Rodrik’s trilemma and the OBR

by Chris Bertram on May 17, 2010

I’m grateful to commenters Lemuel Pitkin and Bill Gardner, who pointed me towards Rodrik’s trilemma the other day. In his latest Project Syndicate piece, Rodrik represents the trilemma thus:

economic globalization, political democracy, and the nation-state are mutually irreconcilable. We can have at most two at one time. Democracy is compatible with national sovereignty only if we restrict globalization. If we push for globalization while retaining the nation-state, we must jettison democracy. And if we want democracy along with globalization, we must shove the nation-state aside and strive for greater international governance.

Possibly for pedantic reasons, I’m not all that happy with this formulation. After all, national sovereignty is pre-eminently a legal concept and democracy might be defined merely in procedural terms, and it isn’t at all obvious why regular elections, legal sovereignty and globalization would be incompatible in the way Rodrik suggests. However, there’s a more careful version in his 2000 paper “How far will international economic integration go?” (J. Econ Perspectives 14:1) where the trilemma is expressed as being between international economic integration, the nation state, and “mass politics”, where the latter refers to

political systems where: a) the franchise is unrestricted; b) there is a high degree of political mobilization; and c) political institutions are responsive to moblized groups. (p.180)

In the 2000 article, Rodrik discusses Friedman’s “Golden Straitjacket” where “mass politics” is the disappearing bit:

the shrinkage of politics would get reflected in the insulation of economic policy-making bodies (central banks, fiscal authorities, and so on) from political participation and debate …. (p. 183)

Cue Stephanie Flanders on the UK’s new Office for Budget Responsibility.

{ 59 comments }

1

Guido Nius 05.17.10 at 11:18 am

It is exactly for those ‘pedantic’ reasons (sic) that we ought to let go of the nation state – which is why everybody on the right clings on to it, because they don’t really care about democracy, and they understand globalization is unavoidable. This is what is behind the speculation against our Euro.

The question really is what legal concepts we need in a globalized world that are devolved from the nation states.

2

Luis Enrique 05.17.10 at 11:23 am

Chris,

on subject of fiscal policy retreating out of the reach of the political process, here are some links:

Besley and Scott on a UK fiscal policy committee:
http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4680

fire and forget fiscal policy:
http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2010/02/fireandforget-fiscal-policy.html

An Oxford econ who advocates ‘fiscal councils’:
http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/members/simon.wren-lewis/fc/fiscal_councils.htm

(I also owe you an apology for intemperate comments on a previous thread, regardless of whether I think you have a warped view of The Economist, or not)

3

champagne molotov 05.17.10 at 11:34 am

I suppose this shows why procedural accounts of democracy are uninteresting at best, and often misguiding.

4

a.y.mous 05.17.10 at 11:59 am

As has been oft repeated across various technical interactions amongst many practitioners, a great engineer once somewhere is said to have spoken, “Fast, good, cheap. Pick any two.”

Isn’t the OP a vacuous truism?

5

Matt 05.17.10 at 12:03 pm

An awful lot here turns on what’s meant by the terms other than “democracy”, too. People use “nation-state” to mean a lot of different things, not all of them compatible or, to my mind, desirable. The same is true of “globalization”, where it’s just not clear that this must mean “financial integration” in a very strong sense. People tend to forget the quite high levels of globalization, in the sense of trade, labor movement, etc. that existed in earlier periods without anything like the financial integration that has developed recently or is dreamed of. What path is best I’m not able to say, but I suspect a lot of these arguments turn heavily on ambiguity and equivocation rather than detailed analysis.

6

Stuart 05.17.10 at 12:52 pm

Don’t 49 of the 50 US States have balanced budgets set in their constitutions, which depending on their exact formulation would seem to be more restrictive than something like this (obviously from California we can see that not all of them work particularly well, as for example there it is only the initial budget plan has to be balanced and later revisions to get it approved don’t have to be).

7

JulesLt 05.17.10 at 1:01 pm

There was good post on Charles Stross’ blog where he pointed out that the big problem in the rhetoric over globalisation is that it ignores labour – i.e. capital flows towards lower wage areas. In contrast, labour – if free to move – would seek out better salaries (i.e. the most skilled Chinese workers would be off to Germany and the USA, while unskilled workers should be able to migrate easily to China).

What’s interesting is how much ‘globalisation’ in that sense depends on nation states keeping labour movement restricted (and equally, also in suppressing the organisation of low-wage labour).

Of course there are lots of other factors, like the fact that people don’t generally move outside their linguistic area, generally like to be within reasonable living distance of their family.

Personally, of the three, I’d lose globalisation – the evidence is that it largely raises inequality, without generating the trickle-down benefits that were supposed to be the outcome. The only real ‘benefit’ to poorer people is cheaper consumer goods – but only at the cost of destroying their jobs.

(Of course there’s a benefit to the Chinese workers, etc, whose inequality with Western workers is reduced, but you have to be seriously global in your view to ignore the inequality impacts closer to home).

8

Matt 05.17.10 at 1:12 pm

In contrast, labour – if free to move – would seek out better salaries

This is surely true to some degree, but it’s important to not over estimate it. Within the US, for example, there are, of course, no legal restrictions on movement, and even the semi-regulatory ones (i.e., different licensing and credentialing schemes in different states) are easier to over-come than would be likely in a world of more fluid labor movement internationally. But, there are still fairly large differences in pay for essentially the same jobs in different parts of the US, and movement out of bad economic areas is often very slow. There are reasons for this- homes that can’t be sold, etc. And the differences in wage rates w/in the US is obviously not as great as between the US and other countries, but I think it’s important not to over-estimate how mobile labor would be if given the opportunity.

9

Rich Puchalsky 05.17.10 at 1:28 pm

Oy. “We can have at most two at a time” of things of which one, the nation-state, *everyone has*. I know that it doesn’t take much to be supposedly insightful, but really, this is silly.

“Economic globalization”, too, is something that a large majority of the world’s population is brought into whether they want it or not, under the current definition of the term. (And yes, there are all sorts of barriers to greater labor mobility. Try moving away from family and friends, to start with. Or learning a new language.)

So what is this really saying? That we need an imaginary One World State or that we need to give up on democracy? Didn’t another CT poster just have a post about how we were going to start seeing calls to jettison democracy because of economic reasons?

10

Guido Nius 05.17.10 at 1:40 pm

We don’t need an imaginary One World State but a real One World Government wouldn’t be too bad, at least insofar as global things are concerned: human rights, financial & labour regulations and all those good things.

11

y81 05.17.10 at 1:42 pm

This doesn’t seem like a real trilemma, because one of the cells is not a viable option. What would the system look like that jettisoned the nation-state, while retaining mass politics and global (you can no longer use the word “international”) economic integration? I have never seen even the vaguest of blueprints for such a system. The international bodies that exist now are even more isolated from mass politics than central banks, supreme courts etc. at the nation-state level.

12

Lemuel Pitkin 05.17.10 at 1:58 pm

democracy might be defined merely in procedural terms

True, the trilemma doesn’t exist if you define democracy that way. But why would you want to?

I think the deeper divide here is between the view held by most economists that democracy is just a tool for producing optimal policy outcomes that are in principle independent of the political process, on the one hand. And on the other, the view of someone like Hannah Arendt that there are important irreducibly political questions to which no answer exists prior to the process of collective decision-making, and that democracy as self-rule is a positive value apart from whatever policies it yields. (And regardless of specific procedures; Arendt, again, is very clear that majority voting in itself has no necessary relationship with democracy.) I think the latter view is right, which is probably not surprising; what is surprising, and interesting, is that Rodrik seems to too. It’s democracy in that stronger sense that is threatened by the combination of national sovereignty and a global economy.

Of course if you define democracy your way, you won’t be convinced; but that’s not a flaw in the argument, it’s just a sign you start from different premises. Anyway, I’m glad you you found the piece stimulating.

13

Bruce Baugh 05.17.10 at 1:59 pm

I read this and confess to immediately thinking, but the trilemma’s already been resolved and democracy lost out, some while back. It’s particularly blatant right at the moment in the US, where the views of most of the public on matters like war aren’t selectable options at all, but this is a long-term thing.

14

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.17.10 at 2:01 pm

Seem to me that, simply, national sovereignty (democracy or not) is incompatible with globalization. That’s the whole point of national sovereignty.

15

Chris Bertram 05.17.10 at 2:11 pm

Luis @2. That’s OK – you can buy me a beer sometime (maybe you already have) under conditions of strict anonymity, of course.

16

Lemuel Pitkin 05.17.10 at 2:13 pm

So what is this really saying? That we need an imaginary One World State or that we need to give up on democracy? Didn’t another CT poster just have a post about how we were going to start seeing calls to jettison democracy because of economic reasons?

Well yes, except it wasn’t “another CT poster” but Chris Bertram himself. And Bill Gardener and I gave our links to this piece in response to exactly that post.

It’s interesting, tho, how you’ve truncated Rodrik’s argument. What he actually says could be fairly summarized as “we need a (perhaps impossible) One World State, we need to sharply reduce the level of global economic integration, or that we need to give up on democracy” You’ve removed the middle term — unconciously, I’m guessing, because, I suspect, to most contemporary liberals it is literally unthinkable.

Rodrik’s point is just that if you are committed to globalization, and you don’t believe any kind of global state is possible, then you are going to find yourself, wittingly or not, on the side of those who want to roll back democracy. Exactly the point of the previous post — except that while CTers would prefer to relegate the anti-democratic impulse to the dead-enders in the Murdoch press, Rodrik locates it — correctly IMO — right in the heart of the liberal project.

Reactions to this piece are a nice index of the atrophy of the liberal imagination. Rodrik is saying nothing here that Keynes wasn’t saying in the 30s and 40s — indeed, the Bretton Woods institutions were originally created precisely on the basis of reasoning very much along these lines. If you’re shocked by Rodrik’s analysis (or if you like it, for that matter) just wait until you read Keynes on National Self-Sufficiency.

17

alex 05.17.10 at 2:29 pm

When you live, like me, in a country of 60 million people that has to import at least 40% of its total food consumption [and has done something like that for at least the last 120 years, ever since they invented refridgerated shipping], deglobalisation is a big ask.

18

Guido Nius 05.17.10 at 2:31 pm

For those radically pessimistic about ‘one world government’, there is little denying that the last years saw more of the global power shifting to the BRIC-countries. Maybe the way if shifted is a far cry from our nation-state democratic traditions but all the same it makes the global decision making a lot more democratic than it was when only the Western democracies determined what the outcome on e.g. global trade should be.

I think lemuel is right: people are very unimaginative on what a global democracy could be like.

19

a.y.mous 05.17.10 at 2:40 pm

Today, a political trans-national entity has to necessarily feed off a national economy (%age of contribution, be it monetary or personnel, is way skewed in the UN, IMF, World Bank). Similarly a corporate conglomerate spanning 3 continents has to have a local government propping it, even if only for taxation purposes.

Growth needs external input. Trans-national empires worked in the past only in so far as resources were available to be picked and packed, including able bodies. We have no more such untapped resources off mother Gaia’s breasts. The earth is not a closed system. There is this thing called Sol feeding us without so much as a thank you from us in return. Mayan altars notwithstanding.

So where is this new sun going to rise from?

20

Walt 05.17.10 at 2:50 pm

Rich: Rodrik is a globalization skeptic. He thinks that to the extent we have to choose, we should choose democracy and the nation-state over globalization. For example, he supports capital controls to minimize the impact of hot-money flows into and out of a country’s financial markets.

21

ajay 05.17.10 at 3:17 pm

there is little denying that the last years saw more of the global power shifting to the BRIC-countries.

Not all of them. China’s certainly more influential now than it was 10 or 20 years ago; arguably the same is true of India. But Russia certainly isn’t more powerful now than it was in the days of the USSR.

22

Anderson 05.17.10 at 3:29 pm

we ought to let go of the nation state

“We” would first have to consult with the, er, nationalities. Who, by their nature, have strong feelings on that subject. Nationalism is not something cooked up by the British Secret Service or the Elders of Zion.

… Re: Rodrik’s point, I fail to perceive it as going any deeper than “you can’t have liberty AND the rule of law” — a dilemma, or trilemma, that is academically correct but practically vacuous. We have competing trends and values, we balance them as best we can, the system lurches on. It will be true that we “can’t have” nation states or democracy or globalization when we actually cease to have one (or more) of them. Until then, we have them imperfectly, which is the usual state of affairs.

23

Anderson 05.17.10 at 3:31 pm

He thinks that to the extent we have to choose, we should choose democracy and the nation-state over globalization.

Now *there* is a curious choice of means to resisting the viral spread of capitalism. I suppose one could endorse the Tea Partiers’ anti-immigration stance on such a theory.

24

Clod Levi-Strauss 05.17.10 at 3:45 pm

The right is divided between capitalist globalizers and nativists, but as someone pointed out above the globalizers make money off the nativists. And a large number of both groups are divided in themselves on these issues: they want the right to rule without the risk of being ruled.

Liberals meanwhile are torn between liberalizing immigration and the knowledge, which they have a hard time accepting, that unregulated immigration is a problem for the legally resident poor. Barbara Jordan was ignored on the issue and the “no one is illegal” movement if small has a moral pull that liberals have a hard time arguing against, though in fact it’s just silly. And at the same time liberals are also very much in favor of globalization as homogenization which rightfully disgusts conservatives. This ties into liberal preference for “integrity” and “objectivity” which are no more than terms that allow neoliberals to call themselves center-left rather than what they are, no more than center right. Homogenization means there’re no outsiders to tell you you’re full of shit.
But liberals can’t imagine that ever being the case and anyone who says they’re wrong is obviously an irrationalist.

Liberals want a world government modeled on google, on homogenization and collaborative reason, but we need one modeled more on FIFA and Trobriand Cricket, on law as it’s practiced in courtrooms not by philosophers: estheticized war and civil (as opposed to uncivil) unreason. Liberal idealism is based on a lie, but liberalism, as any honest realist will tell you, is a necessity.

25

Clod Levi-Strauss 05.17.10 at 4:41 pm

And as far as estheticized war goes this is a pretty lovely example, quoted in a comment by sg in a previous post
“I would appreciate it if you would humbly allow me to decline any dirty suggestions that you deign to honour me with.”

26

Rebecca Burlingame 05.17.10 at 4:53 pm

Actually I can understand to a degree the lessening of the nation state in this example. Say a local community has extra quantities of a resource that they could provide for someone else and those resources are not needed at home but overseas. Rather than depending on nation induced models of pricing, two local areas in two countries could do the arbitrage themselves.

27

Luke 05.17.10 at 5:07 pm

I’m broadly in agreement with Rodrik, but I’d express it differently:

To the degree that capital is organised globally, it will be more powerful than any competing class force which is not organised globally.

To the degree that mass politics is kept at the level of the Nation-state, labour is not organised globally.

To the degree that any minority class is more powerful than a majority class, there is no democracy.

=> Democracy is reduced to the degree that globalisation (of capital) co-exists with the nation-state (as the arena for the political mobilisation of labour).

=> Workers of the world, unite, and etc.

Is this equivalent to the trilemma?

28

alex 05.17.10 at 5:51 pm

@25: “I regret to have to inform you that it is not possible for me to comply with the request that you have seen fit to honour me with, and beg that you will permit me to suggest that such a function might best be accomplished by your good self. Please accept the assurance of my most esteemed sentiments, and I remain, by your leave, your most humble and obedient servant.”

29

LFC 05.17.10 at 6:34 pm

@11: The international bodies that exist now are even more isolated from mass politics than central banks, supreme courts etc. at the nation-state level.
Not in all cases, I think.

30

Rich Puchalsky 05.17.10 at 7:45 pm

If someone wants to theorize about doing away with the nation-state, I’d much prefer that they write about anarchism than they write about One World State. But I guess that’s just a failure of my liberal imagination.

Going back to immediate practicalities, the point is that people don’t really get to choose whether they want to participate in economic globalization or not. The idea that they could choose not to by voting in a few trade barriers and capital controls is poorly supported, I think. There are all sorts of actually existing institutions that are designed (successfully so far) to keep countries from doing that.

So there is a trilemma, the three branches of which are:
a) the nation-state, something which no one has currently escaped, and which if escaped in theory has a far preferable body of work around anarchism to follow;
b) economic globalism, something which almost everyone on “the left” would like to escape in some way, but something which in practical terms has severe difficulties;
c) democracy, which although poorly defined in the only one of the three that a sizeable part of the world population does not have, and which there are well-known procedures for losing.

Whatever Rodrik’s intent, I don’t think much of the validity of the trilemma, or its implications if taken seriously.

31

Geoffrey 05.17.10 at 8:38 pm

I’m not sure which is more ridiculous, the false choices set out in the trilemma or the seriousness with which it is taken by people who are supposed to be smart.

It is quite possible that most people in most places would reject all three. Or that some form of gradual international integration would occur that respects all three. Or there could be a fourth choice that arises some time in the near or distant future. Whenever someone says, “Here are the only choices available, you have to choose among only these,” I’m already doubting they really have any idea what they’re talking about.

32

bh 05.17.10 at 9:33 pm

Rodrik always reminds me of a band that people keep telling me I’ll love, but that I end up finding unlistenable. I have a similar academic background and (as best as I can tell) policy leanings to DR, but nothing he writes ever strikes me as particularly interesting or insightful.

And so here… we have three extremely simplified abstractions + an arbitrary declaration of their incompatibility + … well, not much, as best I can tell.

33

Anderson 05.17.10 at 9:59 pm

Whenever someone says, “Here are the only choices available, you have to choose among only these,”

As they say, there are only two kinds of people: the kind who think there are only two kinds of people, and the kind who don’t.

34

Clod Levi-Strauss 05.17.10 at 10:56 pm

@28, The discussion is of communication and how it should best be structured. Read the discussion of at the link of Facebook as its Japanese equivalent as models of ordered conversation. The poles are among other things between mass politics and both elite expertise and elite esotericism. From a discussion of rhetoric of Facebook and Mixi, maybe next should be one of communicative practice among technocrats in Japan and the Anglosphere.

Atrios links to Glen Beck today and Beck is upping the ante again on his predictions of civil war. The same extremism is building more and more in Texas and elsewhere. But this is not the answer

The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves.

So society is still the state? Didn’t we go through this before? But maybe society is the state as long as the state is run by liberals. No. More contempt from above and less democracy is not the answer. More bloviating protestations of the our rationality and their irrationality is not the answer, any more than it was in the age of empire.

There is a crisis in communication and in trust. Focusing on ideals rather than basic practices is not only impractical it’s a basic misunderstanding of communicative process. Rhetoric has a function. The right is going apeshit in this country but somehow never manages to attack Stewart and Colbert. Why? Because both show contempt for the leadership of the right without showing contempt for the general populace. Colbert is a goddamn sunday school teacher in suburban New Jersey. It would be good for this country if Colbert and Stewart programmed weeks of nothing but right-wing leaders as guests. I guarantee you they could deflate the movement more in one month of programming than the economy could in two years of steady growth.

Puchalsky “… the nation-state, something which no one has currently escaped, and which if escaped in theory has a far preferable body of work around anarchism to follow;”

What do you mean by “escape”? Many more people than in the past have divided loyalties and are thus internationalist by default. more so than the liberal wonks who not only read but write policy. Everyday internationalism is a good thing, and it’s spreading. The internationalism of corporations is less of one. For myself I have no national loyalty whatsoever. But anarchism is a joke. As my father used to say responding to adolescent political fantasies “If we had some ham we could have some ham and eggs if we had some eggs.” Fantasies are a waste of time.

“economic globalism, something which almost everyone on “the left” would like to escape”

No. The “anti-globalization movement” is international and happily so. The question concerns the control of globalization, not only who but how. Most of the anti-globo’s are childish but then what about the Euro-skeptics?

If you can’t describe what is you have no business describing what should be. I’ve read riotously absurd arguments on this page but somehow it’s somehow almost physically impossible for this to be the case, because you’re all so reasonable. You exempt yourselves from the very possibility of absurd stupidity. More fantasies.

People are partial and often irrational, if knee-jerk reactions are considered irrational rather than reflex and thus predetermined. That applies to all of us. And if we want to muddle through with democracy it’s important to remember one thing that professional liberals (who deny their own partiality) forget: Democracy is more about getting along than absolutes. Justice is achieved when all parties accept the result,and tensions are released rather than reinforced. To focus on more than that is an indulgence. Every imagined telos is irrational desire, if often a collective one. To dream of a science of society that will produce universally applicable “right” answers to every question is not only unproductive but counterproductive. The pursuit of Justice is the enemy of the just.

“I would appreciate it if you would humbly allow me to decline any dirty suggestions that you deign to honour me with.”
What is the significance of that overly complex and roundabout, even respectful, response to an idiot letch? What’s the significance of the fact that my millionaire Norwegian stockbroker doesn’t like billionaires? Any of them. On principle. What is social structure and what is society? You want to defend democracy but you’re afraid of the implications for your vaunted individualism and individuality.

35

Alex 05.17.10 at 11:53 pm

There are no nation states where the “the franchise is unrestricted”. So Rodrik’s trilemma is correct.

Wow, that was easy.

36

Alex 05.18.10 at 12:05 am

It would be good for this country if Colbert and Stewart programmed weeks of nothing but right-wing leaders as guests. I guarantee you they could deflate the movement more in one month of programming than the economy could in two years of steady growth.

The electorate is more than the 18-35 demographic. In fact, that is the demographic that tends to vote least.

The “anti-globalization movement” is international and happily so

It would be hard to join up for many anti-globalization protests without global communication networks and cheap international flights.

Most of the anti-globo’s are childish but then what about the Euro-skeptics?

I hope that’s not a tu quoque . . .

Justice is achieved when all parties accept the result

If that’s what justice is, then why even bother having a law and order system. May as well just let criminal volunteer for their punishment/rehabilitation.

37

Lemuel Pitkin 05.18.10 at 12:09 am

And so here… we have three extremely simplified abstractions + an arbitrary declaration of their incompatibility + … well, not much, as best I can tell.

Haven’t read of the articles, have you?

38

Alex 05.18.10 at 12:28 am

Barbara Jordan was ignored on the issue and the “no one is illegal” movement if small has a moral pull that liberals have a hard time arguing against, though in fact it’s just silly.

Oh, well, if “it’s just silly” then I’m convinced. It’s just silly. Well argued.

And at the same time liberals are also very much in favor of globalization as homogenization which rightfully disgusts conservatives.

Really? Because last time I checked, liberals were castigated for being culturally relativistic multiculturalists. Or is that multiculturalist cultural relativists?

Homogenization means there’re no outsiders to tell you you’re full of shit.

So globalization turns humanity into the Borg?

But liberals can’t imagine that ever being the case and anyone who says they’re wrong is obviously an irrationalist

I’m glad we’re agreed. You’re an “irrationalist”.

39

bh 05.18.10 at 1:38 am

#37 Yes, I have; I just don’t think much of them.

40

hix 05.18.10 at 5:50 am

Somehow, this strikes me as an intelectual game to apologice for pushing externaltities on the rest of the world. What you want to put pressure on Greece to bay back their debt – you are against Democracy! What you want to put pressure on the UK to regulate hedge funds – you are against Democrcy! What you want to put pressure on the US to produce less co2 – you are against Democracy! What you want to put pressure on Ireland to increase corporate taxes and regulate banks – you are against Democracy!

In a world where people dont have unlimited ability to process informations, democracy is always imperfect. I am fine with institutional framewoks that acknowledge this like independent central banks. Its not like theres no democratic feedback at all to their doing. One cant have utopian perfect democracy and globalication, thats right. Nattion staate in isolation are already far to big for that aswell.

41

Guido Nius 05.18.10 at 7:32 am

Rich-30, OK then, I didn’t ask to be born into a nation state but I was — I didn’t ask to be born into a world that’s slowly smoking its inhabitants out but I am — and still I hope that there will be more One World Government than the amount shown at Kopenhagen — and yes I find it of the unimaginative kind to put as the alternative the pure anarchist dreams of long ago from the pristine heights of which one can condemn everything and anybody for about anything.

But good luck solving the global warming by voting for anarchism within your particular nation state!

42

a.y.mous 05.18.10 at 8:53 am

C’mon! Cheer up! The world’s still not gone to the dogs yet. Don’t forget. May 5th was Mukthar’s birthday. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgOyTNtsWyY&feature=player_embedded

43

Mrs Tilton 05.18.10 at 1:30 pm

Clod @24,

Liberals want a world government modeled on google, on homogenization and collaborative reason, but we need one modeled more on FIFA and Trobriand Cricket

Srsly? A world government with Sepp Blatter at its head? I think I’d prefer Dick Cheney.

I have every confidence in the Trobrianders, by contrast, and if they throw the occasional missionary into the cookpot, well, that’s just gravy.

44

chris y 05.18.10 at 1:42 pm

Couldn’t they just throw Sepp Blatter into the cookpot?

45

belle le triste 05.18.10 at 2:19 pm

the rowr and the c(r)ooked

46

belle le triste 05.18.10 at 2:20 pm

ha, well that came out funnier

47

Heur 05.18.10 at 2:52 pm

Rodrik’s just wrong, or, at best, overstates matters. Or I’ve simply misunderstood his argument.

It is perfectly possible for a democracy to remain a democracy while deliberately making it more difficult for itself to undertake certain types of policy decisions. A democracy does so every time it passes a constitutional amendment, or for that matter agrees upon a constitution at all, or sets up an independent central bank. It also does so when it joins a common currency, or commits in various substantial ways to a variety of military alliances, or signs any number of other types of treaties. In fact, I do not know of any other way for a democracy to credibly commit to a future course of action.

Unless a democracy cannot do any of those things while remaining a democracy, I do not see how Rodrik’s argument holds together.

48

Clod Levi-Strauss 05.18.10 at 3:39 pm

Dani Rodrik

On Feb. 22, Cetin Dogan, a retired four-star Turkish Army general, was detained and subsequently imprisoned by Turkish prosecutors, accused of masterminding an elaborate plot in 2002 and 2003 to topple the country’s newly elected conservative Islamist government.
…For us, however, this particular arrest comes very close to home: We are Çetin Dogan’s daughter and son-in-law.
…The military has long set the ground rules of Turkish politics. Its hard line defending secularism has resulted in frequent clashes with political movements it views as “soft” on Islam, such as the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has governed the country since November 2002. Periodically, the military has intervened, bringing down governments and, on occasion, establishing periods of military rule, most recently from 1980 to 1983.

The first and last paragraphs of Tension About Religion and Class in Turkey

ISTANBUL — When two women in Islamic head scarves were spotted in an Italian restaurant in this city’s new shopping mall this month, Gulbin Simitcioglu did a double take.
Covered women, long seen as backward peasants from the countryside, “have started to be everywhere,” said Ms. Simitcioglu, a sales clerk in an Italian clothing store, and it is making women like her more than a little uncomfortable. “We are Turkey’s image. They are ruining it.”

…Meanwhile, universities across Turkey are preparing for the final approval of the ban’s repeal, which will go into effect after Mr. Gul signs it into law this week. Faruk Karadogan, the rector of Istanbul Technical University, said he was expecting confusion.
…“The problem is not the scarf; it’s their way of thinking, their minds,” he said of observant Turks. “If you have somebody brainwashed like that, it’s very hard to get her back to a way of contemporary thinking.”
But a few buildings away, Ece Ulgen, 20, a chemistry student whose classmates include covered women (they wear hats or wigs), offered a different view.
“I have many friends who wear the head scarf,” she said. “I enjoy their friendship. They’re clever, smart women. Not like what people say: Unscientific and only interested in religion.”

So is it possible for a “liberal” technocrat to be brainwashed? Or for a cadre of “liberals” to be collectively blinded by assumption? It’s a yes or no question.

“Its hard line defending secularism has resulted in frequent clashes with political movements it views as “soft” on Islam.” That sentence is a defense of anti-democratic modernism, the sham modernity of the Shah of Iran.

And the reference above was specifically to “Trobriand Cricket.” Perhaps you should look it up before responding.

49

Rich Puchalsky 05.18.10 at 4:21 pm

Guido at 41, you can’t have it both ways. If you reject airy theorizing in favor of real-world practicality, then you can’t have a trilemma in which one of the choices is giving up the nation-state. If you instead want to decry the limits on people’s imaginations, then you can’t reject anarchism as preferable to One-World-Statism on the basis of it being a fantasy.

50

aaa replicas 05.18.10 at 4:31 pm

The question really is what legal concepts we need in a globalized world that are devolved from the nation states.

51

chris 05.18.10 at 5:31 pm

In fact, I do not know of any other way for a democracy to credibly commit to a future course of action.

A democracy can’t commit to a future course of action. When the future actually arrives, the position that we must fulfill the promises of our forefathers *no matter what* amounts to letting the dead rule the living.

If the people don’t always, and inherently, have the right to reconsider the decisions of the previous people, then whatever your system is, it isn’t a democracy.

This leads rather directly to the idea that the loss-of-democracy boat has already sailed and Rodrik is late to the party, and perhaps also to the idea that people like the founders of the U.S. had a point about the dangers of overdosing on democracy. (Unfortunately this cuts both ways — one of the things the founders of the U.S. carefully placed beyond the vagaries of democracy was the right to import slaves without federal interference.)

And then you have to stop drawing neat trilemmas and start arguing about the right *amounts* of democracy, globalization, and nationalism, which doesn’t produce the desired (by Rodrik) result of lots of people dropping Rodrik’s name.

52

Heur 05.18.10 at 6:26 pm

Chris @ 51:

No one said anything about committing to a future course of action “no matter what.” A democracy can repeal constitutional amendments, and it can withdraw from a monetary union, and it can withdraw from a military alliance. It commits to the law of a constitutional amendment, or a military alliance, or a monetary union, however, by making it more difficult to change its mind in the future.

And without that ability to commit, it would be very difficult to have any form of stable government.

53

Mrs Tilton 05.18.10 at 8:42 pm

chris @44,

excellent suggestion! Not much eating there, but plenty of fat, connective tissue and gristle that, if cooked long enough at low enough temperature, would impart a wonderful consistency to the gravy. But if we want actual nutrition, we’ll need a few reverends as well.

Belle @46,

oh aye.

54

chris 05.18.10 at 8:53 pm

@52: If you’re only committed as long as you don’t change your mind, then how are you committed?

We’re committed unless we REALLY change our mind? Does anyone put credibility in that?

Although I suppose it’s possible a democracy could be indirectly bound by a formal agreement if enough of its *citizens* believe that the agreement should be honored even if it is against the national interest at that later date. It’s a little odd to speak of that as being “bound” though when it is the majority of the citizens agreeing to honor the agreement; it’s really more like voluntary compliance.

55

Salient 05.18.10 at 9:03 pm

We’re committed unless we REALLY change our mind? Does anyone put credibility in that?

Anyone who has ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend does….

56

Cliff 05.18.10 at 9:59 pm

The contradiction… if it’s still permissible to use such a term… between global circuits of production and accumulation, and the Transnational Capitalist Class that benefits from them, and nation-states (i.e. everyone else) is the most interesting item on the agenda today.

Global capital wants a global state, the nation-state system having become a fetter, but it can’t or won’t invent one from scratch. Much more efficient to use the ones available, twisting them into shapes that will better serve global interests.

Or fusing the national with the global, as in the case of the Business Roundtable in the US, which claims to be representing the interests of “worldwide American companies.” It makes one wonder, when President Obama travels to New York to speak to the assembled CEOs (as he has already done twice in his young presidency): who exactly is he addressing and trying to please? BP America, for one. Siemens for another. Along with a hundred other US-headquartered multinationals with affiliates, sub-contracting arrangements, and strategic partnerships in every nation on earth.

The executive of the modern state is today stuck with trying to manage the affairs of the whole (transnational) bourgeoisie.

57

Heur 05.18.10 at 10:08 pm

No, Chris, we’re MORE committed when our commitment is MORE difficult to break.

Thus a constitutional amendment is more difficult to change than an ordinary statute; thus a marriage is more difficult to dissolve than an ordinary romantic relationship; thus a binding contract is more difficult to renege upon than a non-binding promise.

The problem I have with Rodrik’s argument is that the ability to make such commitments is central to the viability of any government, democracy or not, and governments we would all recognize as democratic do, of course, have this ability.

58

shah8 05.18.10 at 11:06 pm

man, guys, the usual response to the trilema is that you get waves from one pole to another as time goes one…

Highly global + mass democracy? Right wing violence promotes the nation-state.

Highly nationalist + mass democracy? Piracy and smugglers galore!

Highly global + highly nationalist? Underfunded enterprises that gets swamped and eventually taken over by bigger, badder parties which force tight “union” or “special relationships”.

59

Mrs Tilton 05.23.10 at 12:33 am

Clod @48,

And the reference above was specifically to “Trobriand Cricket.” Perhaps you should look it up before responding.

Just noticed your petulant response there. Thanks for your concern, but no need to look it up, as I know what it is. And even those who don’t would, I think, have understood that your specific reference was to Trobriand cricket, specifically, as you specifically used the specific word “cricket”. Perhaps you should get stuffed.

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