A Flight of Fantasy

OK folks. I like to talk about "real" issues, but today I'm going to go a bit off the usual track with a little trip into theoretically-possible-land, just for fun.

I've been reading Francis Fukuyama's latest book. It discusses how political orders formed. It took thousands of years of human development to move from small bands to tribal organizations, and another few thousand to move from that to anything resembling a state, with many setbacks along the way. This progress was essentially evolutionary in nature: it wasn't within anyone's power to make it happen, though individual leaders certainly played an important role in pushing changes at the right moments.

This made me think: will this process continue? Will this one day create a world state, a federation with a single global defense force and global, hopefully representative, government?

There are several reasons why such a thing could be a dream or a nightmare, but let's ignore those for now, that's not what I want to discuss. Rather, I'd like to discuss ways we could feasibly move closer to that in an organic, evolutionary way.

One of the first steps might be something I've proposed for a long time. Tired of visa restrictions and immigration crap, I thought to myself "why do we even need to restrict movement like this between rich countries?" I know, the "rich country" part doesn't sound too nice, but let's face it: allowing everyone to move all over is not going to happen anytime soon. But, if the US were to open its doors to Canadians and vice versa, do we really think there'd be a stream of immigrants rushing over the border and overwhelming one side or the other? That seems patently absurd. So how about it?

Step 1: The North American Union
This has been a dream for a long time. Initially, it was hoped that NAFTA might lead to this. Lately, though, it seems unlikely that Mexico could be part of such an immigration and customs union (and border controls between the US and Canada have gotten more stringent, not less). Somewhat more likely in our lifetimes: a union between the US and Canada. What would such a union entail? It wouldn't have to be anything as close and organized as the EU. No monetary union, either, both countries would keep their currencies. Both countries would remain solely sovereign; there would be no "government" for the union or anything, no North American Parliament or the like. No, just a single market: goods, services, people, and capital could flow freely back and forth. Americans could work in Canada and vice versa. Each country would still be able to make, enforce, and interpret its own laws as it saw fit. It would open up most of the continent for most of its people to live, work, and play wherever they wanted.

Such a union would only require a treaty between the two countries. The only things they'd have to agree on would be eliminating all barriers to cross border trade and investment, as well as agreeing to allow nationals of the other side to live in work in their countries. This would require some harmonization of foreign policy, specifically for a customs union. Both sides would have to agree on what was allowed in and out of the area and what tariffs, etc., if any, they ought to apply. Also, immigration policy would need to harmonized to some degree for security reasons (the US is a lot stricter). That said, they wouldn't have to agree completely on immigration policy. EU countries do not (though this is admittedly sometimes problematic). The freedom of movement would only apply to citizens of both countries, not to immigrants/non-citizen residents, etc. For example, someone from outside the North American Union (NAU) who has a work permit for Canada would not automatically be able to work and live in the US. Since there would be no border controls, however, it would be impractical to stop such a person from visiting the US freely, which is why immigration security policies would have to be harmonized. This, in principle, is the way the EU works.

Alternatively (and this would be a better solution, but one that would require more difficult political consensus) the two countries could agree to adopt the same immigration rules and have a visa system with visas valid for both countries. I mean, we're dreaming here, right?

So let's continue along this logical route, suspending our disbelief a little bit longer.

Step 2: Joining other unions
The same logic that says Americans need not fear a rush of Canadian immigrants providing cheap labor and vice versa also goes for a similar union agreement with the EU. No, I don't mean joining the EU. That would mean surrendering sovereignty at a level the US would not agree to any time in the foreseeable future, assuming Europeans would even want this. After all, much of the impetus behind the EU was to be able to act as a counterweight to American power, not have the system dominated by it yet again. The same type of bilateral treaty could apply again. Canada, the US, and the EU could agree to create a customs and immigration union (again, not necessarily allowing free movement for third-country immigrants) between the EU and the more loosely organized NAU. Again, no transatlantic parliament or superbureaucracy needed, just a bilateral treaty. Now Germans could live in work in the US, Americans in France, what have you. And again, why not?

This time, we could even take a step back from immigration cooperation, since eliminating border controls would be impractical across the Atlantic. If every member region or state still had border controls, there would be no need to harmonize immigration security. No need, therefore, for the EU to adopt the US's rather draconian measures, etc. No difficult political agreement necessary.

Step 3: Continued expansion
Now that we've come this far, why not make similar agreements with countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Japan? Maybe South Korea and Singapore? The Japanese really don't like opening up to immigrants of any kind, so this could prove even harder than the other steps. But even without Japan, it seems hard to find a good reason to oppose a customs and residency union with Australia and New Zealand.

How does this relate to world government? Well, these unions were limited to developed countries due to the "economic refugee" problematic, if you will. But many other countries are developing and may catch up with us over the coming century. What's to stop Brazil or even China from joining? The answer, of course, is realpolitik, I fear. This would cause a two-steps-forward, one-step-back sort of dynamic. Nonetheless, it's still juuuust conceivable that something like this could lead, maybe in hundreds of years, to such freedom of movement, where people can vote for governments and things with their feet. Governments could be forced by people leaving either to close the doors again and lose all the benefits of openness, or change their policies to please their people. In such a world, people might eventually break loose from nationalistic ideas -- and it might for the first time actually be sensible to do so completely -- and really begin to be citizens of the world. Could a world government, built organically from the ground up following societal evolution, be that far behind?

Well, not in our lifetime, and maybe still never, but I see this as one possible path for how it could conceivably evolve. Human history is a long process of political organizational development. We tend to view the world now as "developed." But maybe it still has a ways (like, 1,000 years) to go...


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