Arnold Kling

Decentralization and the Internet

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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John Perry Barlow continues to believe that the Internet fosters decentralization.

We’re in the middle of a thorough renegotiation of every power relationship on the planet. Those who have had power are going to have to earn it all over again. That includes schools, parents, employers, Wall Street, the recording industry, the people who do television news. And governments. The nation state is the most exposed, because it’s the most removed from most people’s actual lives....

Markets and multinational corporations are likely to take up many of the functions of government–setting standards, determining the value of currencies, taking care of the workforce.

To the extent that there will be political entities, we’ll see the ascendance of city states like Singapore. New York and London are actually far more important than most countries. Remember, in cyberspace, a city state is a global entity.

Barlow argues that people feel connected to their local government. However, their broader connections are with the Internet, which means that national government falls into a sort of no-man's land. A national government is too remote to be relevant to immediate problems, and it is too geographically confined to be relevant to the global world of the Internet.

Discussion Question. Are the nongovernmental entities--corporations and standards-setting bodies--sufficiently powerful to replace national governments in creating international institutions?

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