I’ve been reading two volumes from the 1990s about the rise and fall of the nation-state, books that remind me of my heritage as a Swiss and an American southerner and challenge my premise of local economy and the free market.
The first book is The End of the Nation State[;] The Rise of Regional Economies by Kenichi Ohmae, a 1995 book by a corporate financial adviser in Tokyo who argues for regional economies, the free flow of capital regardless of national borders and for free-standing city-anchored economic areas. He argues that for corporations and entrepreneurs to conceive of the global marketplace in terms of national distinctives and “cartographic illusions” is to miss the mark in competitiveness. “In a world where economic borders are progressively disappearing, are their arbitrary, historically accidental boundaries genuinely meaningful in economic terms?”
Mr. Ohmae explores the prospect of borderless free markets through the lenses of four “I’s” — investment (capital flows across borders regardless of World Banks and governments), industry (multinational corporations operate no longer in terms of home countries, but markets and service), information technology (the digital revolution defeats the tyranny of locale) and, finally, individual consumers (“consumers increasingly want the best and cheapest products, no matter where they come from”) (p. 4).
The question to explore is how to account for global economy and the growing irrelevance of national borders and remain favorable to the principles of localism, provincialism, shopping local and the like? Who except an ideology (and we have enough of those, don’t we?) would want to care about his hometown and seemingly defy the large picture, such as that developed by Mr. Ohmae?
Business slops over the border
A second book, by a history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, develops the concept of the nation-state as a concept distinct from civil government. Martin van Creveld’s 1999 The Rise and Decline of the State tells about the nation as a corporation whose main task in the 18th and 19th centuries was to wield power and make war, and that the historical and geopolitical necessity for its existence peaked in 1970. Van Creveld focuses on the history of political organizations such as Rome and the Prussian empire and the Soviet Union.
Mr. Ohmae focuses on global commerce to perceive the “arbitrary, historically accidental boundaries” of states. He explores how the free market, when viewed from a lofty international height, makes lines on maps and national political particularities meaningless. National interest is often merely a guise for private and corporate interests; national interests act as if they were competing for a pie of limited size. “The nation state solution assumes a ‘zero-sum’ game for limited resources. The region state model, open to the global economy, is ‘plus-sum’ as prosperity is brought in from without” (p. 62). He explains, “in a borderless world, traditional national interests — which has become little more than a cloak for subsidy and protection — has no meaningful place.
Civil government and its dependents more and more are a drain on prosperity, a blockage to free trade, and need to get out of the way, Mr. Ohmae says. Nation states and their machinery, the rise of mass information systems make clear, are in the way and cannot fuel a general prosperity; they are focused on “creating ever-greater addition to centrally-provided support” (p. 68).
Whence local economy in a global landscape?
I have long been suspicious of “free trade” compacts such as Nafta and of the United Nations. The power of international elites operating transnationally to extend credit long have been the object of suspicion to patriotic Americans and U.S. persons jealous of the prerogatives of the United States. But a free market perspective with a personalistic and localist orientation, such as that I am exploring here, sees the “loss of U.S. sovereignty” controversy from a different angle. I have become disillusioned with the United States. I am unwilling to raise a figurative finger in its defense, whether over its state department secrets being spilled, its military being attacked by foreigners, its borders rendered porous by illegal immigrant traffickers or its reputation degraded in protests in Cairo.
Our disregard is for the United States as an organization, an oppressive political and economy-controlling machinery. Separate from the U.S. is America, which refers not to the central government and the state borders it ostensibly controlled under the U.S. Code, but to its people, its history and its places.
To refer to places in this sense seems I am evading Mr. Ohmae’s arguments in favor of poetry, personal experience and personal identification with a particular swath of riverside or mountain in a given city. Am I perhaps evading the issues Mr. Ohmae is raising that touch on free market and local economy?
A concern for liberty of movement and the free market makes a man hostile to forces that reduce liberty and impede the free market, whether in local terms (St. Alban’s farmer’s market in Chattanooga) or on global terms (say, a stock exchange in Shanghai or an Asian trade zone). The nation state is the biggest obstacle to the Internet-enhanced global economy, and the chief suppressor of local economy.