October 29, 2010
Wow. This is the most interesting what-is-going-on-in-the-world thing I have encountered in a long long time:
There is so much going on in this talk. Seriously check it out. My summary below is incomplete.
Basically he is mapping the vast underside of globalisation – the enormous flow of cash and people engaged in vastly profitable illegal trades – from drugs, to sex tourism, to organ trafficking, to people trafficking, etc,
and the black financial market underlying it, which is as big as the rest combined since it facilitates it – things that will sound familiar – and places them in an utterly fascinating analysis of how and why this happens, and what it means.
Short version: our weird morality causes asymmetry in the world, which produces opportunities for arbitrage – systemic inequalities which can be leveraged for profit – ie what we ban makes it valuable when it crosses the border, which provides incentives to deal in those things – the harder the push to illegalise them, the more profitable they are.
The organisations making use of this systemic leverage are gigantic, and occurring in places in which the development model has failed and which are borderline failed states.
His provocative argument includes saying this is actually what development looks like – this is “actually happening” development, transferring more wealth from the global north to the global south than anything else that is being done.
This is the system, it is not marginal. It is creating a new class of geopolitical actors – what John Robb calls global guerrillas. In many cases they are replacing functions of the state in a privatised form – health clinics, justice, security, parks, schools – not for the public but their own constituents, their community.
While violent since they are outside the law, they are not revolutionary – they are not trying to take over the state. They don’t usually conflict with the state unless the state attacks them – eg a gang shutting down Sao Paolo for 3 days. They are mostly interested in autonomy, while functionally sapping the state in practice.
What does this mean for the future?
We will not make the world like us. However, it will also not descend into anarchy. Deviant globalisation represents an order, just not a liberal order, an illiberal order. It is not ungoverned, but governed by people we don’t like. They are not failed states – that assumes our ideal of a state – but rather a different kind of order outside of liberal states.
What can we do?
We can make judicious choices. Embrace the reality of the system, and what effects our local prohibitions have elsewhere.
The question then becomes what do we worry about more? (eg) our morality of drug use vs slaughter in the supply chain. He thinks these are not easy choices but that they are not going away.
Some thoughts I have about his analysis, however, is that all this arbitrage is parasitic off the liberal global system existing. He is describing something in a dynamic state of evolution, and it is hard to predict where it is going. This is the world system going into flux, losing equilibrium. Tracking it is certainly vital, but prediction is hard, as the out-of-control changes coming to our part of the system (peak oil, climate change, etc) will also affect the deviant global system.
Also, since what he is describing is a system that is effectively unfettered capitalism – unrestricted by any morality – interacting with the arbitrage created by our morality, we could get rid capitalism as an underlying system, thus removing the profit motive, or we can change our morality.
We are defined by what we prohibit; we could change what is allowable. Which brings us back to what is human, what is us, and other, and why, and how do we change that. And all the other stuff in our head, which most of my work for the past few years has been about hacking…
Finally, something I particularly took from it is a map of how and where the warlords of the multi-multi-polar near future are going to evolve.