Thursday, 9 March 2017

World Government is possibly The Worst Idea Ever

I was reading some old articles by Bertrand Russell on diverse topics and noticed his persistent urge to advocate the necessity of establishing World Government, even when it bore no relevance to the subject at hand.

Russell, the famous atheist, was a Government-worshiper. He wrote frequently as though Government gave rise to civilization rather than civilization to government, an unfortunately prevalent view to this day. To him it was a given that despite the many abuses that governments have perpetrated against their own people and those of one another (including two world wars in his time) that barbarism was the only alternative. One of the great tricks of government to disguise itself as society, and once the disguise is complete people come to view the achievements of society instead as the achievements of government. The more successes people attribute to government the more of it they will surely call for. Russel called for the ultimate amount - world government.

One of the reasons why most products we buy meet our needs - and reliably so - is that markets allow for a plurality of ideas to be tested against each other and for the best of those to ideas to prevail. People copy ideas and improve on them.  In an environment where there is a minimum of patent laws and monopolistic government regulations, companies can even learn from the best ideas of their competitors and mix them with their own ingenuity to create ever better products as we see in the fast moving tech and software industries. Bad ideas don't last very long, and the consequences of poorly thought out plans and products are limited to some small number of producers and consumers. Meanwhile, successful ideas are proven on the small scale before being adopted more widely, spreading out to the furthest reaches of the earth the way mobile phones are now reaching the world's poorest populations.

On the other hand, when government rolls out a policy they do so across an entire economy, and policy-makers essentially have to make a "best guess" of what will work without any small scale trials, and without any optimisation through a trial and error process with kills bad ideas and allows good ones to be tested on small populations of voluntary consumers before becoming more and more widely adopted through word of mouth. Government edicts are rolled out across the entire nations on the assumption that they will work as planned, but all policies have secondary and tertiary consequences that cannot be easily predicted. When policies go wrong, as they often do, they can have dreadful consequences for million of people or across generations, and often government will be called on to respond to the ensuing crises with another volley of "best guesses" that have not past the litmus test of trial and error by end-user approval. Often the cure in one area turns out to be poison in another.

If there is one saving grace of governments it's that they don't have jurisdictions that extend to the entire planet. As such they have the example of other nations who have tried a multitude policies that have turned out well or poorly (or more realistically poorly or disastrously) which they can learn from the example of. If one country is too regulated industry dies and it must emulate its neighbors. If another has taxes which are too high people will flee next door. Indeed one of the reasons why Switzerland is so successful a nation is that it has a Federalized form of government extending over twenty six Cantons in an area no bigger than Virginia. Because policies that work well in one area can easily be adopted in another, and populations can easily move from one state to another in response to bad ones, their government is relatively benign.

So what are we to make of the calls of great figures such as Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, H. G. Wells, Mahatma Ghandi, and Russell, all of whom called on governments to proceed further by taking gradual steps towards forming an effectual federal world government? Or those progressives that are ever eager to see this done in the name of preventing the greedy rich from moving their fortunes offshore to avoid paying taxes?

Only that they are grievously optimistic about the benefits which world government may bestow, and woefully naive about its dangers.

Governments grow, and as they do so to does their power and influence. Vested interests are always willing to turn a blind eye to abuses taking place under the watch of those whom they are partisan to. The Right turned a blind eye while Bush sent eroded civil liberties and actively supported his invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan - after jeering Clinton's intervention in Kosovo. Obama, before elected, complained of the expansion of power in the executive branch under Bush, only to spend eight years strengthening the executive branch at the expense of Congress and The Senate. Now the left, who turned a blind eye to this use (or abuse) of executive power protest in horror as the very power they allowed Obama to accumulate has been transferred into the hands of arch-nemesis Trump.

If you want to know how bad an idea World Government is just close your eyes and picture a combination of the most devious, incompetent and glib politicians you have ever seen, and then imagine them secretly forming cohorts to compete for control of that government; because that is precisely what is going to happen should we ever face such bad luck.

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