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State demise and 'net state' denials

State demise and 'net state' denials

Scopus previously addressed the 'demise of the state' argument, as attributed by Rana Dasgupta to a dysfunctional state (April 16, 2018): a state increasingly adrift with growing competition to extract desired outcomes. Since state 'demise' has become a popular conversation in the media, assessing another viewpoint, one that imposes the supposed growth of an alternative, helps. Exploring the 'net state', Robert Muggah of the Igarapé Institute posits how 'internet-enabled communities' shift "the fault lines of identity politics" from territorially-bound nationalities to "faith, ethnicity, language, class or sexuality" alternatives. Typical identity-driven threats have been in states which are multinational in composition, triggering freedom movements. An overpowering nationality within such a state depresses the others (the minorities): Baluchis in Pakistan, Kurds in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, or Chechnyans in Russia depict this, or even Catalonia within Spain only recently (even though Spain is not as multinational).

In different ways, both Dasgupta and Muggah expose how parochial interests threaten the post-World War II order built upon "the politics of compromise and accommodation."  One crisis, such as refugee influxes, feeds another, such as low-wage production, enfeebling the whole fabric. Groupings like the G8 or G20 have corroded, Muggah argues, into the likes of 'G-Zero' networks "where no single country, region or coalition . . . is able or willing to assume global leadership." Although Dasgupta concentrates on three 'transnational' forces (breakdown of rich countries, volatility of poor countries, and illegitimacy entering the international order), proposes state-centric reforms (like addressing global financial regulation, making democracy more flexible, and reconfiguring citizenship), Muggah focuses on the impacts of 'net state' opportunities upon the state.

As he points out, since the population of the two largest social media platforms, Facebook (2.0 billion) and Youtube (1.5b), just happen to be far higher than the population of the two biggest states (China and India, roughly 1.3b each), 'transnational' and 'non-governmental' forces have begun to outnumber state-centric counterparts. Accordingly, more positive outcomes get accented than negative, since military capabilities do not characterise transnational and non-governmental agents as much as they do the state. With a number of tasks and challenges being resolved privately and locally among fewer actors than through the hitherto multilateral framework, attention cannot but shift from centralised states to decentralised non-state actors.

One scenario would empower metropolitans more than states: 'sanctuary cities' in the United States already confront the state in the degree to which illegal immigrants can find work legalisation. Yet, as we also note, this decentralisation is being matched by a populist surge that is re-strengthening state structures and generating more local instability than before; and though this re-strengthening targets primarily 'foreign' forces (immigrants, cheap imports, and so forth), at least for the moment it is holding back devolutionary tendencies in some countries (the United States, for example), even as others face mounting local pressures (Catalonia in Spain).

If we transplant these 'western' dynamics into the 21st Century 'growth' areas, such as across Africa and Asia, we might expect, by mid-century, when many Asian metropolitans will be far larger than their western counterparts, state-based leveraging will also soften considerably, as metropolitan engines of growth may also attract distant workers, in many cases stealthily. With four US cities ranked in today's top-ten metropolitans (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, in that order, on the basis of gross domestic product or GDP measurements), by 2050, only New York and Chicago are expected to remain on that list, with other Atlantic zone cities like Mexico City, Paris, and Sao Paolo, also being booted out by such Asian counterparts as Shanghai, Mumbai, Guangzhou, Delhi, and Beijing, in order of size. Nothing today suggests African or Asian countries are devolving or grouping (like the European Union did in the 20th Century), with nationalism as strong today as at the time of independence. They seem to be relishing the fruits of statehood more than their European counterparts since their experiences have been far briefer for them to fully consummate. How the state evaporates here is harder to imagine even under the wildest technological developments

State-supporting analysts will probably interpret those statistics as China and India displacing the United States at the helm and with it the Atlantic order that includes West Europe, with the United States symbolising a fading 'west', in other words, reflecting the typical rise-decline thesis. Transnationalists seeking to rehabilitate the state through much-needed inter-governmental channels (given the mounting transnational problems at hand), also portray a fairly realistic trajectory: just shifting from G8 or G20 towards G-Zero suggests so. Yet, when transnational agents open windows for non-state dynamics, much like Muggah's, then we begin to move from reality, since whatever artificial intelligence contraption deployed will still usurp state functions.

Drones and robots may be displacing human beings at the low-skill end, with the April 2018 launching of the world's largest cruise-ship, 'Symphony of the Sea', exposing 'Rock-em' and 'Shock-em' automated devices that have been eliminating bar-tenders, as a trend, over time. This displacement is only likely to grow in both size and gravity. Where contraptions such as these be deployed the most could determine not just city-ranking globally, but also the state's, given a caveat or two: how flexible the worker's skills, and how deep the worker's country (to be able to bail him/her out, or shift to newer technologies)? In other words, since politics casts the veto-power in both relief-provision and promoting artificial intelligence, in this displacement game, when push turns to shove, the state's ability to deliver stability, security, and sustainability, and the like, only expands, at least in expectations.

As noted, both Dasgupta and Muggah portray enough fragments of reality to be so easily dispensed. Yet, whimsically eliminating the state or downsizing it in place of another entity cannot alone land the critical and fatal blow. Today's state will, in fact, outlive this generation even as it continues to fray; unless the homo sapiens specie itself becomes automated, no fatalistic outcome should be feared.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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