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Modern haruspexers

April 6, 2018

I enjoy writers that attempt a sweeping overview of current world difficulties and try to scry a way forward. No few today locate those difficulties in something going wrong with the nation-state. Rana Dasgupta this week explains its inevitable demise.

I’m also quite skeptical of such. No doubt, it is true that the nation-state is suffering some pressure from the globalization of trade and finance, and the number of refugees modern conflicts have generated. But in explaining populist movements as a whole, how do those causes compare to the squeezing of the middle class, by modest aggregate growth whose gains go mostly to capital? The problem with big problems is that they always aggregate multiple issues and always have many causes. When you apply a governance lens, the causes look like break-downs there. When you apply an economic lens, the causes look economic. When you apply a demographic lens…

None of these are wrong. The hard question is how those causes interact. And then what they say about the world going forward.

More, are all these populist movements so similar that they really can be explained in the same way? When you jump into the details at the local level, it’s not always clear that what’s happening here should be lumped with what is happening there.

Dasgupta is optimistic about the construction of some kind of transnational governance. Maybe that will happen and be a good thing. But maybe existing forms will prove more obdurate and a problem that cannot be so easily integrated. Dasgupta wisely doesn’t try to predict a timeline. Current nation-states no doubt will fall. As do all human institutions. It makes a large difference whether that happens is in ten years, in ten decades, or in ten centuries. And whether it is caused by the current difficulties, or some as yet unguessed problem tomorrow that surprises us.

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