll be sending a top-level situation-assessment team to the general vicinity to conduct a situation assessment of the situation just as soon as the USAF emergency team has flown in and restored room service to the five-star hotel.

Kofi Annan referred to the UN's "unique legitimacy," and he's right about the "unique" part. The transnational system, in insisting that the foreign minister of Syria is no different from the foreign minister of Denmark, confers a wholly unmerited legitimacy on the planet's gangster states. In Redefining Sovereignty, Roger Scruton wonders of Saddam "how it is that a petty tyrant could have defied the world for so long." But, if "the world" is represented by the UN's "unique legitimacy," you don't have to defy it, you just have to strike a deal -- in this case, the Oil-for-Food program, that Hydra-headed racket under which, among other fascinating codicils and appendices, a million greenbacks from Saddam got funnelled via his Korean chum Tongsun Park into a Canadian petroleum company run by the son of the quintessential transnational Canadian Maurice Strong -- Mister Kyoto himself.

Based on current trends, by mid-century, America, India and China will each be producing roughly 25 per cent of world GDP, with Europe down to 10 per cent. As the columnist John O'Sullivan points out, the three global powerhouses are all strongly attached to traditional notions of national sovereignty, so Europeans and others who've bet on transnationalism have the next 10 years to cement its existing institutions and expand its reach.

Hard to cement the world when you can't even mucilage your own rotten countries together.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 29, 2006 9:55 AM

Nice review.

Posted by: erp at March 29, 2006 9:24 AM

Just got my copy from Abebooks.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at March 29, 2006 9:54 AM

That should help sell a few books. It'll reach those who never read dedicated book review columns.

Based on current trends, by mid-century, America, India and China will each be producing roughly 25 per cent of world GDP...

That's just silly.

The U.S. already produce 25% of measured world GDP. (There is a large amount of illegal, "off the books", and therefore largely uncounted activity; there is also an enormous amount of economically-productive activity that is consumed without ever having been monetarized, which is completely uncounted; subsistence farming, hunting/gathering, cashless bartering, and homemaking being examples).

Based on the current world, American, Chinese, Eurozone, and Indian GDPs, and factoring in what we know about current demographic trends and political instabilities, by doin' a little back-of-the-envelope figurin' we come up with:

World GDP.........$100 trillion
U.S. GDP...........$ 35 trillion
Eurozone GDP.....$ 15 trillion - 10 trillion*
Indian GDP........$ 10 trillion
Chinese GDP (PRC only) $ 10 trillion - 2 trillion**
All figures in 2005 dollars

* Depending on how much disruption there is surrounding the European Muslim issue, and whether Muslims take political control of any large Euro nations. The latter is assumed to have a negative effect on economic output.

** Depending on whether they only have internal turmoil, or a full-blown civil war, and whether their foreign policy is mostly peaceful, or if they fight numerous non-nuclear wars.

These are absolute dollar figures, not Purchasing Power Parity - for instance, although the Indians might have only one-third of the gross GDP of the U.S. in 2050, the average Indian household might still enjoy half the comfort of the average American household.

Although the current GDP of India is roughly half of China's current GDP, I assumed that India will grow at a higher sustained rate, due to their more mature political and economic systems.

This forecast is guaranteed to be wrong in the particulars.

However, it's likely to be completely accurate with respect to relationships and rankings.
The U.S. will grow much faster than the Eurozone or Japan over the next forty-plus years, and for either China or India to be producing 25% of world GDP by 2050 would require them to sustain literally staggering economic growth rates for forty years - an average of 7% for China, and 9% in India's case.
Very unlikely, in my view, and that's an understatement.

There is some small possibility that India will have surpassed the Eurozone by 2050, and a rather large probability that they will do so by 2100.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 29, 2006 12:35 PM



Posted by: Pepys at March 29, 2006 1:57 PM