Altered States: Globalization, Sovereignty, and Governance

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IDRC, 2000 - 78 pages
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The world needs new ways of governance. We know this because the old ways are failing. True, human progress is evident in many realms. But complacency is dangerous. Too many people are poor, and millions have become poorer in the past 10 years. Income disparities are growing much worse. The world's population increases at intimidating rates, most of all in the poor countries. Deadly conflicts cause appalling misery, even when they could be - should be - prevented; weapons of mass destruction threaten us all. The climate, the very future of life on Earth, is changing. These are the failures that compel us to improve the ways we govern ourselves. They are failures, in the main, to mitigate the damage and inequities of globalization - and to seize its opportunities. "Globalization" itself has become a term so over-used and abused that it often defies definition. Some see globalization as the mask of Americanization. Others argue that it describes nothing new: after all, countries and cultures have always affected one another, not least by trade and invasion. But the current wave of international integration and interdependence is different. The connections and their effects, between people and states, are not just more numerous and profound but transforming. They change how we live, how we will have to govern, in ways still not fully understood. The dynamics of this globalization are multifaceted and seemingly contradictory. In some respects they undermine the power of states. The power of transnational corporations, the limits imposed on government policy by currency markets, the transborder politics of NGOs, the transfiguring power of global media - all reduce the autonomy of national governments. But in other respects, globalization strengthens the state and extends its influence: in the international protection of human rights or in the cooperation that states undertake to preserve the oceans, eradicate disease, subdue the contagion of financial shocks, or stabilize global warming. Sovereignty is not what it used to be. It is more. And it is also less. Where globalization confounds governance, and stirs conflict, is in its turbulent tendency not only to integrate countries and societies but also to fracture them - in the politics of secession, and in the divisions of generation, tribe, and belief. Some teenage citizens of a global Nintendoland feel more affinity with each other than with their own parents or neighbours. Nowhere is the strife more sorely felt than in the contests of culture, seen by many in the world as a struggle of Hollywood vs diversity, consumerism vs identity.

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About the author (2000)

Gordon Smith is Director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria and a Senior Fellow in the Liu Centre at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

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