Living in a Post-Hegemonic World

I remember clearly watching CNN in Ghana. My host family had a TV in the living room that was on every morning at breakfast. A cocky British man would happily quip off the news of the day, spending about 15 seconds on weather for the continent of Africa and occasionally highlighting a war in the region. I was struck not only with the limited viewpoints being fed to my host family, but with severely limited viewpoints being represented during the buildup to the war in Iraq. Was this really how news worked outside of my country? A single viewpoint was tempered and then widely broadcast to places where it had little or no local relevance.

Hegemony sucks. As Rebecca eloquently pointed out, human institutions that big just don’t last. In order to concentrate the economic might necessary to maintain such an empire, that empire must mass produce products, technologies, news stories and trade policies that just don’t work across the world’s diverse ecosystems and cultures. Yes, it’s tempting for developing countries to just borrow ideas and machines and news from developed ones, but economic and technological uniformity will fail for the same reasons that uniformity fails in nature. Uniformity takes too much energy to enforce, and once achieved it is too inherently unstable to last for any amount of time.

This means that a well thought out, progressive, sustainable set of standards for the world economy would not hold simply because the world economy by its very nature rejects standards.Duha showed how even a rare and fragile alliance of global economic interests stood on shaky ground when faced with pressure from a bunch of rural farmers that had probably seemed safe to ignore. The US, ready to take up the seat of empire after a long Cold War, finds the likes of China, a new Russia and Venezuela quickly nipping at its heels.

I wonder if what’s emerging is a world where few global things can be standardized enough to really make sense. The myth of a “global village” which shares the customs and norms of a single community seems like it is almost evaporated. What’s left is a global world where locality still really, really matters. Tehran isn’t like the place I’m from, neither is Accra and neither is Seoul. As American hegemony breaks down and these differences will, if anything, become even more pronounced. And as the world gets more different, it will get progressively more interconnected.

I wonder what this means about the “Human Capital” mentioned in Timmer’s analysis. The valuable people won’t be those ready to absorb the uniform knowledge of the world, they will be those ready to learn from and work with their local environment. I wonder if we’ll start to think locally and talk globally.

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