…is it your thesis that governments will “go away” as the internet spreads?
I am not sure I understand, or understand how the typical government stuff….with or without corruption….will get done, like building roads, regulating drug and car companies, managing the Army, etc.
A very reasonable question, which I admit that I only partially answered here. (I blame the time limitations of a new semester). But here’s a sketch – a pretty good distillation of my current thinking on this topic.
To answer your questions – I don’t think governments will go away. I think ‘nations,’ as they are currently constituted (large, contiguous geographical units with a centralized bureaucratic government that holds a monopoly on deadly force) will hollow out to the point where they are mostly symbolic. What will replace them? I don’t know. But my guess at the moment is a much larger group of small, independent polities overlain by a lot of very fluid, independent interest groups, which pressure the polities to adhere to various alliances and international agreements. Kind of like the old city-states of Europe, but with a lot more transparency and a hyperconnected trans-national citizenry.
This is basically an evolutionary argument. I think that, just like organisms, institutions compete with one another over time for resources and energy. Those that can’t compete, lose. But governments also have to maintain the compliance of their citizens to operate efficiently. All governments have to choose a point on the spectrum between forcing compliance through autocratic bullying and earning voluntary compliance through guarantees of civil rights, effective services such as roads and infrastructure, and generally making people happy to live there and invested in the well-being of the polity as a whole. Not surprisingly, the most powerful countries in the world are those that choose the latter end of this equation (moderated of course buy other factors such as population and natural resources), because they have to invest less energy in controlling an angry population and their repressive measures inhibit the growth of the economy, which in modern times requires a skilled and educated populace who are less likely to accept the repression.
The “representative democracy – plus – corporate/capitalist economy” model emerged as the winner in the 20th century because it was best suited, within the boundaries of available information technology, to effectively marshall the energy of the population. But just like the printing press, the Internet is a disruptive technology in that it unleashes new efficiencies in human interaction and coordination. The Catholic Church, which was the dominant political entity in Europe before the printing press, found itself out-competed by institutions the embraced the new technology, and by the Treaty of Westphalia 200 years later the political order had been overturned and nations became the new dominant form of organization. The Internet’s going to make everything change again.
I’m not expecting any nation to just give up and go away; it’s more that as people find that Internet-driven institutions meet their needs more effectively they will naturally shift their loyalty to these organizations, and nations will be faced with the uncomfortable choice of either embracing the new practices or retaining the old bureaucratic system and forcing compliance through repression. This is already beginning – bills like PIPA/SOPA are deliberate efforts to countervail the power of networked citizens who happen to enjoy creating, remixing, and sharing their own cultural products, rather than consuming the product that is offered to them by the corporate media. 90% of all US TV, radio, and newspapers are owned by 6 corporations, and they’re very unhappy that they don’t have the same market dominance over the Internet. So they’re trying to force that control through legislation. There are other examples too. Unfortunately I think the US is going 180 degrees in the wrong direction right now, but that’s not very surprising; organizations, like organisms, are concerned first of all with their own survival.