Moisés Naím has an interesting new book coming out: The End of Power. Its argument that power (conventionally declined) is decaying is incontrovertible ... but I worry from this preview that the author is conflating too many different things to create a useful framework.
- The American problem is super-simple to understand. Combine parliamentary parties with the Constitution (written and unwritten: the filibuster and all that) and you have a recipe for paralysis;
- Ditto the European problem. The E.U. is riven with veto points and lacks a real demos, but it has a currency. So they cannot even figure out to create a common deposit insurance scheme, let alone a real transfer union. The diagnosis is not rocket science nor is the problem unprecedented;
- Piracy and organized crime are frightening ... but sideshows and being dealt with. Moreover, neither affects serious states inside their borders.
There is an argument to be made that the world is facing global problems without a global government. This “governance” thing is failing to compensate; the one international institution that resembles an actual federal government (the E.U.) is still much too weak. But that argument leaves out problem (1). To shoehorn current American political paralysis into his argument, Naím will need a theory to tie the rise of ideological disciplined parties to some greater global force.
Naím appears to be trying to create a theory about the decline of all kinds of centralized power ... but it is not clear that centralized power is declining. Take the examples in the linked-to essay. None of them are clear-cut. Corporate CEOs do churn more than ever before ... but CEOs and the owners of capital get an ever-higher share of income. The BP oil spill did hit the BP share price more than the Exxon Valdez spill hit Exxon ... but the Gulf spill was a far far far far bigger disaster. France did pull out of Afghanistan after a few green-on-blue attacks ... but was not an important part of the U.S. coalition and Paris went on to occupy northern Mali a few years later.
Let me be clear: I think that Naím is an important thinker who is on to something important. I do not think the world is the same as it was in, say, 1980. But from what I see in the precis, I worry that this book will not explain (or even properly define) the difference.
I have posted about the tendency among popular academics to lurch between the extremes of “We Have Seen It All Before” to “Everything is Different Now!” That post mentioned Stratfor as an example of how the former mindset can lead to some head-scratching conclusions. I am hopeful that the new book from Naím will avoid the latter, but the essay gives some reason to worry.