Thinking Uncategorized

Unrealised ideals: three global governance institutions that never were

Great new institutions created at vast international conferences are not exactly what global governance 2.0 is about. They’re still pretty interesting though.

Below is a deck I used for a history presentation, followed by a full essay, on three innovations in global governance that never were. I hope it shows the interesting interplay between state interests, individual passion and individual ideas, as well as how possibilities in this area are bounded.

While the world of 2.0 suggests that new institutions will be built from the ground up, by networks of people everywhere, there’s some good stuff to learn from looking back at ideas that went unrealised.

Thanks to my ace history prof, Dan Gorman, for leading me to various bits.

Thinking Uncategorized

Who’s afraid of the financial transactions tax? Why trialling the tax won’t lead to the end of the world

Following the G20 summit, there have been lots of ‘where next‘ briefs on the financial transactions tax. Sarkozy had talked it up before Cannes, but failed to deliver any movement towards it at the global level. It’s in the press again following the last EU Summit – the one where Cameron upset everybody – as the UK is standing in the way of the tax. The House of Lords is already complaining about it, despite being only days into their inquiry about it.

I’ve spent some time reading pretty much everything I can find on the FTT – economic and political stuff, and the EC’s proposal, and it seems to me like it can’t be dismissed as easily as Osborne, Boris Johnson, The Economist, the FT and surprise, surprise, the banking lobby suggest.

My favourite paper is this essay from James Matheson at the IMF. He essentially reviews all the economic modelling arguments about what happens when you introduce a tax – does liquidity dry up and destory the markets? do the transactions all move elsewhere, thus meaning you raise no money anyway? are the costs of the transactions all just passed on to pensioners anyway (my favourite argument by the banks – great work guys)? – to find that there is no conclusive answer.

The UK’s version of the Robin Hood Tax website is extremely good on this stuff too, making the ecconomics readable and in some places pretty entertaining:

“Talk to a banker or hedge fund master of the universe about financial sector taxes and they’ll apparently have to call you back from their Blackberry en-route to the airport, the rest of the company in tow, quite prepared to never set foot in the country again to avoid your unnecessary meddling…”

The UK already has a transaction tax on shares: stamp duty. It raises several billion pounds a year. It doesn’t seem like it adversely affects market behaviour, or penalises any particular sector of society. In Hong Kong and Taiwan the income from these taxes represents between 1 and 2% of their GDP. We don’t hear them complaining terribly.

So if it’s not going to be the end of the world, let’s trial it (as HMT did with the bankers bonus tax) and see what happens. I don’t know if this is possible. It doesn’t seem crazy.

At some point I’ll post up my full essay, about how the FTT represents a good example of regulatory capture by private interests. Mmm..private interest.

Flickr credit: Torcello Trio

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Understanding world views on climate change: #COP17 and Twitter visualisation

 cc UNclimatechange

The Durban Climate Change Conference, or #COP17, is the biggest event in global governance right now, attempting to get the world to deal with the toughest global challenge.

The conference faces all the classic global governance problems: world leaders not leading cos they’re not world leaders, they’re national leaders…how to harness the voices of a thousand NGOs and private actors…how, in essence, to bring appropriately democratic politics to the issue of climate change. 

The first step is just to be able to understand the public view – but it’s a global constitutency we’re talking about – everyone is affected by climate change.

In the context of global governance 2.0, Twitter has the potential to become, if it isn’t already, a global parliament – certainly on the debating side. Obviously Twitter doesn’t make global law, but it’s where ideas happen, its where people demonstrate what they believe, etc.

So how do you begin to make sense of all the thousands of tweets?


CNN are trying – with this astonishing visualisation, called ‘Ecosphere’. It’s geekily beautiful and might help us understand the central themes of the conference. But at the moment each of the large branches, formed by the most-used words in tweets including the tag #COP17, is a fairly obvious descriptive word – Durban, Africa or Climate Change. That doesn’t tell you a lot. And it’s pretty hard to navigate to individual tweets. It might have been more useful to provide some kind of sentiment analysis – simply whether people are saying positive or negative things.


It’ll be interesting to see how the ecosphere changes across the next few days, especially if individual nations are named and shamed or a central sticking-point arises. If the same descriptive keywords continue to monopolise the visualisation, however, it’ll be of limited use.

Reading Thinking Uncategorized

How do you solve a massive mapping problem in Somalia? With massive 2.0 solutions of course. @refugees

This story about UNHCR crowdsourcing is pretty damn awesome. Found via Firetail’s weekly briefing.

UNHCR – the UN’s refugee agency – wanted to know the location of informal settlements in a corridor of land in Somalia. With this information they could better plan for large movements of people. But, not surprisingly, access to Somalia isn’t easy. So they look to satellite imagery.

They partnered with a range of techie types to crowdsource a solution for analysing a vast quantity of imagery provided by DigitalGlobe.

Using a tech platform already realised, a volunteer geography professor got his undergraduate class to carry out the human work – tagging the images where they saw settlements.

Eventually they ended up with 168 volunteers who took 5 days to process nearly 4,000 satellite images – tagging 250,000 settlements. 

This is a great example of global public service delivery managed by the global public. Talk about participatory global governance. Or about 2.0. Or about a revolution.

The project is detailed here, and information on the technology behind the human work here, from Patrick Meier at iRevolution.

I’d love to hear from UNHCR staffers on the results of this work.


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The global #occupy movement seeks a cosmopolitan democracy. Here’s why they should read David Held CC VBlessNYC

On 17 September, around one hundred people set up a camp in a small private park a block away from the 9/11 memorial site in New York. Their example has swiftly grown and spread around the world. Mainstream media has been confused by the fact that Occupy activists make no single demand and have no spokesman. This is an example of new networked leadership. The protestors are united in a sense that their democratic system is broken.

In Europe, Germans cannot believe that those in Greece were able to put themselves in such a precarious financial position, and Greeks are angry about having to take severe welfare cuts perceived as orders from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank.

 CC mkhalili

Earlier this year the UK public, whose trust in politicians is extremely low, rejected voting reform that could have changed the system, perhaps because they no longer believe that national electoral system is the problem. 

The link between these groups is the feeling of powerlessness in the face of forces they cannot control.

David Held’s book, Democracy and the Global Order, published in 1995, to some extent foresaw this. There is now, particularly following the global economic crisis, a deep underlying public understanding of the subject on which scholars such as Held have been writing for decades.

Democracy in its current form is being deeply tested by globalisation. How we respond to this should be the greatest debate of our time. Though they cannot yet articulate it, the occupiers of Wall Street, Bay Street, Paternoster Square and the Puerta del Sol are partly appealing for a new cosmopolitan democracy in Held’s model.

Democracy and the Global Order

Essentially the book is a call for a renewed form of democracy, a form that can cope with the complexities of a modern global life and its economic, political, social and cultural facets. Held argues that the Westphalian model of state sovereignty and autonomy is outdated, in both a real and normative sense. In this model sovereignty is granted both internally, by those in a territory of a state, and externally, through recognition by other states. Autonomy is the power and freedom of a state, and the state alone, to set rules for its territory.

Held argues that the UN Charter model has altered the Westphalian model of states somewhat, introducing the concept of the legitimacy of a state, granted by respecting democratic values and human rights [i.e. the ‘international community’ intervenes in Afghanistan, Libya etc.]

Held further demonstrates that the autonomy of states is constantly being reduced by environmental governance, world economic forces, the increase in international organisations, the growing power of civil society associations and changing political and cultural identities. These converge to radically change the governance environment in which the modern state finds itself.

His question, ultimately, is how can democracy be achieved in this interconnected, overlapping world, in which there are so many centres of power?

His answer is to start from the guarantee of individual autonomy. Autonomy is the the ability to take self-conscious, reasoned decisions on the matters that affect you. It requires legal delimitation of various sites of power (be they economic, biological, cultural etc) to ensure the possibility of political participation.

From this, Held develops the concept of a cosmopolitan democratic law. Since any global force can affect individual autonomy regardless of location or state membership, laws to protect autonomy must be realised globally. They must also guarantee autonomy in the various bodies politic and the various sites of power, which are multifaceted: from local to global, from cities to states, from corporations and entire economic markets.

From 1995 to 2011

Until now, the world has lacked the mechanical solutions for organising polities around the issues that affect them. But social media, and a little Arab Spring inspiration, can connect people (like Google+ circles!) around the issues they care about, regardless of national borders. The occupy movements are trying to give some physical presence to global online movements. The banking industry globalised long ago – that’s why they run the show. It’s time global democratic governance stepped up too. 

Below is the manifesto from the ‘United for #globaldemocracy movement’, though movement may be too strong a word, published in the Guardian on Friday. (Geeky spot: note how they list New York as though it were a country)

United for #GlobalDemocracy
On 15 October 2011, united in our diversity, united for global change, we demand global democracy: global governance by the people, for the people. Inspired by our sisters and brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, New York, Palestine-Israel, Spain and Greece, we too call for a regime change: a global regime change.

In the words of Vandana Shiva, the Indian activist, today we demand replacing the G8 with the whole of humanity – the G7,000,000,000.

Undemocratic international institutions are our global Mubarak, our global Assad, our global Gaddafi. These include: the IMF, the WTO, global markets, multinational banks, the G8/G20, the European Central Bank and the UN security council. Like Mubarak and Assad, these institutions must not be allowed to run people’s lives without their consent. We are all born equal, rich or poor, woman or man. Every African and Asian is equal to every European and American. Our global institutions must reflect this, or be overturned.

Today, more than ever before, global forces shape people’s lives. Our jobs, health, housing, education and pensions are controlled by global banks, markets, tax-havens, corporations and financial crises. Our environment is being destroyed by pollution in other continents. Our safety is determined by international wars and international trade in arms, drugs and natural resources. We are losing control over our lives. This must stop. This will stop. The citizens of the world must get control over the decisions that influence them in all levels – from global to local. That is global democracy. That is what we demand today.

Today, like the Mexican Zapatistas, we say “¡Ya basta! Aquí el pueblo manda y el gobierno obedece“: Enough! Here the people command and global institutions obey! Like the Spanish Tomalaplaza we say “Democracia Real Ya”: True global democracy now!” Today we call the citizens of the world: let us globalise Tahrir Square! Let us globalise Puerta del Sol!

Thinking Uncategorized

Keep calm and carrying on tweeting from the chamber (on @UKparliament approval of electronic device use)

Slightly surreal debate on use of smartphones/tablets etc in the chamber of the UK House of Commons last week. Happily, among much argument of who was the first to use Twitter / iPad / take Hipstamatics of PMQs etc, they decided that they can continue to use them.

Some of the arguments made in favour concerned: instant access to information, communication with sources, the ability to update speeches easily as debates move on and to get work done while waiting to be called by the Speaker – so a mix of improving the accuracy and effectiveness of debate, and simple productivity improvements. No mention of Angry Birds, oddly. 

What’s really interesting is when a MP will rely on a constituent for his or her argument and essentially will become a channel for, rather than a representative of, their views. The MP for Liverpool, Wavertree, Luciana Berger (@lucianaberger) actually read out tweets from the public to the chamber in this debate and ended up largely holding a debate by herself. 

There was extensive use of Twitter at the readings of the controversial Digital Economy Bill too – seem to remember constituents explaining issues via Twitter to their MPs. 

Digital participative democracy. It grows and grows. Why even meet to parler in a physical location at all?

  Not for this.
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Mini-briefing on the Open Government Partnership

The OGP was launched at last month’s UN General Assembly to a good deal of buzz in the gov 2.0 world. It seems to be part of, or hosted by, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, another Soros venture.

Essentially, it’s a well-meaning anti-corruption, pro-openness platform between some of the nations leading on open government: publishing data (not just numbers) and doing innovative things with it. Or allowing citizens to do interesting things with it. Brazil and the US led the project.

Here’s an explanation in splendid socialmedialand format:

The Open Government Declaration that nations can sign up to is just that, a declaration, but by promoting examples like these….

We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data…We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse.

We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials.

We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities.

…the founding nations hope to cajole plenty more into joining them. It’s an interesting start. The examples above are just a few lines from a fairly vast, all-encompassing list that reads a little bit like somebody put together in one place all the government transparency ideas they could find. Which might not be a bad thing.

Now, how about more of the same, but for the United Nations itself?

In the blogosphere:

David Eaves has argued that this ‘openness’ idea could be a sign of ‘open’ states raising the bar in governance:

It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed…I like the idea of world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

The Economist blogged a response:

The problem with Mr Eaves’ argument isn’t that it’s necessarily wrong as such. The OGP would definitely be in line with an overall strategy to promote Western democratic values and provoke people in other countries to demand more of them…

No, the problem is that this is really nothing new or major…

Countries can join the list if they demonstrate that they meet certain “minimum standards of open government”—”minimum” clearly being the operative word.

The Economist also included a broad overview of the whole project, including strengths and weaknesses, in their print edition.

One simple test of effectiveness: is anybody still talking about this in a year’s time?