I wrote about Russell Brand’s call for an unspecified revolution this past Friday. I liked his eloquent and indignant dismissal of the current political and economic system but he did not provide a vision of what a revolution should aim for. I have been struggling to wrestle down my own ideas on this and while I am still not quite there I feel like an outline is emerging.
Let me start by describing the goal. It is nothing short of humanity coming together on a global scale to eradicate poverty and disease and live in harmony with the environment. There I have said it, much like contestants at a beauty pageant declaring their goal to be “world peace.” I fully realize that this seems like an impossible dream, a forever unrealizable utopia. But I am quite sure that our lives today would seem like a utopia to pretty much anyone living in the Middle Ages (and yes, some parts of the world seem not yet to have escaped that time).
In fact, there are two compelling reasons for embracing such a new vision of utopia now. First, because it is within humanity’s reach. We have the technical resources to make sure everyone has access to food, clothing, shelter. We also have a technology (the Internet) to let us globally collaborate on solving problems. So any argument about “it can’t be done” at this point is a defeatist, negative one (and I plan to take on some of these in subsequent posts, such as the “goes against human nature” objection). Second, we need it more urgently than ever before. Not only are we screwing up the environment potentially beyond recovery but we are also ripping apart the existing social and economic fabric. The last few times we did this we wound up with revolutions and wars. We should all wish to avoid a horrible transition because given our capabilities the downsides could be much worse than even the previous world wars.
What does life in my utopia look like? Everyone has a basic guaranteed income. We are all connected to a global and free Internet (free as in not controlled by any one entity and free at the margin after paying a basic access fee that can easily be afforded with the guaranteed income). We are sharing information freely and collaborating to solve environmental and healthcare problems. We spend our time learning, producing and consuming art and (for some) working in a more traditional sense.
I have no illusion that it will take us a long time to get even close to this vision. Likely several, possibly many generations. But there does seem to be a path towards this world and it revolves around doing away with nation states (and hence also with the UN). Instead we need a global network of cities and regions. We could get there through the leadership of the mayors of the largest cities of the world. Already today the top 50 cities and their immediate surroundings globally have 10% of the global population living in them (and vastly more of its economic activity).
As a starting step, some of the largest cities could become the nodes in a globally free Internet. As a next step they might declare themselves Internet free trade zones with much less restrictive intellectual property regimes. There are likely some additional step to strengthen this alliance of cities including figuring out how to include regions. At some point they would need the guts to break away from their respective federal/state taxation systems. I will write a lot more about what a city and region based governance system might look like but to avoid massive distortions it would need a relatively simple and unified tax system (tax sales, income, treat inheritance as income and allocate on the basis of where sales happen / people spend their time).
And yes, I fully realize that this all sounds grandiose and lacks pretty much all detail. But the same was true at some point for air travel or having a global information network or routinely living to the age of 80 or cities with 20 million people living in them. So unlike Brand I am not calling for a random revolution but for laying the intellectual ground work for a new alliance among the cities and regions of the world, not unlike when the colonies came together to form the United States of America. We need a new set of Federalist Papers — or maybe it should be the Globalist or Humanist Papers. And yes we need to think big because the stuff our present national governments are doing generally amounts to spending a fortune on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.