The Future of Politics: by John Burnheim

Politics is about constructing those public goods that are necessary for communities, are a minimum to deal with problems that threaten life itself.

In our present situation, the most serious problems are all posed on a global scale, as a result of the scale of our management of nature, the growth of populations, threats of nuclear war, the international monetary system and so on.

Our efforts to deal with these problems within the frame of nationalist politics are often counterproductive. If each is bound to put its national interests before all others, reasonable compromise is impossible.

Democracy is not helping, as long it pits the people of a nation-state against another, pits nation against nation. But the prospect of a global sovereign authority; like a magnified state threatens a horrific concentration of power.

The solution is a range of very specific independent authorities that each define the changes needed to solve their specific problem and demand that states accept and implement them. Many such authorities already exist, especially in such fields as communications. They work because there is little to be gained from defying them and dangers of retaliation.

They lack close democratic control. They are responsible mainly to expert opinion, which is inadequate to ensure general trust. Public opinion needs to be assured that the authority is needed and that is constitution is appropriate. As it operates it must be subject to a competent independent audit that assesses its work. My suggestion is that in each case this audit should be carried out or at least supervised by a small committee statistically representative of the most affected by decisions in the relevant domain.

In my view it is highly desirable that we start experimenting with such auditing.

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paul frijters
paul frijters
5 years ago

an interesting idea and you see some things that look like this when it comes to cross-border river authorities, multi-country mountain sanctuaries and that sort of thing, sometimes bypassing the notice of the central bureaucracies entirely because they are so small scale.
But when it comes to climate change and other such environmental problems for which some (not me) envisage global solutions that all countries must abide by, one will need real coercive measures that individual countries will truly fear crossing. Ditto for nuclear treaties and a few other threats to our global commons.

An entirely different option is to have coercive mechanisms free of humans entirely, ie mechanised threats that run on AI. An army of robots can credibly threaten whatever it is programmed to do and so enforce something agreed upon earlier. One problem will be that robots might prove easy to fool and the protocols put into them too unrealistic. However, the basic idea of taking humans out of the punishment business so as to make it credible in a world dominated by nation states might be combined with other elements.