Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Wednesday, June 02, 2004
Why I oppose the EU, the UN and I'm not too thrilled by the WTO either. First a question for you. How do you know communism doesn't work? Because you saw it not working all through your childhood and early adulthood, right? (I'm assuming you are about my age and a citizen of a liberal democratic state.) But back then the communists had all sorts of extremely plausible alternative reasons for the repression, the queues and the greyness. World War II. The drought. The floods. World War III being planned by the Americans. Fraternal assistance to the comrades abroad. And anyway it is working, honest, a loaf of bread costs 0.3p.

After a while you, dear reader who approximately fits my profile, tuned all this out because you noticed that non-communist countries also had natural disasters and enemies yet still managed to feed their people and churn out impressive numbers of transistor radios and those amazing new calculator thingies besides. To help you along to this conclusion the goddess History primly laid out several countries split into communist and non-communist sections so that you could watch one half sink and one half rise and draw appropriate morals. Even without the lessons of divided Korea and Germany, you'd have got the point eventually though. The unfortunate people in the communist countries had got it some time ago. All the lies they were told weren't enough to black out the obvious greater prosperity of the other system, where even the toilet paper was better.

Communism versus liberal democracy was the biggest variable in the laboratory when I was growing up, but it's far from the only one that has been and is being tested. The laboratory procedure is shot to hell and the results are unclear, but they keep coming in. They say that an aerial photograph of two neighbouring states in the US will sometimes show the land changing colour at the state border as clearly as on a map; the difference being no manifestation of nature but the result of differing agricultural policies.

What I fear is that a time will come when there will be no significant examples of difference left in the world. That possibility is still far off but for the first time in history the technology is in place for it to happen. Think about that. We are always being told that this or that situation is without precedent when what the tellers mean is that they dislike the precedents, but this time there really is no precedent. We do not know how human beings do a single world society.

A relatively benign version is the one the anti-globos fear; the one where everyone obeys the WTO/World Bank/IMF consensus of managed capitalism under a polite fiction of democracy. Hey, nobody starves. But what Douglas Adams would call the long dark teatime of the soul continues until the sensible tenets of managed capitalism atrophy from lack of exercise.

That, dismal as it is, is the optimistic scenario. Another one, perhaps the degenerate successor to the first, or you could get there from here, is the world of the international elite. Orwell's O'Brien said, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." Nothing so dramatic for this future: just imagine a bureacrat stamping "permission denied" on an application for a satellite dish - forever.

And it could come about so easily, so gently. All it would take is for the EU to continue its present course, and for other blocs to become more like the EU in its role as the UN's favoured son. I can imagine a future US administration deciding to differentiate itself from its predecessors by coming repentant back into the fold. Then the UN would put gradually put its warm, loving arms around the whole world, with international treaties and courts and protocols and constitutions. These bodies do so love constitutions, don't they? And the whole point of a constitution is to take some matters out of discussion. The French National Assembly has voted to embody the Precautionary Principle into the French Constitution. Voila! If they take it seriously (always a big 'if' in France), whole vast areas of variability and innovation have been swept forever off the table in order to get one week's good publicity.

All you have to imagine is stuff like that keeps happening on a world scale.

Read pretty well any account of how the British government responds to a threat to its sovereignty from the EU. First they say it is all a scare story. Then they say, well it has been proposed, but it will be resisted to the last gasp. Then they say that the new proposals, while maintaining the name, purpose and structure of the old proposals are in fact completely different than or at least heavily influenced by our tough negotiating stance. Then they swap whatever sacred principle it was for a deal on beetroot.

All you have to imagine is stuff like that keeps happening on a world scale.

I am haunted by the tale of the fleets of Zheng He, recounted in Guns, Germs and Steel. China's vast program of exploration, greater than anything Europe ever had, was turned off click! because of some otherwise obscure quarrel between two factions at court. The reason that there was only one switch was that China was unified.

All you have to imagine is stuff like that keeps happening on a world scale.

As Madsen Pirie says, a tax or regulatory regime does not like exceptions. If once we have a world government or close imitation thereof I think we might really see, not the end of history, but its asymptote.