globalizing democracy
December 18, 2008 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Today's featured article at Wikipedia concerns the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly: a proposed UN body which, according to its proponents, would eventually consist of representatives elected directly by the people of the world. Might this proposal be a viable plan for a more global expression of democracy? Or is it just one more Utopian vision of "world government" doomed to wither under the vociferous criticisms that such proposals seem, inevitably, to attract?
posted by washburn (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No. And yes.
posted by tawny at 1:56 PM on December 18, 2008

:A knock at the chamber door:

"Polyfather, Digg has spoken. Their vociferous criticisms of your one world government plan have withered it to the point of no return."

:Polyfather turns in his chair:


:stares out window of orbital base:
posted by Damn That Television at 1:59 PM on December 18, 2008 [6 favorites]

United Nations? Running the world? They can barely make a decent Christmas card.
posted by jonmc at 2:00 PM on December 18, 2008

The UN can't run anything until it has a monopoly on the use of violence.
posted by mullingitover at 2:03 PM on December 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

(Whoops--should have specified that I'm referring to the featured article on the English version of Wikipedia. That was rather unglobal of me.)
posted by washburn at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2008

Well, first off, don't link to Digg—they're stupid and voted for Ron Paul.

Second off, a substantial portion of the UN membership, including one-and-a-half members of the veto bloc of the Security Council, isn't democratic. Without free and fair elections in those countries, the idea of a parliament is a bit of a sham.

Third off, the binding powers of the UN are notoriously limited, so "world government" scares show a pretty profound lack of understanding regarding the actual mandate of the UN.
posted by klangklangston at 2:10 PM on December 18, 2008

UNPA Res. 1 - A motion to take yer guns away.
posted by ALongDecember at 2:16 PM on December 18, 2008

See: the globalization movement, and George Monbiot in particular, including his book The Age of Consent.

The book is largely about the need for a global parliament in the face of global trade bodies that function more like the one-world government right-wingers fear than anything the UN does.
posted by eustatic at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2008

Ok, I see that my second link, to Richard Falk's essay "On Global Parliament" didn't quite work--The Nation's only providing a "preview view" of the article.

Here's a link to the full version
of Falk's (short) essay. (Perhaps some kind mod will replace the bad link in the post with this one?)

The interesting thing about Falk's defense of the proposal is that he's quite aware of limited power of such an organization, and envisions a decades-long process through which this body would gradually become increasingly legitimate:

This evolutionary process would take many years, possibly several decades. During this period, the parliament could still exert a benign moral influence that would complement the work of existing civil-society monitors and activists. By holding regional hearings, issuing reports, responding to citizen petitions and passing resolutions, the GPA could gradually introduce a greater measure of popular accountability into existing global institutions and help inform world public opinion about threats to human well-being neglected by states.

Thus, the organization could in Falk's analysis serve a useful function, even if it never acquires anything like the legislative power of the General Assembly--to say nothing of the monopoly of violence of the traditional nation-state. Only gradually might it acquire whatever powers states and individuals might think wise to assign it.

That said, I'll quietly duck out of the thread. But I did want to provide an alternative link for the lousy one to The Nation.
posted by washburn at 2:31 PM on December 18, 2008

Also, the permanent members of the security council (who, apart from a few places like India and Pakistan, tend to have the most advanced/best armies and nukes) will not want to give up their monopoly on international violence (their vetoes). To go to war legally, to make it look nice, they have to agree. To actually get a UN force in somewhere, a real UN force, not a bullshit coalition of the willing, you need security council members behind you. To get general sanctions going, you need the security council behind you. Hell, the only effective things the UN does that are actually concerned with the interaction of nations (instead of say, the health of people (WHO) or the welfare of children (UNICEF) ) are done through the security council. It will take a great deal to get that power out of the hands of the current permanent members.
posted by Hactar at 2:38 PM on December 18, 2008

Why not? I'm asking seriously. What is wrong with the idea of a world government? The argument for a single global currency is obvious. That lack of such a currency is mitigated by currency exchange markets that do nothing more than impose transactions costs that are better spent on investment and trade.

As eustatic mentions, we already have global trade bodies that create de facto model rules that are simply enacted almost intact in most national governments. Again, more duplicative, wasted, inefficient effort. If almost everyone in the world has nearly identical laws about trade, why does every nation have its own? The differences in national law are usually inconsequential, and represent rent-seeking behavior by local interest groups, government officials, and lobbyists.

English is the defacto global commercial language.

It seems there are only three reasons to oppose this: (1) relative to ones own national government, the world government represents a net loss of freedoms; (2) nowhere to run when the global government becomes corrupt (as all governments eventually do); (3) racial or religious bigotry.

Of these, only (2) is the real flaw, as I see it.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know nothing about this United Nations Parliament, but anything's gotta be better than Al Franken.
posted by rokusan at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times wrote a musing article on the prospect of a Global Union the other day. It's here. His reaction after the article was linked to by Drudge is here (summary: "fuck, what happened just now?"). Norman Geras at Manchester University on the same topic.

My own view (s/l) is that world government can't escape the traps of “League of Democracies” imperial condescension on one side, and undemocratic bureaucracy on the other. If the choice is between global government with Mugabe in the room, or no global government, I think we may need to muddle along as we are.
posted by athenian at 3:36 PM on December 18, 2008

I know nothing about this United Nations Parliament, but anything's gotta be better than Al Franken.

The lizard people, for example, have shown superb effectiveness in world government.
posted by qvantamon at 4:05 PM on December 18, 2008

It will not work because the only way it could be truly democratic was proportional representation which would give China and India all the power. Do you honestly think the United States would go for that? Without US support it's going nowhere.

Also, it would severely reduce the power of most of the G8. Another no go.

They're going to need some sort of equation factoring in population, GDP, land mass, resources, etc.

posted by blue_beetle at 4:56 PM on December 18, 2008

blue_beetle writes "It will not work because the only way it could be truly democratic was proportional representation which would give China and India all the power. "

First acts would include worldwide ban on beef consumption and a loosening of limits on melamine levels in baby formula.
posted by mullingitover at 5:42 PM on December 18, 2008

Dioxins in fruit and the occasional appearance of mercury in baby formula is an acceptable price to pay for the triumph of the metric system. You can still have guns - a trade-in system will be devised whereby you can swap your .38 for a 9mm, and so on.
posted by Ritchie at 6:09 PM on December 18, 2008

Pshaw. The Western world sure as hell does not want China and India to gain equal representation in our global affairs. They outnumber us by a lot and are significantly poorer.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on December 18, 2008

Honestly, one-world government does not strike me as logical at all, simply because governing for even one country is nearly unmanageably complex (if you do it right). I cannot see how one group of individuals can truly represent several billion people's interests. It's hard enough to get my reps to respond to my letters now. There is a limit to how big a government's spread can be and work effectively--as Rome found out.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 PM on December 18, 2008

mullingitover: First acts would include worldwide ban on beef consumption

Beef isn't banned in India, why would it be banned worldwide?
posted by Gyan at 10:08 PM on December 18, 2008

To make the joke work, duh.
posted by ryanrs at 12:37 AM on December 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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