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Will the Nation-State Survive Globalization?
Martin Wolf is Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times. This paper is based on "The Nation State in a Global World," presented at the Harry Oppenheimer Colloquium on Globalization, funded by the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in February 2000. Excerpts will appear in the winter 2001 issue of the Cato Journal.See more by this author
A specter is haunting the world's governments -- the specter of globalization. Some argue that predatory market forces make it impossible for benevolent governments to shield their populations from the beasts of prey that lurk beyond their borders. Others counter that benign market forces actually prevent predatory governments from fleecing their citizens. Although the two sides see different villains, they draw one common conclusion: omnipotent markets mean impotent politicians. Indeed, this formula has become one of the clichés of our age. But is it true that governments have become weaker and less relevant than ever before? And does globalization, by definition, have to be the nemesis of national government?
Globalization is a journey. But it is a journey toward an unreachable destination -- "the globalized world." A "globalized" economy could be defined as one in which neither distance nor national borders impede economic transactions. This would be a world where the costs of transport and communications were zero and the barriers created by differing national jurisdictions had vanished. Needless to say, we do not live in anything even close to such a world. And since many of the things we transport (including ourselves) are physical, we never will.
This globalizing journey is not a new one. Over the past five centuries, technological change has progressively reduced the barriers to international integration. Transatlantic communication, for example, has evolved from sail power to steam, to the telegraph, the telephone, commercial aircraft, and now to the Internet. Yet states have become neither weaker nor less important during this odyssey. On the contrary, in the countries with the most advanced and internationally integrated economies, governments' ability to tax and redistribute incomes, regulate the economy, and monitor the activity of their citizens has increased beyond all recognition. This has been especially true over the past century.