The recent political trends that have led to the election of Donald Trump to the White House and Brexit in the UK force those who believe and campaign for global governance to rethink their assumptions. The implicit assumption many of us have developed is that international integration is progressing, often very slowly, but that, after all, it is unconceivable that it could regress. Economic and social indicators, from international trade to Internet connection, from foreign direct investment to cross-border marriages, clearly show that the world continues to be more and more interdependent. Of course, integration has never been a smooth process, and we have seen how wars and economic crises could alter its course. Still, not even the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the 2008 economic crisis, have radically altered the long-term process towards international integration.
The advocates of global governance had an easy task to explain why political and institutional integration is much slower than integration in the social and economic sphere. We have accused national statesmen of being responsible for this since they have always been afraid to devolve competencies and power to international organizations.
The electoral choices of citizens in the United States and in the United Kingdom somehow challenge our beliefs. We should not forget that these two nations were major contributors to the design and promotion of a generation of international organizations. The wind has clearly changed. As advocates of democratic global governance, we have perhaps underestimated the reasons that have led a large part of the population to resist or even to be afraid of political international integration.
Luis Cabrera bravely reminds us that there is no proof that economic or social integration will slow down and, therefore, that we really need to govern international connections through appropriate institution-building. There are so many aspects of contemporary life, from Internet governance to international finance, that are ruled by obscure powers. And other aspects, from climate change to the protection of human rights, that are not ruled at all. Indeed, the only positive way to address these issues is to reinforce democratic global governance.
However, the message delivered by American and British citizens is that any form of global governance could be harmful. The message is much wider if we consider that in several European countries, including France, the Netherlands, and Ireland, the electorate put a halt to greater European integration. These reactions cannot be just labeled “populism.” We need to understand what is behind them.
The reason is, quite clearly, that the benefits of globalization have advantaged a few and disadvantaged the many. The fact that income inequality has increased so dramatically in the last forty years is the best indicator that globalization has not been neutral and, on the contrary, has implied massive redistribution of resources from poor to rich.
I think we need to put in additional effort in our institutional proposals to show what advantages can be delivered by global governance. So far, I think that we have missed the opportunity to link institutional proposals to specific social and economic consequences. Let me provide a few examples.
We have advocated the creation of a World Parliament, but we should have been more specific in arguing what this institution could do. We should have linked it to the possibility to raise resources through a Tobin tax on financial transactions able to finance global public goods.
We have campaigned for the International Criminal Court, and now that we have it, we cannot really see how it has effectively managed to end the impunity of those holding power. We should have campaigned more actively in order to account for massive violations of human rights.
We have supported the claims of asylum seekers and asked affluent states to be more generous in hosting them, but we have not properly discussed how the accommodation costs should be distributed across different strata of the population. And perhaps more importantly, we have not shown that better global governance could have also prevented many civil wars, allowing people to live in their original homes rather than searching uncertain fortune in host nations.
We have not yet managed to show that the contemporary inaction on climate change will ultimately be much more damaging and expensive for our children and grandchildren.
Cabrera is a courageous theorist to show us that there are political imperatives that need to be faced. There is no point to behave as an ostrich. An additional effort is today needed to show that institutional reforms are not just intellectual exercises.