published at Freedom Democrats, 11/5/2005; Author unknown.
Surprisingly, one of the most heated intellectual debates in the security community these days is not on terrorism or the US's approach to the Middle East, but instead on globalization and its impact on traditional conceptions of US power and foreign policy practice. Commentators from economist Joesph Stiglitz to former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to journalist Walter Russell Mead have all weighed in on the issue in recent years and all argue from the position that globalization is a dialectical force that could empower the US or destroy its democratic institutions and hegemony. The problem that I have with many of these conceptions is that they generally do not define the parameters of "globalization," which is one reason why it is often parsed into subdefinitions that are defined as positive or negative. To explore my attempt at defining globalization in more effective terms, I am returning to a previous post that devolved into a discussion of the sources of libertarianism, where I described a recent emergent group I have named "global-libertarians." These libertarians generally tap into globalization and the information age as an impetus for a major devolution of political and bureaucratic power to localities and individuals.
One of the most important emergent patterns of globalization is the proliferation of information technology and the creation of a supranational information-based community, of which the Internet is a major part. This "global consciousness" that is fed by 24-hour cable news, electronic forums and, more recently, blogging has greatly accelerated the global spread of American culture and values. This process was originally based on the post-WWII growth of America as a manufacturing and trade hub, which had the effect of establishing similar customs, values and lifestyles around common US products. In a sense, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Levi's, and English led the way of cultural growth across the globe for about 40 years. This was a fairly passive, one-way evolution with non-Americans mostly a position where they could only react to changes with relatively no input or space to voice criticisms. The information age completely changed this situation - the proliferation of communications technology reduced the cost of acquiring and sharing information to the point that the global community could finally take an active role in the process of cultural change. A protest of McDonalds could be felt across the world as it is reported by AFP and broadcast on CNN, reaching both the company's executives and its customer base. Not only has this changed the nature of consumer-producer relationships, it also has created a transnational community that can exert influence on national policy-making. But what does this all mean and why is it important for libertarians?
The IT revolution has resulted in a dramatic shift in the traditional calculation of the rational choice model. Since the late 20th Century, political scientists have used the rational choice model to explain the process of political choice making by assuming that all decision-makers are rational and make their decisions based on a set of values and a limited set of information regarding their choices. I am arguing that the unprecendented access to information regarding choices and the expressed values of others are the core of globalization's effect on politics, both national and international. Spin, the practice of controlling the context and portrayal of an issue in order to shape the perspective of an audience, is just one manifestation of this idea. The rise of personal power and global individualism is another aspect of this process and is particularly important for libertarians.
Information technology has set the stage for a major devolution of power in the US and across the global for two reasons:
1) It allows operators in a bureaucracy to operate more effectively
2) It allows individuals to make better decisions and lowers the difficulty of group formation
The operators of a bureaucracy are the front-line actors of an agency - they are the tellers at the DMV, the auditors of the IRS or the ground troops of an army. Not only does information technology make the managers and executives of a government more responsive to the actions of their operators, through automated activity reporting, it also increases the operator's productivity (think of Internet-based driver's license renewal, auditing software or netcentric future combat systems). As a result, a bureaucracy needs less staff and can empower operators and their customers to take a larger role in government processes.
Individuals are empowered by the information era because they can make better decisions. The Internet reduces the cost of "shopping around" for consumers, it also gives invdividuals easy access to information that they can easily filter. You no longer have to rumage through a paper to find out about political decisions - all you have to do is search the BBC's news site or "Google it." A rational decision-maker has become less bound by the limits of their knowledge and the prevasive state of reporting give foreign policy-makers a broader image of the intentions of other states. Nowadays, a state that does no publish policy papers on relavant issues is considered isolated, standoffish or overly secretive - just look at the major shift the People's Republic of China has made in its public diplomacy practices.
What does this mean for libertarians? Simply that the era of big government should be coming because citizens no longer need it. Social Security can be privatized because Americans have easy access to the equity markets and financial data needed to make good investments. School vouchers can create an education market for well-informed parents, telecommuting and online training can reduce structural unemployment thus reducing the need for welfare programs, and the benefit of trade barrier removal when coupled with e-commerce should be self-evident. The list goes on, but I believe you get my meaning. What does everyone think? Is this a pipedream or are "global-libertarians" actually on to something significant?