Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Cities of Earth


This blog deals mainly with things that might happen in outer space. But what, in that plausible midfuture, might be happening back on Earth?

I presume here that post industrial civilization on Earth does not fail in any of the familiar ways, nor in novel ones. If it does, nothing much will be happening in space except the patient beeping of robotic systems executing the last instructions they received. (If they are sending instructions to each other that is its own story, but not one I'll deal with here.)

If humans can live in space with no support from Earth, we are almost by definition past the midfuture, even if the far future comes sooner than I expected.


Current fashion, and it is a reasonable one, is to see the world political order reverting to a familiar great power structure: something like China, India, the US, the EU, Russia, Brazil, more or less.

The traditional definition of a great power is one that can take on any other great power. As I've argued before, it is not clear how far post industrial powers can take each other on without taking each other out. And even midrank powers can arm themselves with deterrents that will give a great power reason to pause.

A more practical definition for this century may be that a great power is a country that can project significant military force abroad. This is frightfully expensive. Militia war and tribal war are cheap, but the kind of war great powers make has gone far to price itself out of the market. Forces are much smaller than a century ago, and while their ability to blow stuff up is far greater, it still means less to go around.

For reasons discussed in the ground warfare post and - at much greater length - the discussion thread that followed, I believe that while sheer destructive power favors the offensive, in modern conditions the ability to exercise control favors the defensive. Big, heavy aircraft - assault and transport types - will be at great risk over hostile terrain, while logistic support convoys will be at risk as soon as they start moving.

Over time these conditions should favor political decentralization. Midrank powers have less need of a great power patron. And in the extreme case a central authority can blow a rebel province off the map, but cannot expect to reconquer it and find it in any condition to pay taxes. (China's underlying problem with Taiwan.)

How far might decentralization proceed? I will suggest that the 'natural' political, social, and economic unit of the midfuture may be the city. In the Western political tradition this would be full circle: Western political thought from Socrates to Machiavelli developed in a context of city states.

The great cities of today are a thousand times larger, with metro area populations in the tens of millions instead of tens of thousands, but they still have an inherent structural unity that megacorps lack. They lend themselves to regional government, and their economies are large enough to support the elements of a modern defensive umbrella, including if needed a nuclear deterrent.

Cities might form leagues, as medieval German cities formed the Hanseatic League, but more for economic than security reasons, since the added security of a league is only modest. Global politics in such an environment might take a variety of forms, from coalitions of leagues to a limited world government, to a welter of jurisdictions so complex we might have trouble describing it.

So ... what might a world of city states be like?



Related Posts: Goodbye, Westphalia, and Futures of Power Politics: Tank Commander.

The image comes from this 3-D screen saver site.

127 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you believe in even some of the more conservative estimates for the effects of nanotechnology on manufacturing and of computer/information science on AI (even robust narrow systems, not even brain emulations or strong AI), then it would appear to be heading that way.

With miniaturized industry and distribution of creative labor on to the internet (with or without AI help), plus a few things like AA lasers and such, the city-state model starts looking mighty likely -- especially given the bloat and corruption that typifies the great powers these days.

Milo said...

The question is: what do people identify with strongly enough to be willing to rally behind, even unto war?

War is more than anything a group activity, and it requires the people participating in it to have some reason why they are willing to stand by their in-group even when it means angering an out-group.

In our world where travel and communication are becoming ever easier, I rather doubt people will consider what city someone lives in to be sufficiently important to base allegiance on. If people still care about geographic cultural heritage, few cities have one rich enough to match a true country.



Anonymous:

"especially given the bloat and corruption that typifies the great powers these days"

Please give me a demonstration of any great power in history, at any place or time, which was not bloated or corrupted.

Triple score if there also were no citizens accusing it of being bloated or corrupted and lamenting the world's overall deterioration from some mythical ideal.

Cambias said...

The trouble with a world of city-states is that in the developed world cities are no longer big enough. I've changed locations four times in my life, and I know people who've done it every few years.

A city must be part of a larger polity, just to allow the free movement of people and goods that they depend on.

Now, this polity doesn't have to be a formal state, it can be something as fluid and vague as "the US-supported postwar economic system" but even that relies ultimately on big power.

Tony said...

Cambias:

"A city must be part of a larger polity, just to allow the free movement of people and goods that they depend on.

Now, this polity doesn't have to be a formal state, it can be something as fluid and vague as "the US-supported postwar economic system" but even that relies ultimately on big power."


+10

The driver of modern prosperiy is large, relatively stable markets. I think the ability to create and sustain a homogenous market is a better definition of "great power" than the ability to project military power. I also think that the one will follow the other, out of necessity, since market stability often depends on stable trading partners and resource providers.

The European Union, for example, is in reality just a market stability scheme. And they found out just how important stability is when the fiscal irregularities of Greece -- with the 22nd highest standard of living in the world, believe it or not -- almost threw the whole market into a crisis.

A multiplicity of hundreds of city states, without large, stable markets in which to operate, would be a nightmare of economic instability. But where do large markets come from? That's right -- large states or large, stable confederations of states.

Geoffrey S H said...

Some thoughts from a setting of mine: starts initially very anglocentric and then movs out to describe the rest of the world.

ps: the Commonwealth here has transcended its British and empire origins- some post-modernist historians in the 2500's are arguing that it was never like that at all.

Includes some space stuff but still is fcused greatly on a future Earth and MArs

Has many flaws.

The nations state is still king- I would even argue that the age of the mega corporation like the East India Companies etc is now over- the nationstate is still on the rise. The case against city states here, I would also factor in. Supranational entities like the EU still need to take into ccount he immense diversity of each nation, hence the role for nations.

I'm going from the premise that I know about Britain best, and thus, at the moment will concentrate on her future the most, but slowly expanding outwards to include as many countries as possible. The next countries I would work on would be India, Japan and the USA, not necessarily in that order. I'd aim for a 200- 500 year's time setting (seeing as I'd like to include a terraformed Mars and maybe Venus with sizable populations of several billion) and thus would have to try and think of advances in every part of society.

Thus I'd have to think about how politics,. societal groups, economics and industry/ agriculture would turn out after that development. Impossible, obviously, at least to do accurately, but nevertheless it would be interesting to try.

Righto:

The notion of "decline and fall" for nations has been addressed, as it has major impacts on the global system- around the 2200's. Major nations do not like power vacuums to be suddenly filled, (or to appear) and declining nations like the idea of being propped up and helped to find a role within the world system that has some importance. If the US starts to go under, perhaps around the 2150's, she sees the chance to stop her decline and eventually become a mid-sized nation with good power and influence and a solid economy. Eventually, Japan -though never a superpower- experiences this in a more restrained way. India, after about 200 or so years at the top, experiences this too. Britain, seeing an opportunity to gain some plaudits within this new order, offers to Commonwealth leaders the chance to accept declining superpowers within the organisation, benefit from their greater influence and protection, and then help them stabilise and find useful roles. Many of the smaller countries that would object are on the rise themselves, and see the Commonwealth as an organisation that should have greater influence in the world- nations such as Rwanda, Malasia and Kenya, though talk of it becoming a supra-political entity is non-existent, the organisation is about helping smaller nations such as Singapore and Britain find a voice in discussions.

Thus, the organisation eventually transcends its roots as ex-possessions of the UK and becomes a "club" for "retired" nations, allowing them to adjust to being mid-sized nations again through subsidies and advisors, principally from the USA and the UK. Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Malasia, America, Japan and South Korea (having joined during the 2170's), India, Thailand (joined in the 2210's) the ANZACs and Canada form the "big 14, along with Britain and America. Some defence pacts are issued, and economic treaties made, but acts of collaboration between nations are not official acts of the Commonwealth itself, so as to not risk dissent pulling it apart in the event of a controversial action being carried out by one or more of its members.

Geoffrey S H said...

oh no! not again! drat you blogger!

The EU is a smaller example, having had to do something similar to stop pan-European decline, but has not had the blessing and unlimited funds of superpowers eager to join (am not sure whether to have Russia joining). Its subsequent (but smaller scale) recovery is thus seen as far more impressive, with it being seen as the ultimate case-study for decline-recovery. More united as a political bloc than the Cmwlth, and smaller, it nevertheless allows individual actions by nations occasionally, and though smaller, is the second largest grouping of nations in the solar system, outside of NATO (also transcending its original origins, its longevity earning it the nickname in one South Korean newspaper as "almost as old as the papacy)".

NATO itself has transformed completely, the old Anglo-American upper leadership ceding to many more nationalities, with many Supreme commanders being Indian, South Korean and Japanese, though with the rising power of the South American nations and African states, they are gaining the top jobs more and more. Martian nations, around the 2350's-2400's begin to express an interest in joining, if only to work better with the small numbers of US and Indian bases dotted across their world. The first to join results in the total transformation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and its mission, calls to change its name being considered, but little coming of it.

Russia and China decline, but after the supremacy of India is achieved, do not manage to pull themselves out of the spiral for a very long time. They do have many old bases off-world, and their exploration of Mars earn them a position in history similar to that occupied by Spain and Portugal. China especially has some very old friends among some Martian nations, but is currently focused more inward to address her decline and improve living standards, somewhat fallen around the 2230's.

The current dominant superpower is Brazil, with Chile and Peru being runners-up. With massive economic military power over the entire solar system as of the 2500's, she represents the political dominance of South America in general. In doing this she has a presence everywhere i the system, and a permanent seat on the now expanded- UN security council. Currently she is predicted to have about 100-150 years of life as a hyper-power left.

Geoffrey S H said...

Social groups have moved from tolerant to actively sampling other lifestyles and ideologies- Churches are usually full for services, and yet the atheist community is bigger than ever. Current ideological rows have been abandoned- even eco-terrorism is seen to be as obsolete as 19th century anarchism. What next: nano-terror, transhumant tensions, hmm....

Transhumanism is practised, with the condition that modifications are subtle and not too obvious, and that the resulting modification does not prevent you from taking part in “normal” unchanged society. I.e: you can grow gills to help with your profession as a deep sea construction engineer, but you must provide provision to be able to live easily on dry land- and you must have a reasonable appearance- somewhat how tattoos are seen in social convention. Some groups campaign against this stigma/”stigma”, but the reply is what their children would think, being not given the choice and facing a potential life which they did not want and might not be able to change.

Limbs can be re-grown through special power-like substances. Prosthetics are still very useful.

Microwaves as weapons are banned except for anti-nanotech uses. The same for crowd control and pain lasers- horses are still seen as the best way to stop riots.


Government systems have moved from more freedom to more efficiency- there-fore, what gives the people the best deal is prized above all else- sometimes an upper chamber is stuffed with un-elected technocrats, and sometimes it is fully elected- changing within decades from one to the other and back again. While discussions about freedom still arise, the nature of such talk is radically different after 500 years of development.

Robots are used, but human control is near dominance in the cycle again.

Trans-planetary transport is still very much used, ships are near the 200-400,000 ton range, with semi-submersible tankers, container ships and battleships (the latter also being flying wing ground effect trimeran hydrofoil morphable wing semi-ornithopter craft, though of course this is by now off the shelf technology).

Computers help run the economy, promoting slow but very certain growth. "boom and bust" occurs, but very slowly and with minimal impact on the population. The stock market is computer regulated to prevent emotion taking control of the market- one of the few things that robots still do exclusively.

Most of the West has experienced radical population migration, with there being a sizable white minority in Asia and Africa, and the majority population in Britain being black. What we would see as a fusion of British, Indian and South American culture exists (this applies with regional variations to many other countries- insert *native culture* where British should be), with musical structure tending towards a pan-African composition.

Geoffrey S H said...

Mars, being the second oldest place of human habitation of any significance, is currently stable, only the coastal areas of the Kaos Fractals and the polar regions seeing anty instability. While some natyions on Earth and Mars occasionally go to war with each other, stability and peace is the norm. Venus, recently terraformed, and until then only spacly populated, has had a history of strife among the floating cities (currently kept a mementoes of an earlier age, and supported in the heavier athmosphere by new technologies, now that oxygen is no longer a lifting device. Some city-states (foating nations of cities?) have been to war with some collaboration of Tellurian and Martian powers, but otherwise things here have been also fairly stable.

Previous centuries have seen war on a large scale, the 2300’s being a particular time of strife. Nevertheless, it is noted, that Brazil (with a population alittle lower than that f the 2000’s) has come to power without a conflict helping her on the way. Such a rise is also predicted for both Alate and Canada/Malasia et al.

The Afircan continent is home to the most inguity-roientated nations, with malasia, Kenya, Rwanda, Gana and South Africa being the mosty powerful.Ethiopia is seen as the the wild-card,with a key part of the weather-satellite market and nano-conversion process being dominated by her.

For many nations,laws that in the 2000’s would seem petty or overthetop are the nrom. Damaging wildlife can carry a prison sentence- even treading on slugs and interfearing with the balance of nature. Many species have been saved or recreated- with the more prehistoric of species being shipped to Mars –wholly mammoths and so on. Flies, rodents and the rest find their way there too.
Energy production is a mini economy by itelf, mobile nuclear reactors and production of batteries filled with energy to be shipped off to smaller communities without the capability for a reactor, or those with the need for backups that don’t run the risk of melt-down.

Buildings have morphable material (sometimes) that can let people in place of doors, though those certainly aren’t in danger of fading. Books are prominent still, with data pads, etc seen as an addon, not a replacement. Same goes for TVs and holographic displays, sometimes 2d is simpler and better.

Archtecture has moved beyond the classical/gothic/modernist free-for-all. Anglo-Saxon style skyscraper mix comfortably with traditionalist cathedrals and offices, with turf-shelled houses and prefabs, and colonial era police stations, or whatever. New styles are argued over now sometimes.

Economic diversity is still around (why nano-create something when hauling it out the ground and quickly re-shaping it with lasers to form a chair or an engine is easier?), so whie thingsmay look post-scarcity to us, to the people tere, it is really just the same as the 2000’s.

Freighter airships (here called “stats) are common, as are passenger and military. Experiments into biological components have become normal, and main-line employment of the “technology” is beginning around the 2300’s.

Geoffrey S H said...

Australia has developed her outback over the 2100’s and 2200’s, but the result of emigration to Mars and elsewhere has seen the risk of overpopulation drop somewhat. A “green belt” policy in most nations has taken effect to preserve the countryside. While there are large cities, it is not the sole are of human habitation. Mega-cities are very rare and seen as bad for the health of those that live there.

By the 2400’s, the Lake District in Britain FINALLY gets access to wireless internet. ;)

Turkey decides to join the Commonwealth, the EU, a China-sponsored federation of “independents” and other organizations, giving her the protection of almost any nation on the planet, and other planets…

By the 23000’s, quantumn computers have been miniturised into anything imaginable- and are soon to be replaced, biological cortexes are being considered, though theyare still immensely inferior to the human brain and will always be so.

It is generally accepted by the 2500’s that the human brain cannot be outdone in processing power by any human-crafted technology.

Universities by the 2100’s have anti-matter physicists and quantumn theorists as standared,aloth the required courses.
As good as qunatumn teleportation a d blue-lasers are, telephone and telegraph cables are STILthe most secure form of communication- unless thery are tapped of course.

Northern Europe, Denmark, etc are now on a par with Latin Europe in power and influence, and are world leaders in sustainable fishing- which is accomplished by precision PDS-style dart weapons that instantly euthanize the fish and then haul them in.

Phones and ear-pods (and computers0 could be miniscule, but then they would be too small for human hands.

India has some vestiges of its monarchial systems restored, out of respect for the profits the heretige industry could pull in- around the 2250’s. Said Maharajas go on to gain small powers of influence in the political world. Some technocrats also gain similar positions.

There is a tendancy to make more religions in the worldstate-based (sometimes with places in government but this is unsuaul, mostly in upper-houses) so that their clergy and staff have a legal bligation to help ANYONE in the nation that is in need,so long as they are of that nation.

GM crops are accepted.

50% of the population across the solar system are openly atheist.

Done! Within there are some opinions and thoughts that might help . Again, alot is flawed and based on assumptions (the opinion that the megacorporation died with the East India Companys and that the nation state is still the ultimate form of human governance), but again, it still might help.

Anonymous said...

Please give me a demonstration of any great power in history, at any place or time, which was not bloated or corrupted.

Triple score if there also were no citizens accusing it of being bloated or corrupted and lamenting the world's overall deterioration from some mythical ideal.


Oh look, a cherry-picking pedant missing the point to rage about something totally irrelevant.

On these internets? Never.

Milo said...

I picture faction sizes increasing over time, not decreasing. We've already gone from bands to tribes to city-states to feudal realms to nation-states, and the next step will be planet-states, not going back to city-states. Granted planet-states will take a while to settle into (for one, we'd likely need a fair amount of planets), so we may not get there before the end of the midfuture, but we're still going to go forward, not backward. (Even if Earth isn't actually unified today, there's a lot more globalization there there was in Napoleon's time, and the US de facto calls a lot of the shots - and note that even its official borders are already quite large compared to older nation-states - it's not for nothing that it's described as consisting of 50 "states". Places such as Europe are starting to see the benefits of uniting. Etc.)

Individual cities will retain some freedom of own government, just as they do today (mayors), but that will be no different from a citizen of a nation retaining a fair amount of personal freedom even while being bound by its laws.

Unified government does not mean unified culture, but people will likely sort themselves by common interests or ideologies or by things like ethnicity or language, not geography.

Milo said...

Geoffrey S H:

I have nothing to say about your particular choices of which nation does what, but the overall theme looks right to me and is consistent with my expectations of increasing importance of supranational power structures.


"Cmwlth"

For a moment I thought that was something in Welsh.

Well, I guess they are part of the Commonwealth...


"Martian nations, around the 2350's-2400's begin to express an interest in joining, if only to work better with the small numbers of US and Indian bases dotted across their world. The first to join results in the total transformation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and its mission, calls to change its name being considered, but little coming of it."

Heh.


"Russia and China decline, but after the supremacy of India is achieved, do not manage to pull themselves out of the spiral for a very long time. They do have many old bases off-world, and their exploration of Mars earn them a position in history similar to that occupied by Spain and Portugal."

Does this mean many Martian colonies speak dialects of Russian and Chinese as their native language?

Milo said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Transhumanism is practised, with the condition that modifications are subtle and not too obvious, and that the resulting modification does not prevent you from taking part in "normal" unchanged society."

A decent rule, although it doesn't mention a lot of the issues. If you can use genetic engineering to make your children a little more intelligent, that's not going to have any externally obvious effects, but it'll rapidly make them better at many jobs than non-modified humans.

And the really sticky moral issues begin when you consider the possibility of artificially tuning someone's personality (if the brain genome is understood sufficiently well for that to even be possible). All hell will break loose approximately 0.0013 seconds after someone realizes that you could program children to be super-submissive and happy to serve...


"Government systems have moved from more freedom to more efficiency- there-fore, what gives the people the best deal is prized above all else"

In other words, communism?


"battleships (the latter also being flying wing ground effect trimeran hydrofoil morphable wing semi-ornithopter craft, though of course this is by now off the shelf technology)"

What.

Milo said...

Geoffrey S H:

"the majority population in Britain being black"

How did that happen?


"and the polar regions"

Why have people settled those at all? Mars is cold enough as is.


"Many species have been saved or recreated- with the more prehistoric of species being shipped to Mars - woolly mammoths and so on."

Cool. They'll feel right at home there.

What did you ship to Venus? Rainforest and swamp critters, I'd presume, though depending on just how much water you added.

Milo said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Buildings have morphable material (sometimes) that can let people in place of doors, though those certainly aren’t in danger of fading."

I would be concerned about reliability. A door can be opened by anyone with a hand. Do your morphable materials still work when the power goes out? What do you do when there's a bug in the system?


"Anglo-Saxon style skyscraper mix comfortably with traditionalist cathedrals and offices"

Better yet: skyscrapers that look like really over-the-top traditionalist buildings!


"Universities by the 2100s have anti-matter physicists [...] as standard"

Sans hands-on courses, one would presume?


"Northern Europe, Denmark, etc are now on a par with Latin Europe in power and influence, and are world leaders in sustainable fishing- which is accomplished by precision PDS-style dart weapons that instantly euthanize the fish and then haul them in."

This cannot be easier than just farming the fish yourself.

Milo said...

Anonymous:

"Oh look, a cherry-picking pedant missing the point to rage about something totally irrelevant.

On these internets? Never."


Excuse me?

You were saying that our current great powers' bloat and corruption would lead to their collapse and replacement by city-states. I countered this by pointing out that if bloat and corruption actually did that, it would have happened long ago.

People have been prophesizing the impending doom of civilization as a result of our failing moral fabric for approximately as long as Homo sapiens has existed.

Yet we appear to still not have reverted to city-states.

Tony said...

Milo:

"People have been prophesizing the impending doom of civilization as a result of our failing moral fabric for approximately as long as Homo sapiens has existed.

Yet we appear to still not have reverted to city-states."


That's not entirely factual. Governmental excess and corruption have definitely contributed to the default of large states. And in the aftermath, there have been city-state like polities aplenty -- for example, the free cities of Europe leading up to and during the Renaissance.

Having said that, it remains hard to deny that all governments are prone to bloat and corruption, the larger they are, the moreso. But that's a feature of the system, not a bug that can be erradicated.

It also remains hard to deny that the best markets are large ones, protected by powerful states. Classical Athens, when it was strong, ate Ukrainian wheat, just as Late Republican and Early Imperial Rome subsisted off of Africa. Today we eat Chilean fruit during the Northern Hemisphere winter, and blather at each other on the Interwebs using computer hardware made in East Asia. None of that is possible without large, strong governments backing large, stable markets.

Cityside said...

A couple of relevant articles:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/0/16/beyond_city_limits?page=full

http://www.newgeography.com/content/001786-the-new-world-order

Geoffrey S H said...

@Milo

Anglo-Saxon skyscrapers.

Yes, that one is ridicuous... but then much "clasical" style architecture might seem ridiculous to those that used the origional style- a Roman or Greek might think our use of columns and roman arches in 18th century government buildings and houses to be slightly... odd. The shape of such buildings as compared with ancient villas might contrast with the "ancient" facades on boths kinds of buildings. Just don't want to fall back entirely on the "gleaming spires" that sci-fi aways seems to go for, though they would be included as well.
Transhumanism:
If intelligence in increased in some way, might it decrease in another. Is it possible to increase your IQ in some blanket fashion? Might common sense decrease if your ability to remember numbers and analyse trends increase?In some ways I might use your argument there as the reason why that "law" is in place- instead of messing around intelligence, why not give yourself gills (not the best example here)for your job as a proffesional diver muscles that are harder to tear through excerise for your job as a lumberjack-robot surpervisor and retain the capability to maintian a decent conversation with a "normal" huma being without either one of you
Basically "feel free to give yourself better this/that but please DON'T change so much that the only company that you will ever appreciate will be that of your fellow changed beings. That encourages seperation and mistrust.

Hope that may make sense, I've probably contradicted myself here.
Transhumanism is fresh terratory here, I'd have to make mistakes with this sort of thing before it improves. Its certainly fascinating.

Flying freightors and battleships:

Ah- that. Essentially a ground effect craft- a plane but that uses the surface of the sea as a "cushion" to glide over. Give it a flyingwing (B2 Spirit like) to maximize the surface area dfevoted to the ground effect. Give it a trimaran hull, with hydrofoils, so that when it slows down, descends and touches down on the water it can float reliably. The morphable wings can expand to give extra lift or fit in a compact space (i.e: storage). The ornithopter bit is abit more complicatedb to explain, but it is really just an effort to make it as different as possible. Probably should take thatout. the RESt however, should be feasible- some members of a sailing club I frequent discussed melding some of these ideastogether in fact and concluded it woud make a very good craft, performance and endurance wise.

Basically alot of concepts crammed together.

Geoffrey S H said...

Majority of the British poluation being black:
For the moment, that little comment on the majority population of the UK is merely a way to make the country different in demographics as much as possible. Might change it, but I get to imagine a certain black Britsh actor (who I have long admired) asthe model for a certain character in my setting if I ever do add characters, and (gasp!) a story to it.
Not a very good explanation I know, but I just felt like it really.
Choice of countries:
"I have nothing to say about your particular choices of which nation does what, but the overall theme looks right to me and is consistent with my expectations of increasing importance of supranational power structures."

I keep worrying about whether this sounds too anglo-centric. The UK is merely one of many nations in an ever expanding human civilisation. From her point of view she is fairly important, but everyone else sees her as just one of many powers that occasionally pops up, makes an interesting point, then dissapears to her corner of the world. I'd change the name of the Commonwealth to empahises how it really is a different organisation to when it was origionally formed, but I'm tired of supra-national organisations called the "Coalition" or "Alliance of blah blah blah". I'm sticking with that name for lack of a better one- for now.
The concpet of "which nation does which" will change as I develop it more. The rest of the "big 14" and Brazil are the most important to develope.
Languages of Mars:
Hmmm, tricky, depends on how much is settled by them. Perhaps they and America settle bits each with China getting alittle more by virtue of having more population to settle the land with. Any big bits left are settle by Brazilian settlers, with all other nations claiming the last small bits. So Chinese first, Englsh and Russian second, with Spanish (or the Brazilian 500 year-on evolution of) steadily gaining in popularity.

Wales in the Commonwealth:
That was a typo sorry. Wales, as part of Britain, would of course be in the Commonwealth.
"So basically Communism".
Hmmm... very tricky again... Just because democracy is not always excersised in the system does not mean it is not important. Very poorly put on my part, and I apologise for that.
Example:
Some representatives of the people are elected every 5 years- they address the immediate concerns of the public. They must prove themselves to the public evry 5 years.
Others are elected for life- the theory goes that they can focus on the long-game. Focus on long term trends and some times make unpopular decisions that in fact do work, but the regular politicians would be too terrified to do with elections coming up.
Others have almost inherited their positions, or have been selected bycommittee. They can say many stupid things and can have little relevance to political society and the public at large- but because of their lack of responsibility , and thus little need to worry about public trendsa and fashions, can sometimes come out with little gems of common sense.
There are other types of politicians, but its getting too late to post them on... Urgh.
Hoever, NO position is so removed from the punlic that they cannot be removed if they get too tyranicle (by law or elections), even the non-elected positions.
I'd do heads of state, but I need sleep.
I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me?

You were saying that our current great powers' bloat and corruption would lead to their collapse and replacement by city-states. I countered this by pointing out that if bloat and corruption actually did that, it would have happened long ago.

People have been prophesizing the impending doom of civilization as a result of our failing moral fabric for approximately as long as Homo sapiens has existed.

Yet we appear to still not have reverted to city-states.


I see you're a little slow, despite your hurry to Nerd Rage, so I'll go over it at your speed.

Corruption and bloat itself doesn't make the transition to city-states more likely in itself. This is where reading the entire post and putting the statement in context would be handy.

With the technological tools to enable such a transition, by allowing more streamlined city-states to exist as independent units -- assuming of course sufficiently-advanced SFnal tropes like nanomanufacturing and the ability to deploy advanced weaponry and defensive systems (your nukes, anti-aircraft laser grids, what have you) -- the nation-state becomes less attractive and less able to exert its will.

Take a bloated rotten corpse and the ability for local or distributed-regional groups to de-fang the necrotic thing and you get a system that will downscale accordingly.

Feel free to resume pedantry and point-missing to score e-points.

Milo said...

Geoffrey S H:

"If intelligence in increased in some way, might it decrease in another. Is it possible to increase your IQ in some blanket fashion? Might common sense decrease if your ability to remember numbers and analyse trends increase?"

There is probably an upper limit to how much intelligence you can cram into a brain of a given size, without radically reorganizing the architecture. Beyond that point you would need tradeoffs to go any higher.

However, I rather doubt natural evolution's jury-rigged jumble has reached this point. If nothing else, you should at least be able to ensure your children will turn out towards the high end of the currently existing intelligence curve. You won't be a supergenius but it's a good start for the first gen...

And yes, natural intelligence does often come with tradeoffs like reduced social aptitude (nerds!). With engineering, though, you might be able to shuffle the tradeoff into something unimportant, like getting rid of several of our instincts that haven't been relevant since the Pleistocene.


"The UK is merely one of many nations in an ever expanding human civilisation. From her point of view she is fairly important, but everyone else sees her as just one of many powers that occasionally pops up, makes an interesting point, then dissapears to her corner of the world."

From my point of view, I tend to see the world approximately as "great powers", "miscellaneous first world nations", and "the rabble". The UK belongs to the middle category, which makes it fairly important but not really more important than anyone else in that category. The UK has additional historical significance due to their empire, but so do many other places. They're associated with NATO and the US but there, again, they're not the ones in charge.


"That was a typo sorry."

No, it wasn't. That was a completely valid abbreviation of Commonwealth. I just didn't immediately recognize it as such, and I'm not sure why you bothered to abbreviate.


"Hmmm... very tricky again... Just because democracy is not always excersised in the system does not mean it is not important."

Communism does not necessarily mean Stalinist. Sacrificing freedom for the greater wealth of all is still a communist ideal, whether you're sacrificing all of your freedom or only some of it. Would you prefer if I said socialism rather than communism?

Far be it from me to claim that communism cannot work if you implement it somewhat more carefully than the Soviets did, but they're still a rather discouraging precedent.


"However, NO position is so removed from the public that they cannot be removed if they get too tyranical (by law or elections)"

Or, if all else fails, by heads on pikes.

Hugh said...

Milo wrote a while back (sorry, just got here)

In our world where travel and communication are becoming ever easier, I rather doubt people will consider what city someone lives in to be sufficiently important to base allegiance on. If people still care about geographic cultural heritage, few cities have one rich enough to match a true country.


Not so sure...it's also possible that as countries blur, your local neighbourhood becomes more important to you. When (most) people walked everywhere, it was a suburb or village; these days with cars it's more likely your city that you think of as "the neighbourhood."

For a somewhat frightening example, think about football - soccer - supporters in the UK and Europe. Every so often the news headline is something like "Barcelona and Manchester fans brawl in the streets of Brussels." These people are taking their regional identity very seriously.

Raymond said...

Damn Blogger, part the first:

I love cities. Love them, breathe them, compare them, base my travel plans around them exclusively, worry about them (need to get to New Orleans sometime soon), and even hate a few (Los Angeles can kiss my ass).

Being from Canada, I already see the results of the larger demographic shift to cities that accelerates as we speak; we're already over 80% urban. And I live in the biggest one. Canada's somewhat weird when it comes to the distribution of power (we're actually the most decentralized country in the West, barring perhaps Switzerland) but cities don't quite get their fair share (yet).

We need it. And I suspect we'll get it sooner rather than later.

Cities are a concentration of infrastructure, if you can boil the concept down that far. They appear when there is sufficient proximity to enable the economies of scale and capital multipliers of public transport infrastructure. They take on a life of their own after that, if they succeed at all. But their genesis can be reduced to having enough stuff close enough together to allow more things to happen cheaply. Specialization breeds like rabbits, and cities can leverage regional transport networks to further the process. (Hell, I'd go so far as to say cities are the natural basis for regional networks in the first place. But I'll get to that in a second.)

Tony, you speak of markets broad and deep. A city is essentially that. Proximity has an exponential effect on the size of a market, or more importantly the connections between market entities. Even in the Information Age (as the old-timers call it) city-scale proximity has market advantages; why else do you think Silicon Valley appeared, or Boston remains a tech hub (due to MIT et al), or New York and LA remain the twin media hubs of America, or London has such unopposed financial clout?

Connections between cities are where things get interesting. There's a landmark study here which measures cities by their connections to others on the international stage. New York and London are the standouts, of course, with Hong Kong at number 3 and growing quickly. But to talk of the economic space beyond cities is to speak of networks instead of states. The one thing faintly neglected in the aforementioned study is connections of a purely intra-state nature - this is where America's real strength lies (and where Chicago, for example, takes on an importance less noticed by the world at large). America's vast internal market is predicated upon its network of cities and mobility of capital and labor more so than any other country I can name.

This point, however, has less to do with the armed forces of the United States, and more to do with the Interstate Highway system, with an honorable mention to the Interstate Commerce Act.

Raymond said...

Damn Blogger, part the second:

And when we talk of the economies of nation-states, what exactly are we talking about? Unified currency? The EU cringes, China laughs, and London bankers spit. Unified trade regulations? The WTO would have a word with you, Alabama and Texas don't want your dildos, and California is quite proud of its harsher pollution laws. Transportation networks? Now we're getting somewhere.

And as we discuss nation-states, let's not confuse the borders (and their guards) for the much more complicated economic units within them. I'd hazard that the reason behind their fading power is the sheer scale of the task. Bureaucracy is a logarithmic beast, not a linear one. I thought the lessons of New Orleans would have been more obvious. Many of the most important areas where the state has a role (whether it should is a separate question) are power, water, roads, education, health care delivery (as opposed to funding - I'm Canadian, after all), policing (I'm not counting the artificial jurisdiction wars Murricans are so fond of), housing, and communication. All of these are deeply tied to the local, as opposed to the provincial or federal or supranational. (With the possible exception of the strange case of communications, and so here I'm talking about the messier and more critical local networks.) These are areas where the city is paramount, and often the nation-state barely enters the equation except perhaps to fund things. Between cities the nation-state seems even more vestigial, except where it meddles and distorts.

The idea of alliances between city-states isn't that far off from reality in a lot of ways that count, just somewhat less formalized than Rick proposes. As the sheer scale of things continues to drain even the theoretical efficiencies of the nation-state, though, I wouldn't be surprised to see more of those distinctions be put into law.

Raymond said...

Damn Blogger, part the third:

This one's just to get the emails.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"It also remains hard to deny that the best markets are large ones, protected by powerful states. Classical Athens, when it was strong, ate Ukrainian wheat, just as Late Republican and Early Imperial Rome subsisted off of Africa. Today we eat Chilean fruit during the Northern Hemisphere winter, and blather at each other on the Interwebs using computer hardware made in East Asia. None of that is possible without large, strong governments backing large, stable markets.

Which part of the large, powerful state actually backs the market? The gangster for capitalism? It helps when the market isn't shot at or blown up regularly (see Iraq), but much of that level of security has more to do with city-level actors like police and militias (also see Iraq). Transportation and communication networks are about the only large-scale projects where the nation-state shines, but that has more to do with capital than armies.

Also note that two of your examples were hegemonic city-states, and the third depends less on the territorial nation-state than at any other time in history.

Cityside:

The Foreign Policy link doesn't work. Repost?

Anonymous:

"I see you're a little slow, despite your hurry to Nerd Rage, so I'll go over it at your speed."

Uh, chill?

Milo said...

Hugh:

"Not so sure...it's also possible that as countries blur, your local neighbourhood becomes more important to you. When (most) people walked everywhere, it was a suburb or village; these days with cars it's more likely your city that you think of as "the neighbourhood.""

I have only ever directly seen a small fraction of the city I live in. I've never met most of the people there. You people here are much more real to me than my next-door neighbor.


"For a somewhat frightening example, think about football - soccer - supporters in the UK and Europe. Every so often the news headline is something like "Barcelona and Manchester fans brawl in the streets of Brussels." These people are taking their regional identity very seriously."

In this case they're defining regional identity according to "what is the nearest sports team to me?". (Well, not quite - someone living near the border would still affiliate more with a sports team from the other side of his own country than one from just over the border.)

Thus the importance of any given city, country, or whatever would be determined by whether it supports its own professional sports team. Not all cities have a sports team capable of participating in championships, even in cultures that care a lot about that sport. Barcelona and Manchester are from different countries, so was this really a Barcelona vs Manchester fight or a Spain vs England fight?

In any case, which sport people are crazy about tends to vary by country rather than by city.



Raymond:

"Transportation and communication networks are about the only large-scale projects where the nation-state shines,"

What about terraforming? If something were to go wrong with the Netherlands' dams, it would flood way more than just one city. On the other hand, Dutch cities are said to have managed to cooperate in upkeeping the polders even while they were independant and at war with each other.

Also, policing of rural areas, and relative consistency of policy across a wide area. It doesn't have to be completely identical, but it's convenient if you don't have to cope with an entirely different legal system every time you hop on a train (unless you're a criminal, in which case wildly clashing law systems next to each other, and increased red tape for negotiating extradition, are very convenient when you need to flee). You gave examples of ways that individual states in the US have different policies, but they can't overrule the Constitution.

Milo said...

Anyway, all of you, I came up with one simple question I would like to address:
Can an individual city-state hold enough independant power to field a space force?

The city-states of Greece worked because any single city can reasonably field a phalanx of hoplites, which was the main unit of relevance in contemporary warfare, and a bigger army largely involved having more phalanxes. I think even a rich city-state would need to scrounge up to field a single aircraft carrier (aircraft included), nevermind a spaceship.

So defense, at least, would benefit from being highly cooperative rather than every-city-for-themselves.

Cityside said...

Try it again:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/16/beyond_city_limits?page=full

You may need to cut and paste.

Thucydides said...

The concept of a city state still involves some sort of surrounding hinterland which supplies the polity with food and resources.

In classical Greece (the source of the city state trope), we have various "hinterlands", from the very traditional area of Boeotia surrounding Thebes, to the militarized zone of Messenia surrounding Sparta and who's population was enslaved, to Athens, who had expanded the idea of a hinterland to include trade with Egypt, Lebanon and the Black Sea coast (modern Crimea).

Future city states might be organized along similar lines (from loose confederations to occupied zones to global trade networks).

The main issue of how people will choose to organize themselves may well devolve into "tribes", defined by any number of affiliations (family, religion, common interests, income etc.), which can support any number of national, regional or subregional groupings. Think of inner city gangs as a subregional grouping. Now think of such gangs going national like the "Crips" and you can see a negative version of this trend. Posters and readers of this blog might be considered an international grouping with a shared interest, but organizing ourselves for mutual cooperation or defense would be virtually impossible except in very limited areas (we could lend each other money via PayPal or similar systems, and perhaps trade various forms of IT knowledge and custom programs to protect our machines on the Internet, as well as a general exchange of knowledge on various topics).

City States in space would be more extreme versions of the trope, being full of self selected people and either living directly off the "land" (even if the land is a nearby asteroid) or engaging in extensive trade in order to stay alive.

Raymond said...

Cityside:

Worked. Missed the 8 the first time.

Milo:

They wouldn't likely have their own space force directly, no. Space forces are a different scale than cities, most of the time. But they may be heavily tied to a spaceport nearby. They may have their own militia, their own missile defenses, perhaps their own space elevator. And like Athens and the Delian League, they may be the conduit for the money behind a larger alliance (after they moved the treasury from Delos to Athens, due to concerns over its defensibility).

Remember, cities don't have to do everything a modern nation-state does to be considered the primary class of political entity. In fact, I'd say that's what cities do best: handle direct concerns directly, and form larger constructs to deal with scales beyond their own resources.

"Also, policing of rural areas, and relative consistency of policy across a wide area. It doesn't have to be completely identical, but it's convenient if you don't have to cope with an entirely different legal system every time you hop on a train (unless you're a criminal, in which case wildly clashing law systems next to each other, and increased red tape for negotiating extradition, are very convenient when you need to flee). You gave examples of ways that individual states in the US have different policies, but they can't overrule the Constitution."

Clashes of legal systems aren't the only important difference; you'd be surprised how much influence jurisdictional boundaries and specific enforcement policies can have. These kinds of barriers are more de facto than de jure, but are frequently the more important ones.

Milo said...

Thucydides:

"In classical Greece (the source of the city state trope)"

They're the most popularly cited example, but hardly the first. My mind is immediately drawn to Sumer, right at the dawn of civilization. I'd wager nearly everyone used them until they developed the feudal systems necessary to manage a large government in the era of very slow communications.



Raymond:

"Clashes of legal systems aren't the only important difference; you'd be surprised how much influence jurisdictional boundaries and specific enforcement policies can have."

I used "legal systems" in a rather general sense, including stuff like how the police force is organized, in addition to the actual code of law. Also, there's more to law than criminal law - there's also stuff like passports, traffic laws...

Turbo10k said...

Bookmarking.
Took me two weeks to catch up with the last one I forgot to bookmark...

Turbo10k said...

l

Anonymous said...

Even if existing nations do not fragment into city-states, seasteading could still lead to a similar political situation in the oceans. On land, there are two technological developments that could lead to city-states or at least more autonomy for cities.
The first would be the construction of arcologies, either within existing cities or as new ones. The recycling systems that would probably be necessary to make the arcologies viable at all would also make them more self-sufficient, while the physical separation from the outside world inside the arcology could help foster a greater sense of community.
The second development would be greater automation and intensification of farming. If large industrial farms could be run remotely or by a few urban commuters, or if 'vertical farms' could be built into an arcology, a city would no longer be dependent upon the rural communities of its hinterland.

R.C.

Anonymous said...

Reading over everything, I've come to a conclusion about this topic:
Nation-states are not going away anytime soon, but city-states subordinent to nation-states may supercede more traditional geopolitical subdivisions (state/provinces); City-states as the primary political unit would more likely develop as domed/underground/orbital colonies are established on Mars, Titan, and other worlds in the Solar System. Here on Earth, the rise of Megalopolises and the continued migration of people from rual to urban living means that more and more political power is devolving from state/province level to these urban areas that incorporate various cities and suburban zones that connect them. To take an example close to where I live: it has been estimated, by some urban planners, that the Interstate 25 corridor from Cheyanne to Pueblo will, sometime over the next century, will become a single urban zone; sometime after that, this new megalopolis will develop into a single political entity. This political entity now includes parts of Colorado and Wyoming; The concerns of those two states are now less important than the concerns of the residents of this megalopolis; becoming a direct subdivision of the U.S. now makes more sense than it being subjected to different state governments with often-times competing objectives and/or policies...I can see these megalopolies becoming a new form of geopolitical subdivisin to nation-states.

Colonies on other worlds may have the city-state as the basic unit, with these geopolitical units forming leagues, colilitions, alliances, and federations as their versions of nations evolve.

I also see the present trend of nations forming more and more formalized economical, military, and political alliances continuing well into the future. These can be regional or interest-based, with the odd effect that a nation could belong to more than one of these alliances; even if they have conflicting aims. I don't see a long-term trend towards simplification of the geopolitical architecture, but rather, one towards greater complexity and enrichment.

Anyway, that's my take on it. Feel free to pick apart or shore up any and all parts of it.

Ferrell

Geoffrey S H said...

Whatever happens, the countryside, the wilderness and villages must not be allowed to dissapear.

Thucydides said...

Villages, the wilderness and farms exist only isofar as they serve the metropole.

Consider the vast amounts of farmland that have been consumed globally as cities expand; the value of the land for housing and industry and tax revenues for governments far outweighs the value of the produce formerly created by farming.

Villages which are "quaint" and accessible to urban tourists tend to be far more prosperous than those that are not. Wilderness also has more value to ecotourists than any "intrinsic" values.

Essentially self contained cities or arcologies would tend to minimize the intrusion on the hinterlands, and those who choose to live in smaller villages or go to the wilderness will be able to continue their lifestyle choices, although probably with a much lower standard of living.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Tony, you speak of markets broad and deep."

Not quite. I speak of markets large enough to be profitable and stable enough to be reliable.

"A city is essentially that."

I can't agree with that. I know very few large, prosperous businesses that could continue on the basis of a market of only 5-10 million potential customers.

"Proximity has an exponential effect on the size of a market, or more importantly the connections between market entities. Even in the Information Age (as the old-timers call it) city-scale proximity has market advantages; why else do you think Silicon Valley appeared, or Boston remains a tech hub (due to MIT et al), or New York and LA remain the twin media hubs of America, or London has such unopposed financial clout?"

Yes, proximity does increase efficiency, but the scale and scope of the U.S. national market is what allows such lucrative regional and even city-level specialization. If every city had to constitute it's own market, or simply had to deal with a multiplicity of city-sized markets, each with its own rules, things wouldn't work out quite so well.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Which part of the large, powerful state actually backs the market? The gangster for capitalism?"

Capitalist gansters? Apologies in advance, but I can't keep myself from asking: are you actually trying to set yourself up as a caricature?

"It helps when the market isn't shot at or blown up regularly (see Iraq), but much of that level of security has more to do with city-level actors like police and militias (also see Iraq). Transportation and communication networks are about the only large-scale projects where the nation-state shines, but that has more to do with capital than armies."

What capital would invest in infrastructure without teritorial integrity and market stability? What guarantees those things if not the state?

"Also note that two of your examples were hegemonic city-states,"

Their origins are hardly relevant once they become, in functional terms, large empires. Or if you say origins are relevant, then you admit that at some point a large state is necessary.

"and the third depends less on the territorial nation-state than at any other time in history."

Really? What guarantees the freedom of navigation that allows economical fruit shipment over thousands of miles? Who guarantees the investments in manufacturing infrastructure in Asia? States, and the force they can bring to bear on those who might wnat to interrupt those things.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Apologies in advance, but I can't keep myself from asking: are you actually trying to set yourself up as a caricature?"

Not trying, no. United Fruit was mercantilism at its repressive finest, not really what we speak of as capitalism. It remains, however, one of the indelible images of the idea of the market being backed by the military power of the state. Gives me the hives.

"Really? What guarantees the freedom of navigation that allows economical fruit shipment over thousands of miles?"

It's not the freedom of navigation that's the trouble, as much as the regulations at each end. And the number of political entities your average grocery store's wares go through from start to shelf are measured in what, dozens?

"Who guarantees the investments in manufacturing infrastructure in Asia?"

Good question, and without as clear an answer as you think. If we're talking China, we're dealing with a patchwork of special economic zones, local tax and inspection authorities, different factions of the Party, and the influence of the Chinese Army as the biggest investor. Note the rivalry between Shanghai and Shenzen, which will frequently lead to differing rules and investment policies. Other Asian countries have their own, somewhat similar considerations. And two of the largest and most successful city-states are Singapore and Hong Kong - we've long since figured out how to deal with a city-sized country and its particular legal apparatus.

"If every city had to constitute it's own market, or simply had to deal with a multiplicity of city-sized markets, each with its own rules, things wouldn't work out quite so well."

We already do work with a multiplicity of city-sized markets. I haven't argued (nor will I) that cities or city-states can possibly hope to be self-contained. That's just not the way the modern world functions. But international trade can and frequently does use the city as its fundamental unit of logistics, connectivity and market evaluation. And as I've said, while there are certain activities for which cities must combine their resources, many of the most important functions of the state can be, should be and frequently are handled at the city level.

"States, and the force they can bring to bear on those who might want to interrupt those things."

I'm quoting you out of order, I know. But I think we're arguing about two very different concepts of the state. You seem to be treating them as monolithic blocks, where military force projection is somehow inextricably intertwined with local police and sufficiently sophisticated civil legal frameworks. This doesn't really match the real distribution of power, even in America (with its multiplicity of layered jurisdictions).

Tocqueville was mentioned in another thread. I can't imagine anyone reading him without considering perhaps his greatest revelation: that political legitimacy in America stems from the local polity, and moves to larger constructs as required.

"What capital would invest in infrastructure without territorial integrity and market stability? What guarantees those things if not the state?"

See above re: force projection. Investment in Russia is problematic because of the weakness of the civil courts, not the army, nor is it particularly influenced by how many are killed in Chechnya. Investment in China is problematic because of the strength of the state, especially in those markets where it competes directly or has substantial investments, and how arbitrary it can be in the application of its own laws. Investment in Nigeria is fraught with risk despite having one of the most powerful militaries on the continent. Then again, Nigeria is considered less of a market and more as a zone of production.

Rick said...

City states that walled themselves off from the world, more or less, was Plato's ideal, but post industrial city states would depend on trade, both with hinterlands and - more important - other cities.

Also, while city states could and did play great power politics against each other in both ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy, the alternative, cooperative Hansa model is FAR better suited to a post industrial society.

And the Hansa was not unique. Hellenistic city states formed federations, a point of much interest to the framers of the US constitution, but these were defensive arrangements against bigger Hellenistic powers.

More relevant are the Swiss and the Dutch. Swiss cantons resembled rural versions of city states, while the Low Countries was basically a bunch of city states and small principalities under the loose authority of the Holy Roman Empire.

City states would work well within a 'neomedieval' framework with multiple levels of authority. Consider the degree to which world trade today is regulated by an ad-hoc framework, e.g. the G-20.

While city states couldn't very well maintain space fleets, they can maintain police/constabulary forces, develop and procure high tech weapons, and potentially arm themselves with nukes as final deterrent.

Geoffrey S H said...

Thucydides:

Much as I, as a village dweller, don't like the idea that farms only serrve cities and have no other value whatsoever and no use to the countryside, I would agree. The idea that man can live without the country depresses me somewhat.

One tiny detail I would disagree with though:
"Essentially self contained cities or arcologies would tend to minimize the intrusion on the hinterlands, and those who choose to live in smaller villages or go to the wilderness will be able to continue their lifestyle choices, although probably with a much lower standard of living."

I would disagree, the standareds of living in some villages can be just as good or higher, certainly without pollution or the cramped conditions of a city (comparatively I mean, I'm not suggesting that Western cities are anything like the Dickensian nightmares they used to be). The one thing you can be garunteed in a village is lots of open space.

There is also a trend sometimes for the super rich to find a pad in the countryside as well- far from the urban press.

Rick:

"While city states couldn't very well maintain space fleets..."

The practical problem alone of city states having to choose emergency landing sites for re-entry craft would be crippling to such an idea, let alone cost- so many states having landing sites out of their territory would be unfeasable to maintaining a space-force.

Rick said...

Forgot to say, welcome to another new commenter!

Interesting thoughts about the future of the Commonwealth. Cecil Rhodes would have lurved the term 'Anglosphere.'

Heinlein, in some of his juvies, including Starman Jones, gave a distinctly British cast to his Federation/Empire. Thus the governor of the colony planet Hespera is Sir John FitzGerald Coburn, OBE, KB, 'and probably XYZ.'

(And Heinlein could not have known, in 1953, how appropriate 'John Fitzgerald' would be as a name for a member of the Anglosphere elite.)

This blog's readership, by the way, is quite evenly spread across the Anglosphere. About 78 percent of you are from some Anglosphere country - pretty cool that 22 percent of you come from elsewhere, and are probably reading this in a second language.

But within the Anglosphere the readership proportions are all pretty close to population. Only Eire fails to come through - what do I need, a Celtic music clip? Guinness?

Tony said...

Raymond:

From my POV, you're clearly agendized to ignore the capabilities and utility of state power. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

Thucydides said...

Geoffrey

I am not suggesting that living in a village would not be very nice, or even prosperous under certain circumstances, but rather that the degree of prosperity is linked to economic interactions with the metropole.

A distressing occurance here in Ontario is city dwellers arriving in cottage country preloaded with all their groceries, electronics etc. when they arrive in cottage country. Local merchants get little or no business from these city dwellers, except for fuel purchases, and after the purchase of the property and the occasional filing of the fuel tanks, the visitors contribute little or nothing to the local community.

Politicians might show some concern, but since the property taxes are being paid, the politicians and the rent seekers who get their income from taxes are satisfied, and have little incentive to change things.

Large, luxury properties along the lakeshore contrast with the hardscrabble appearance of the small towns and villages in the same area.

On a different topic, the interests of urban and rural residents are also very divergent. Political parties in both Canada and the United States seem to have become polarized between "urban" and "rural". Canada recently had a vote on a long gun registry, where the votes broke almost exactly between the MP's of the rural ridings (who opposed the registry) and those of the urban ridings (who supported it). There were a few exceptions, but the Members of Parliament who voted against their party either for or against were usually voting in accordance with their particular urban or rural riding.

How this will play out is interesting, since cities and city states would respond depending on their particular circumstances. Once again, the ancient world offers a few hints, if the residents of the metropole and the hinterlands were broadly in agreement (Thebes and Boeotia resembled a metropole surrounded by bedroom communities), then conflict would be minimal. If the metropole depended exclusively on the hinterlands, there might be a temptation to dominate the hinterlands (Sparta and Messenia), while metropole with extensive trade outside the hinterland could afford to give up the hinterland (Athens allowed Attica to be occupied by Spartan troops, since the flow of trade and food was not being disrupted in any way).

As always, the anology is not exact, but a guide to thinking. Cooperative leagues like the Hanse make sense in order to regularize trade and commerce within the region and provide strength against outside pressure, and larger organizations still would be vital to civilized communities. PErhaps the city and hinterlands model would eclipse Provinces and States as the regional levels of governance, with the national State still serving to provide overall protection and representation.

Raymond said...

Thucydides:

Glad to know someone else hates the politics of cottage country as much as I do. Don't be fooled by the long-gun registry vote, though. Layton didn't let the NDP MPs vote their conscience, and the rural MPs' votes are skewed a bit as well. Women in rural areas, for example, were more likely to support the registry than rural men, viewing it as more of a domestic violence issue than a strict rural/urban split. And many urbanites who don't know much about guns in Canada confuse the registry with the tightened restrictions attached to FACs, which have been the real victory in limiting gun access of criminals and the mentally ill.

PS: whereabouts in Ontario are you?

Geoffrey:

I'm not particularly fond of villages myself (don't take that the wrong way - I'm only speaking of my own preferences). I like dense cities and vast wildernesses, but that is perhaps more a function of the country in which I live. Here, though, there is something of a political desire to preserve the lifestyle and culture of the village and the small farm, while overlooking their disadvantages and downplaying their increasing economic irrelevance. I'm not saying they shouldn't exist (it's not like I want to kick you out of your home or anything) but here, at least, so much of the population lives and works in cities that they aren't really representative anymore.

Tony:

We may end up agreeing to disagree. If I have any agenda in particular it's a preference towards decentralization, while acknowledging the existence of issues and concerns best dealt with by larger constructs. I admit that I dislike and distrust the nation-state as an overarching political entity, as many issues are more localized and others transcend strict national boundaries. International bodies are given lip service and undercut in the same breath. Cities are starved of revenue while being asked to carry out at ground-level the policies of higher levels. I see the nation-state as an increasingly toothless in-between, not large enough to weather the crises they face (economic ones especially), and not small enough to properly serve and respond to the needs of their ever more diverse populace.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I admit that I dislike and distrust the nation-state as an overarching political entity, as many issues are more localized and others transcend strict national boundaries."

This comes across as an opinion based more on personal philosophy than on real world facts. Taken with your other writings on the subject, it's all easily dismissable as trendy and cliche.

That's not intended to be a dig -- it's an honest assessment of how you're presenting your case.

Raymond said...

Tony:

That was me admitting bias and preference - something which should be done in any argument, should it not? We're in the midst of an important mayoral race here in Toronto, heavily influenced by some of the failures of the previous mayor, which are in no small part the fault of higher levels of government. This stuff is already on my mind, basically. I'm trying to be upfront about it.

There is trendy, and there are trends. There is a trend of increasing urbanization of the populations of many, if not most countries. There is a trend (at least in North America) of systemic underfunding of urban infrastructure, amongst other things. There is a trend amongst certain countries of creating or expanding cities in special legal zones designed to maximize their involvement in the global economy. These things are not "trendy". They are trends.

Based on the trends I see (not only the ones above - those are merely examples, and I don't want you to think they are my only basis) I believe the city is rediscovering a portion of its earlier preeminence. The City of Toronto Act where I live; the changes to the office of the Mayor of London; the importance of Chicago in Obama's campaign (and now his Chief of Staff resigning so he can run for mayor there); the burgeoning prominence of Shenzen and its Special Economic Zone; the sudden emergence of Dubai (quite separately from the rest of the UAE). These are data points, and there is a trend indicated by them.

I also don't believe the nation-state is withering away, exactly, but I do see it stumbling, straining against its constraints and not very successfully balancing its many competing and conflicting interests. The nation-state is a construct, just like every other model of political organization. It has efficiencies, and it has limits. There are things it does well, and things it does not. We shouldn't look at the things nation-states do well and immediately assume they should do everything.

Personally, I would like to see this trend continue, even accelerate. (There is room in this discussion for personal political beliefs, is there not?) I believe that a certain reallocation of power would better suit the world we live in and the one we are trending towards. I don't believe the United States of America should be dissolved at a stroke, but I do believe a reconsideration of jurisdictional boundaries is in order.

Which cliche is that, again?

Milo said...

Raymond:

"The nation-state is a construct, just like every other model of political organization. It has efficiencies, and it has limits. There are things it does well, and things it does not. We shouldn't look at the things nation-states do well and immediately assume they should do everything."

Did I (or anyone else in this thread) assume that? Every national government that has attempted to micromanage everything each of its citizens do has met with disaster.

However the question is if there are still some important things you need nation-states to do. As long as there are, they will continue to exist.

Anonymous said...

In a topic on sfconsim-l about small communities, Rick used the term hypersuburbanization to refer to people living at rural densities but not being farmers. This situation may be arising even today, with the development of 'farmettes' where people keep a few chickens or a cow as a sideline to their proper job, and with the rural second homes of city-dwellers, either converted from farmhouses or newly built.
Ubiquitous wireless communications and the kind of automation and recycling technology I was talking about in my earlier post could make permanent rural living a perfectly viable alternative for those who prefer not to live in the megacities. It could even allow permanent residence in a Recreational Vehicle or on a motor yacht.
Traditional villages and small towns might end up acting as central business districts for the 'hypersuburbs': offering retail services and social spaces. Alternatively, they could develop into gated communities, a middle ground between the high-density crowding of the cities and the isolation of the country. A third possibility, if technology allows sufficient decentralization, is that they could dissolve as distinct communities and survive only as slightly higher-density clumps of houses in the hypersuburban setting.

R.C.

Geoffrey S H said...

Thucydides:

"A distressing occurance here in Ontario is city dwellers arriving in cottage country preloaded with all their groceries, electronics etc. when they arrive in cottage country. Local merchants get little or no business from these city dwellers, except for fuel purchases, and after the purchase of the property and the occasional filing of the fuel tanks, the visitors contribute little or nothing to the local community."


Urgh...tell me about it.

Our family manage to shop in both the city and the local butchers, so I think we manage to contribute a bit to the local economy- the local shops allow for some personal interaction over the counter, which is nice.

Raymond:

"I'm not particularly fond of villages myself (don't take that the wrong way - I'm only speaking of my own preferences). I like dense cities and vast wildernesses, but that is perhaps more a function of the country in which I live. Here, though, there is something of a political desire to preserve the lifestyle and culture of the village and the small farm, while overlooking their disadvantages and downplaying their increasing economic irrelevance. I'm not saying they shouldn't exist (it's not like I want to kick you out of your home or anything) but here, at least, so much of the population lives and works in cities that they aren't really representative anymore."

It is all down to personal preference and ultimately where you feel comfortable, yes... I suppose I just got tired of reading about massive mega-cities dominated by mega-corporations, etc, etc, etc. Maybe I'm missing a whole slew of fiction that has a more rural focus... maybe not.

If bio-fuels were to take off, perhaps the countryside would become important again? Fueling not not just expansion of the population with food production, butindustrial expansdion through fuel production. Just a thought.

I would be interested to know how much the ratio of "rich" to poor is in cities and the country- What percentage of 500 people in the countryside would be well-off, compared with, say 5000 people in the towns.

R.C:

"Traditional villages and small towns might end up acting as central business districts for the 'hypersuburbs': offering retail services and social spaces. Alternatively, they could develop into gated communities, a middle ground between the high-density crowding of the cities and the isolation of the country. A third possibility, if technology allows sufficient decentralization, is that they could dissolve as distinct communities and survive only as slightly higher-density clumps of houses in the hypersuburban setting."


There's part of a university that's just been opened near my village, its not linked with farming studies or wildlife, they're just classes. There they are. In the middle of nowhere. And being used.

@Milo:

The subject of fishing.

That was a quick thought- less pain for the fish and no chance of suffocating on the deck after being dragged up in a net. More of a "moral" thing than anything to do with efficiency- the Northern Europeans would be simply the best at doing this and processing the fish.

Doors:

The change in the state of the material might be accomplished by a low electricity charge (or a chemical reaction?). If it solidifies around a person while they are going through it, then they are caught in the door, but not cut in half. Of course if it is electricity then lightning conducters would be mandatory for such buildings simply for the sake of security.

Must depart from these forums, university life calls. Cherio!

Tony said...

Raymond:

"That was me admitting bias and preference - something which should be done in any argument, should it not?"

Certainly. But if you admit to a bias, you can't complain that people judge your contributions in relation to it, can you?

"There is trendy, and there are trends...These things are not "trendy". They are trends."

But it is manifestly trendy to make more out of those things than they really support.

"Based on the trends I see..."

The trends you see, if you're talking about consolidation of administration, are over a hundred years old. Brooklyn wasn't always a borough of New York, you know. If you're talking about economic and political influence, well, we can cite New York again, at least as far back as 1863, when the Draft Riots affected national policy.

"the burgeoning prominence of Shenzen and its Special Economic Zone"

Chinese Special Economic Zones are all periperal, portal regions. They benefit hugely from the protection of navigation offered by the PLAN and the protection of aerial access offered by the PLAF. Maybe not visibly, every day, but definitely and in the long run. As yourself what the trade environment would be like if every one of the Zones had its own navy, air force, coast guard, and trade rules. Or how propsperous do you think a region would become if it was potential prey to another, competitive region, or a large state in the region, like Japan?

"the sudden emergence of Dubai (quite separately from the rest of the UAE). These are data points, and there is a trend indicated by them."

Dubai relies on two things that would not be real in a world of city states: 1. Protection provided by the US Navy and US Air Force; 2. Free and relatively inexpensive air and sea access that exists as a consequence that protection. Dubai is nothing without Jebel Ali port and Dubai International Airport, both of which would be not much of anything without strong friends to relieve the UAE of having to invest heavily in self-protection, and ensure freedom of naviagation and the aerial flight throughout the region.

"We shouldn't look at the things nation-states do well and immediately assume they should do everything."

No. But, by precisely the same principle of logic, we shouldn't look at what they do poorly and assume away what states can and must do in order to provide the environment in which the great cities of the world flourish. Let's look at the experience of Germany over the past four centuries. It was and is full of great cities and potentially great cities. But, due to its disunity and consequent collective weakness, it was the playground of Austria, France, Sweden, and Russia. The drive for unification in the 19th Century, led by Prussia, was a direct result of the German people finally having enough of that. One could certainly argue that it had its rough spots, but I don't think you could find too many Germans willing to trade that, with all of the bad that wnet with it, for being Europe's tumbling mat again.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Personally, I would like to see this trend continue, even accelerate...

Which cliche is that, again?"


The cliche of the supposedly growing irrelevance of state power. I don't know how old you are, but I've been following that trope for the last 25 years. If anything, states have become more relevant, as the unnatural alliances of the Cold War dissolved. The EU, which is a superstate in all but name, is growing stronger, both domestically and internationally, not weaker. Here in the US, the increasing power of the federal government over the state, county, and city has been a central political issue for decades. And our international power, even with the physical contraction of our military forces, has become so overwhelming that people will only fight us as guerillas and terrorists. (If our military power was weak and irrelevant, as some would like to suggest, people would try to fight us in more open, more decisive ways.)

Tony said...

Oh, and one other thing...

The influence of Chicago on US national politics, whatever it appears to an outsider, is considered a joke in poor taste by most USians you talk to. We as a country are fast learning -- and many of us as individuals knew from the start -- that you can't run a great nation the "Chicago way".

Raymond said...

Tony:

"The influence of Chicago on US national politics, whatever it appears to an outsider, is considered a joke in poor taste by most USians you talk to. We as a country are fast learning -- and many of us as individuals knew from the start -- that you can't run a great nation the "Chicago way"."

Oh, I know. I wasn't saying it was particularly successful. I was just pointing out how the Chicago machine got Obama elected and wields substantial influence (for good or ill depends on the observer, and all will agree on its systemic dysfunction).

As a side note, I'm rather fond of Chicago itself. YMMV.

"The cliche of the supposedly growing irrelevance of state power. I don't know how old you are, but I've been following that trope for the last 25 years."

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Young, yes. I'll cop to that one. But I've been following in one way or the other issues of consolidation and distribution of power since I was ten. The other trend, consolidation, has indeed been proceeding apace as well. These two trends often clash, but almost as often they deal with different concerns and can coexist. Which brings me to:

"As yourself what the trade environment would be like if every one of the Zones had its own navy, air force, coast guard, and trade rules...."

"...by precisely the same principle of logic, we shouldn't look at what they do poorly and assume away what states can and must do in order to provide the environment in which the great cities of the world flourish...."


I think we may be talking past each other again. I think you think I'm using the term "city-state" to mean "like a nation-state, but smaller". I'm not. You mention defense over and over; I am not in any way saying cities could, should or will entirely take over their own defense. The military will be the very last part of the US government to go away or be superceded - fitting, considering it was essentially the first part created. I understand well the baseline security the state provides in terms of "making sure there's not a war going on nearby".

That doesn't preclude cities taking on a greater share of everything else a government does, like economic policy (at one scale or another), tax revenue, infrastructure creation and maintenance, power generation distribution (much of which they already do), health care (the provision, not necessarily the larger funding structure), and other areas. To say that because the nation-state provides basic military security means other functions of the state will remain as they are now is...disingenuous. I'm not sure if you're saying that or not - you've been mostly speaking of defense - so don't take that as me putting words in your mouth so much as asking for clarification.

As far as market stability goes, both the EU and the US have run headlong into the problem of market complexity and interconnection outstripping the ability of any one state, however large, to properly deal with sufficiently large market instabilities. Regulatory frameworks are trending in the direction of international, due to the mobility of capital. Specific market corrections can be more effective at smaller levels, too - see how well North Dakota weathered the credit crisis.

To use a corporate example, companies frequently face the option to consolidate (horizontally or vertically) or spin-off and specialize. Unless they can expand enough to dominate a market, most companies are better served by the latter option. (See the continuing tribulations of AOL for when expansion and consolidation goes horribly awry.)

What I'm saying, essentially, is not that we'll see the Republic of New York or anything like that. But I do believe cities will be increasingly considered social, political and economic units distinct from the states in which they reside.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"What I'm saying, essentially, is not that we'll see the Republic of New York or anything like that. But I do believe cities will be increasingly considered social, political and economic units distinct from the states in which they reside."

Funny you should mention New York, since that city would be my primary example of why cities being more and more self-contained in revenue collection and services won't work very well. New York tried, in the Sixties and Seventies, to provide massive infrastructure improvement, universal healthcare, and high levels of social welfare, with much less federal and state money than it would get these days. As you may know, it flopped and bankrupted.

Tony said...

On a lighter note, I don't have a problem with tropes qua tropes. I'm just getting more and more fatigued by the insistence of many that just because some tropes are fact-based, their pet trope must be as well.

M. D. Van Norman said...

“I have only ever directly seen a small fraction of the city I live in. I’ve never met most of the people there. You people here are much more real to me than my next-door neighbor.”

Thus declines the nation-state?

Tony said...

M. D. Van Norman:

"Thus declines the nation-state?"

If you've went to school in the US any time after 1970, you were constantly bombarded with the message: "People are people, wherever you go." Now that we can talk to people wherever they are, we find out that -- as politically incorrect as it may be to say out loud -- even when they read and write our language, they really are different.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"I think you think I'm using the term "city-state" to mean "like a nation-state, but smaller"."

That's what city-states historically were, in Greece, Sumer, etc. At least the way I see it.

If you're talking about something else, then that's completely changing the meaning of the word. And, IMO, not much more sensible than calling citizens person-states because the government gives them freedom over their own lives.



M. D. Van Norman:

"Thus declines the nation-state?"

Thus decline both the nation-state and the city-state, except for purposes where geography actually matters (of which there still are some). As Thucydides pointed out, despite our close association as people with shared interests and attitudes, "organizing ourselves for mutual cooperation or defense would be virtually impossible".



Tony:

"Now that we can talk to people wherever they are, we find out that -- as politically incorrect as it may be to say out loud -- even when they read and write our language, they really are different."

All people are different. No two people are exactly alike, even identical twins. They're still people.

On this blog we've argued about various subjects like the merits of ground invasions vs orbital bombardment. Do you think that which people chose to support each side of the argument can be neatly broken down by which country they're from?

Rick said...

There is a wide range of political views here, and I try not to make it my soapbox. I don't think large large bureaucratic entities are Doomed to Fail, and I also don't think nation states are inherently either permanent or transient.

The fashion at midcentury, reflected in the rocketpunk era SF I grew up on, was that nation states would give way to some form of world state, benign, malignant, or nuanced.

Fashion has changed, and today the world of 2250 or whatever is more typically pictured on great power lines, with various ups and downs in the lineup. Or else megacorps.

So I'm nudging the default assumption a bit, and speculating on a future different from any of the standards, the Federation, great powers, or megacorps.

Rick said...

Forgot to add, thanks for reminding me about 'hypersuburbanization.' There's a long tradition of re-ruralism in SF; Clarke was fond of this.

Just to run a number or two, low density 'Murrican exurbia is in the neighborhood of 1000 people/km2. If a world population of 10 billion people all live that way they and their yards would take up 10 million km2, about 7 percent of the land surface.

But maybe a third of the land suited to agriculture, so this would start to impact food supply. People's bucolic image isn't necessarily the same as a working farm.

Milo said...

Rick:

"The fashion at midcentury, reflected in the rocketpunk era SF I grew up on, was that nation states would give way to some form of world state, benign, malignant, or nuanced."

I still think that the the likely eventual fate we are moving to, although it will take a while to get there. The political divides of today aren't going to disappear overnight.

I like Geoffrey S H's approach, with gradual increasing coalition-forming and globalization, but no single world order yet.


"Fashion has changed, and today the world of 2250 or whatever is more typically pictured on great power lines, with various ups and downs in the lineup."

This is in large part narratively-motivated - if you want a big, flashy war (WW2 in SPAAACE!), you need at least two great powers, either on the same planet or seperate planets. The "one world order" most commonly appears in interstellar settings which have so many planets that the author can't be bothered giving a very intricate political map to any given one.


"Or else megacorps."

I strongly associate megacorp governments with the cyberpunk genre. I don't see them fitting rocketpunk very well, except at asteroid mining stations.

Thucydides said...

For those people trying to target me from space, I live in Southwestern Ontario, one of Canada's most highly urbanized areas. In the past I lived in places as diverse as Calgary, Alberta and Oromocto, New Brunswick, which are at pretty opposite extremes of urbanization.

I am thinking of Robert Kaplan's book "An Empire Wilderness", which explores some of the same ground in a non fiction format. Kaplan sees a similar pattern based on geography to the Metropole/hinterland argument that I have presented (although the growth of "exurbs" seems to add a complication to the argument; is an exurb part of the metropole or hinterland?)

Some of the divide between urban and rural is also driven by geography; to go back to the long gun registry in Canada, rural dwellers have room to actually use long-arms, are familier and comfortable with them and don't feel threatened by them. Urbanites, alarmed by the rise of crime and gun crime in particular, and not particularly familier with firearms in general, see the long gun registry as a means of protecting themselves. Empirical evidence would seem to indicate otherwise (most gun crimes involve hand-guns, not long guns, for example). Similar divisions between the two over land use drive the cottage country examples; a rural dweller derives his living from the land, while an urbanite sees the land as a place for recreation.

Corruption and bloat have affected polities in the past (the downfall of both the Res Publica Roma and the Imperium have a lot to do with corruption and the siphoning of assets and resources from productive uses), but there is no reason to suppose a city, city state or metropole is immune; Montreal is currently in the throes of an election marked by accusations of corruption, embedded in a corrupt political culture province wide, with the same province being the focus of one of the largest national level political corruption schemes uncovered (ADSCAM). Get your brown paper bags of cash out...

Some sort of overarching political/economic or military structure will exist to tie cities, metropoles and hinterlands together for a long time to come, the forms might change but a Nation, a Hanse, a Free Trade Zone or Caliphate will be the structures cities are embedded in.

Raymond said...

"Funny you should mention New York, since that city would be my primary example of why cities being more and more self-contained in revenue collection and services won't work very well. New York tried, in the Sixties and Seventies, to provide massive infrastructure improvement, universal healthcare, and high levels of social welfare, with much less federal and state money than it would get these days. As you may know, it flopped and bankrupted."

Funding. Aye, there's the rub. The municipal-state/provincial funding fight has been going on for god knows how long. I can't speak to your New York example, since it was before my time, and I'd have to read up on it. It may have been different from the Canadian examples I'm more familiar with - we're somewhat more urban than you USians. Despite what you may have heard, however, Canadian health care is actually a provincial responsibility, as is welfare (unemployment, on the other hand, is federal and complicated). There is some federal funding for health care, under the auspices of the equalization program (between provinces), but that's a bone of much contention.

As for tropes, they are useful as common linguistic markers. Speaking of...

Milo:

"If you're talking about something else, then that's completely changing the meaning of the word. And, IMO, not much more sensible than calling citizens person-states because the government gives them freedom over their own lives."

Barring widespread balkanization of major states (due to war, plague, etc) I don't think we'll see the classical city-state again. Even the examples I listed earlier exist within some other, larger framework. Hong Kong or Singapore (and Shanghai, perhaps) are probably the closest to the idea, but largely due to historical factors. Dubai and Shenzen aren't exactly following their example. To define the city-state in modern terms requires acknowledgement of the superstructure in which they are embedded, both national and supranational. (Which, Milo and Tony, I thought I was clearer about earlier - apologies for not making it more so.)

It should be noted, though, that cities are quite adept at outliving the nations and empires which spawned them.

Rick:

I was always a little put off by the re-ruralization in the works you mention. But then I'm the kind of SF fan who ran into the megacities of cyberpunk and went "pretty please". And the exurban movement is incomprehensible to me. Geoffrey's preference for village life I can at least understand, even if it's not my taste. Exurban always seemed like the worst of both worlds. You're too far away to walk anywhere, and it's not even that pretty.

Thucydides:

Whereabouts in the horseshoe? Me, I grew up in Edmonton and moved to Toronto when I was twenty.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"Hong Kong or Singapore (and Shanghai, perhaps) are probably the closest to the idea, but largely due to historical factors."

Yeah, Singapore is what I think of when people discuss modern/future city-states. Obviously it's working well enough for them, but I don't see the world at large in a rush to follow their example.


"It should be noted, though, that cities are quite adept at outliving the nations and empires which spawned them."

That's one point we'll agree on.


"Rick: I was always a little put off by the re-ruralization in the works you mention."

Mainly it annoys the environmentalist in me. I want to limit human impact on nature, which seems best served by concentrating most of our population in cities, so that the majority of the land outside those cities gets left alone. Suburbs don't seem like they're making optimal use of the land you're clearing.

This will be an entirely different issue on terraformed planets that don't have any preexisting nature to disturb...

Tony said...

Milo:

"All people are different. No two people are exactly alike, even identical twins. They're still people."

Tautology is not argument.

"On this blog we've argued about various subjects like the merits of ground invasions vs orbital bombardment. Do you think that which people chose to support each side of the argument can be neatly broken down by which country they're from?"

Nope. But that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about social and political attitudes, as they apply to perceptions of statehood through nationhood. About the only way in which people are similar the world over is the smarmy self-righteousness that they display in defending and promoting their particular social and political cultures, particularly in a nationalistic context.

As long as that remains true, no amount of global connectedness is going to undermine the nation-sate. In fact, contrary to many conflict theorists the world over, improved communications hasn't lessened the motivations for conflict. (Not that they really could, considering that their cause celebre, the events leading up to WWI, were enabled and exacerbated by the "Victorian Internet" (the telegraph).) All improved communications does is more quickly and surely confirm all the reasons we think we don't like somebody. The American perception of Muslims after 9/11 was certainly not helped by immediate news coverage of Palestinian Arabs and Pakistanis dancing in the streets upon hearing the news of the attacks. It is arguable that the widely distributed video of Nick Berg di more to help get George Bush reelected than any conscious act of foreign or domestic policy by his Administration. And who can forget "cheese eating surrender monkeys" or "freedom fries" (in lieu of "french fries")? All of those images and tropes owe their power to modern, global communications.

Anonymous said...

The world of 2250 AD might be one of several dozen megalopolis city-states who have banned together into one or more "nations" with only 1 to 10% of the world's population living in rural areas and engaged in agriculture/mining/logging/etc. I personnally don't think that this is very likely, but (as I've said before), long-term trends seem to suggest that this is a possibility. So, while nations and cities continue to exist for well into the future, states/provinces may fade away in the Plausible Midfuture...

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

The particular problem with funding comes from the resource base you are looking at. Frankly, the global economic crisis exists largely because everyone overgrazed the economic resources available (binging on cheap credit) and running up unsustainable debts.

Cities in Canada can appeal to higher levels of government for funding, but no matter what nation or polity you inhabit, there is only one level of taxpayer. If the local politicians are unable or unwilling to live within their means then trouble is sure to follow (last summer I was reading how Fredericton, New Brunswick, is already facing the pension and benefits crisis that threatens to overwhelm many American cities. While coming up $20 million short might not seem like a lot, Fredericton is fairly small and $20 million/year every year until the pension and benefit obligations can be shed (and this does not factor in greater numbers of people retiring and drawing benefits every year in the future) will add up to a considerable sum. In the United States the figure of unfunded liabilities for civic pensions and benefits alone is estimated to be near $2 trillion, which should give everyone pause when you consider most figures of indebtedness never consider non Federal obligations...

This is the weakness of the City State model, the resource base is small compared to competing polities. Even ruthless exploitation of the hinterlands on the Spartan model can only go so far, the really successful City States were ones which operated globally; Athens, Venice (Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta) and Singapore come to mind. The cities of the Hanse show the next level, and the Nation State is of course the modern response.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"This is the weakness of the City State model, the resource base is small compared to competing polities. Even ruthless exploitation of the hinterlands on the Spartan model can only go so far, the really successful City States were ones which operated globally; Athens, Venice (Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta) and Singapore come to mind. The cities of the Hanse show the next level, and the Nation State is of course the modern response."

+10

I know I've said it before, but it bears multiple repetition:

Athens, at its height, subsisted on Ukrainian wheat.

Rome, at its height, subsisted on Africa. (Roman naval control of mare nostrum -- "our sea" AKA the Mediterranean Sea -- gave the latifundia of the conquered regions easily accessible markets.)

The nation-state (and its associated empires), in this context, is not so much a response IMO as it is a natural progression. It integrates as much of the demand and supply as possible into a single, reliable market, lowering risk for everybody.

An example of the economic security sought in nation-state empire is the British reaction to the American Civil War. The war convinced the British that Indian cotton, in the long run, was safer and cheaper than American cotton. But that was only in the context of a securely held India and safe maritime routes guaranteed by the RN.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Athens, at its height, subsisted on Ukrainian wheat."

I know. I'm not sure what you're saying by that anymore, though. Yes, Athens had an empire. But the Delian League died precisely because Athens was still a city-state, caring little for the prosperity of the rest of its empire and exploiting its dominance past the breaking point.

Athens still stands, though, and today can eat wheat from Ukraine or Canada or wherever they want to buy from.

Key word: buy. You don't have to conquer your markets anymore. In fact, 20th century attempts to maintain far-flung empires for the purposes of trade markets were crushingly wasteful and inefficient (see French Indochina, India, central Africa).

To me (and correct me if I'm missing something), "...It integrates as much of the demand and supply as possible into a single, reliable market, lowering risk for everybody..." sounds like you're discounting the relative ease with which trade crosses borders, and neglects to acknowledge that the market is now bigger than any one nation-state.

It also sounds to me like you're arguing less for a clutch of nation-states and more for a superstate (or sufficiently ascendant superpower) in both the economic realm and the military one. Yes, someone needs to keep the shipping lanes open (I never disputed that for a second, by the way). Yes, someone needs to make sure baseline not-being-invaded security is met. Yes, that baseline security is a prerequisite for a market to even really exist. Past that point, though, market stability and access have precious little to do with military force.

Take Hong Kong: the RN allowed it to exist, certainly. But it was the successful transplantation of British civil law and the city's connections with London which made it not only a stable market but a powerhouse.

And before you mention the EU, bear in mind that the jury's still out. The Icelandic and Greek crises have taken a heavy toll, and the Euro hasn't demonstrated the needed flexibility to respond properly.

Raymond said...

Thucydides:

I'd heard vaguely about Fredericton. In a similar vein, do you remember when Alberta announced all smugly that they were officially debt-free? Yeah, that was only because they weren't counting the $6 billion in unfunded liabilities as "debt".

"Cities in Canada can appeal to higher levels of government for funding, but no matter what nation or polity you inhabit, there is only one level of taxpayer."

Oh, I know. But with the shit McGuinty's been raining down lately, I keep wishing for the Province of Toronto. It's a matter of allocation of said funding. I don't know if you've been following the Transit City plan here, but McGuinty screwed us royally on that one; contracts signed, promises made to voters, construction begun, streetcars ordered, and WHAM, the funding is placed on hold. It's a perfect example of the kind of infrastructure spending which is entirely necessary for a city of Toronto's size, but which the city is expected to beg, borrow and steal to pay for. All because the province gets to levy their income tax and their sales tax and their unannounced environmental fees, and the city is supposed to add to that tax burden to get things done?

Milo said...

"But the Delian League died precisely because Athens was still a city-state,"

A warning to those trying to follow in their footsteps?

This sounds to me like good evidence against city-states' ability to ensure long-term trade stability.


"Athens still stands, though,"

It does not, however, have a government with direct continuity from the one it had during the Classical Age.


"You don't have to conquer your markets anymore."

You never did. Peaceful trade travelled all the way across the Silk Road back during the Medieval Age. Even in the Bronze Age, there was a surprisingly high amount of long-distance trade. It has been speculated that the Iron Age was jumpstarted in part because of disruption of the tin trade (tin is needed to make bronze, but is geographically limited).

Yet even though international trade is and has always been possible, people still found it advantageous to forge bigger nations, when they could.

Granted many of these people were the conquerors who would get to be in charge of said nations once founded...

Raymond said...

"This sounds to me like good evidence against city-states' ability to ensure long-term trade stability."

No, it's evidence that city-states shouldn't play empire the way Athens did. Rome did pretty well for itself, and it kept many aspects of a city-state throughout.

"It does not, however, have a government with direct continuity from the one it had during the Classical Age."

And? Classical Athens wasn't one continuous government, either. Governments come and go one way or another. For the most part, cities (and the people in them) remain standing in between.

Unless you're Carthage, of course.

"Yet even though international trade is and has always been possible, people still found it advantageous to forge bigger nations, when they could."

Up to a point. The EU can be viewed as an experiment to see if it can or should be scaled up any further. And as long as you aren't trying to be an empire, there are advantages to a smaller size (see Singapore, which isn't exactly chomping at the bit to merge or conquer).

And my main point is that the market isn't contained by the borders of the state. Viewing the state as the primary mechanism supporting the market is, shall we say, not entirely accurate. It's not like we don't have precedent for things like currency or trade regulations being in the hands of sub- or supra-national entities. See the origins of banking, medieval guilds, the influence of the Church on commerce, etc.

"Granted many of these people were the conquerors who would get to be in charge of said nations once founded..."

Yeah, that's the tricky bit, innit? How much of the nation-state as presently constituted is a rational, voluntary construct, and how much is trying to keep a hold of the results of earlier conquerors? (Yes, this can also be applied to America. And Canada, so nobody thinks I'm playing favorites. We kinda did the whole conquering bit to get where we are...)

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I know. I'm not sure what you're saying by that anymore, though."

Ability to secure trade routes is important. Athens may have stumbled where Rome didn't, but while it lasted, it was important to Athens's nutritional security.

"Key word: buy. You don't have to conquer your markets anymore."

Even at the height of European global empires, there was plenty of international trade. But that's beside the point. The point I was making is that trade is sensitive to the availability of resources and the markets. That's why I chose the example of North American cotton during the American Civil War to make the point -- it made Indian cotton look better as a source of raw materials for English mills.

"In fact, 20th century attempts to maintain far-flung empires for the purposes of trade markets were crushingly wasteful and inefficient (see French Indochina, India, central Africa)."

Yes, mercantilism failed, but for political reasons as much as economic ones. And the point I made about the value of empire was about the real value of secure resource areas as much as the perceived value of closed markets.

"To me (and correct me if I'm missing something), "...It integrates as much of the demand and supply as possible into a single, reliable market, lowering risk for everybody..." sounds like you're discounting the relative ease with which trade crosses borders, and neglects to acknowledge that the market is now bigger than any one nation-state."

Once again, I'm talking about the real value of secure resource areas and at least the potential for secure markets. International trade makes money, but international security conditions can make such trade problematic. The larger the internal markets and resources, the less beholden a state is to external trade volatility.

"It also sounds to me like you're arguing less for a clutch of nation-states and more for a superstate (or sufficiently ascendant superpower) in both the economic realm and the military one."

Hardly. I'm just arguing that many too quickly dismiss the advantages of bigness, in their quest to highlight the disadvantages. To me it's a simple cost-benefit question. No agendas on display, nor do any need apply.

In that context, how big "big" should be is a purely empirical question. It's a self-regulating system: not big enough, you get consumed, or at least dominated; too big, you eventually get torn down or fall apart.

"Take Hong Kong: the RN allowed it to exist, certainly. But it was the successful transplantation of British civil law and the city's connections with London which made it not only a stable market but a powerhouse."

How do British law and stable, reliable connections with London develop in a volatile security environment that would exist without the RN's control of the trade routes between Britian and the Far East? See, you're taking the ultimate benefit as if it were a cause, and not the effect that it is.

You could of course argue that the motivation for trade is what led to Empire, and I would agree. But the motivation would be just a dream without the security that empire provided.

"And before you mention the EU..."

Not every shot hits its mark. That doesn't invalidate the utility of taking aim.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"I'm talking about the real value of secure resource areas and at least the potential for secure markets. International trade makes money, but international security conditions can make such trade problematic. The larger the internal markets and resources, the less beholden a state is to external trade volatility."

True enough, but don't forget the US is an exception in terms of internal market size (something the EU is meant to correct). Most nation-states don't have nearly as broad or deep an internal market, and so have the choice to concentrate on international trade with all its risks (Hong Kong, Singapore) or merge and consolidate several markets so one can treat them as internal (the EU). Anything that remains or becomes a city-state is the former by definition, of course.

Secure resource areas and secure markets, though, come in two categories: directly controlled, which I believe is what you're referring to, and controlled by stable allies, which is almost as good, and cheaper. (On a side note, the US occasionally treats Canada as the former instead of the latter, and it gets our feathers rather ruffled.)

For secure markets in particular, I think you may be discounting somewhat that as long as someone keeps the market secure and open, it's good enough. This was the explicit motivation behind a vast swath of US foreign policy throughout the 20th century.

And once the market is secured (by one power or another, as long as they're friendly to each other), purely economic instabilities are far more common than military ones, and account for a much greater share of the assessed risk.

"In that context, how big "big" should be is a purely empirical question. It's a self-regulating system: not big enough, you get consumed, or at least dominated; too big, you eventually get torn down or fall apart."

I guess where in that process we stand at present is part of the question we're debating. Don't forget, though, that self-regulating systems can still possess a large inertia, which makes it more difficult to determine.

"How do British law and stable, reliable connections with London develop in a volatile security environment that would exist without the RN's control of the trade routes between Britian and the Far East?"

I admitted the RN's presence was necessary in the first part of the sentence. However, that security can be ensured by another power - the RN was the dominant naval power at the time. Now it's done by the PLAN, and Hong Kong is even more important in the global economy.

"See, you're taking the ultimate benefit as if it were a cause, and not the effect that it is."

We're arguing about the difference between a cause and a prerequisite. A reactant or a catalyst. Where you split your hairs is up to you. There were plenty of places which had (almost) the same protection from the RN and didn't have anywhere close to the same level of growth or economic success.

I think when discussing any sort of world where the city is a major political unit, the first thing done would be the formation of defense agreements and/or a common armed forces by large groups of cities. As a corollary, whatever other aspects of government the nation-state sheds, the military will probably remain.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"True enough, but don't forget the US is an exception in terms of internal market size..."

Not really. I'll agree that the US formed and expanded in response to unique conditions that allowed the formation of a contiguous continental empire without too much opposition. (The Russians as well, but they made a lot of mistakes along the way and are now only realizing the potential of their continent-spanning territorial situation.) But many states did create large overseas empires that, outside of world war, secured resources and markets essentially internal and integral to the imperial states' economic systems.

"Secure resource areas and secure markets, though, come in two categories: directly controlled...and controlled by stable allies...

For secure markets in particular, I think you may be discounting somewhat that as long as someone keeps the market secure and open, it's good enough..."


Resources and markets not under direct control are almost by definition not as secure and reliable as wholely owned ones. Even if you (correctly) identify imperial security as a market and resource security issue, having to defend what you already have is likely to be easier and less costly than helping an ally defend itself or reinstate an ally government after it has been undermined or overcome by its enemies. (Speaking of particular national attitudes, the US got burned by that one twice in the 20th Century, had to stand on guard for decades in allied countries to deter getting burned again, and it affects how many of us USians look at allies vs interests.)

"I admitted the RN's presence was necessary in the first part of the sentence. However, that security can be ensured by another power - the RN was the dominant naval power at the time. Now it's done by the PLAN, and Hong Kong is even more important in the global economy."

Hong Kong traded one empire's security for another (with much trepidation and uncertainty -- you should have been there with me in 1992 and participated in some of the conversation I had) but an empire's security makes Hong Kong much more valuable and reliable as a business partner than otherwise.

"We're arguing about the difference between a cause and a prerequisite. A reactant or a catalyst. Where you split your hairs is up to you. There were plenty of places which had (almost) the same protection from the RN and didn't have anywhere close to the same level of growth or economic success."

Honestly, meh. Use whatever words you want, it's still true that the one doesn't happen without the other. Also, your "plenty of places" didn't have the economic value that Hong Kong (or Macau or Shanghai or Tiensien or...) did.

"I think when discussing any sort of world where the city is a major political unit, the first thing done would be the formation of defense agreements and/or a common armed forces by large groups of cities. As a corollary, whatever other aspects of government the nation-state sheds, the military will probably remain."

I see a world where the city is a major economic unit, for the simple reason that that has been the case for at least two centuries now. (In the sense that a state's capital has ceased to be necessarily the most important city in a nation-state, since at least the Congress of Vienna.) But that hasn't eliminated the value of the state in terms of security. I don't think it ever will. The overarching state, if we didn't have it, we would have to invent.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"Secure resource areas and secure markets, though, come in two categories: directly controlled, which I believe is what you're referring to, and controlled by stable allies, which is almost as good, and cheaper."

So, city-states work fine, as long as they have nation-state allies?

There is definitely evidence for the ability of small states to prosper when backed by a bigger state.

The problem is that when you have hundreds upon hundreds of completely independant trading partners, the chances of some of them having stability problems that complicate everyone's job reach unity.


"Don't forget, though, that self-regulating systems can still possess a large inertia, which makes it more difficult to determine."

Agreed. You'll note that I made the same point even though I advocated the opposite conclusions from you - I suggested our current "steady state" that we're converging toward is a unified planet-state, but inertia means it'll take centuries before we get there.



Tony:

"(In the sense that a state's capital has ceased to be necessarily the most important city in a nation-state, since at least the Congress of Vienna.)"

Easy communications means that the physical location of the government is not all that important to how it does its job. You could move Mozambique's government building to Io and they would still be able to respond to a situation at home faster than a medieval king could send orders to his borderlands.

A number of countries today have capital cities that are actually rather small and unremarkable. Furthermore, capital sites are actually pretty flexible - in case of a major attack, important people are likely to be moved to a bomb shelter, which may well be on the other side of the country from the official palace.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Resources and markets not under direct control are almost by definition not as secure and reliable as wholly owned ones...."

Difficult tradeoff at the best of times. You're right about directly controlled resources being easier to defend, but it has to be balanced against the cost of acquiring them in the first place. Which, post-industrial and post-nuclear, is somewhere between high and impossibly high if the resource in question doesn't agree.

"...you should have been there with me in 1992 and participated in some of the conversation I had..."

Would've been terribly one-sided, since I was all of nine, but I would've gotten the gist. These days I work with a bunch of people from Hong Kong who came to Canada shortly before handover, and none of them have any desire to move back. Even more so in Vancouver - they don't call it Hongcouver for nothing - although much of that is fairly recent.

"Also, your "plenty of places" didn't have the economic value that Hong Kong (or Macau or Shanghai or Tiensien or...) did."

You can count the number of places with the post-war economic value of Hong Kong (which weren't already fully part of a NATO state) on one hand.

"I see a world where the city is a major economic unit, for the simple reason that that has been the case for at least two centuries now....But that hasn't eliminated the value of the state in terms of security. I don't think it ever will. The overarching state, if we didn't have it, we would have to invent."

Agreed on both counts, though I would add the city as an important social unit as well. The question is, I think, how much of the rest of the machinery of state can or will be moved to other scales and other political units. The nation-state has grown to encompass much more than just military security, after all.

Raymond said...

"So, city-states work fine, as long as they have nation-state allies?"

Or are part of a larger nation-state's military umbrella, at least. Even in a world of city-state-like-things, a nation-state's military aspects will be preserved.

"The problem is that when you have hundreds upon hundreds of completely independant trading partners, the chances of some of them having stability problems that complicate everyone's job reach unity."

In the age of fourth-generation warfare, systempunkts, franchise terrorism and other disruptive methodologies, we're likely going to see more, rather than less, of those stability problems.

"A number of countries today have capital cities that are actually rather small and unremarkable. Furthermore, capital sites are actually pretty flexible - in case of a major attack, important people are likely to be moved to a bomb shelter, which may well be on the other side of the country from the official palace."

Sacking the capital ain't what it used to be, eh?

Milo said...

Raymond:

"In the age of fourth-generation warfare, systempunkts, franchise terrorism and other disruptive methodologies, we're likely going to see more, rather than less, of those stability problems."

Which is no reason to just give up and stop trying to preserve what stability you can.

Anyway, while terrorists are not ordinary state actors, their frequency still depends strongly on the state's stability. Although this isn't in itself an argument against city-states, since Afghanistan has more terrorists than Singapore.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Difficult tradeoff at the best of times. You're right about directly controlled resources being easier to defend, but it has to be balanced against the cost of acquiring them in the first place. Which, post-industrial and post-nuclear, is somewhere between high and impossibly high if the resource in question doesn't agree."

Which is why already established but non-devolved large states (Russia, China, US, India) have an advantage going forward.

"You can count the number of places with the post-war economic value of Hong Kong (which weren't already fully part of a NATO state) on one hand."

Since when did the discussion shift to post-war WWII? I thought we were talking about the conditions that caused empire building and obtained while it was going on. Don't move the goalposts, please.

"Agreed on both counts, though I would add the city as an important social unit as well. The question is, I think, how much of the rest of the machinery of state can or will be moved to other scales and other political units. The nation-state has grown to encompass much more than just military security, after all."

Like I said, it's an empirical exercise. And I mean empirical in the strictest sense -- you can't reason what the right size is, or what the most efficient set of relationships will be.

As forthe city as a social unit, of course. And? Anything with people in it is a social unit. But overlapping social units aren't mutually exclusive. Do you cease to be a Canadian because you're a Torontonian? In fact we know you don't, because you have previously used "Canada" and "ours" in the same sentence. If you are now associated with a profession, or will be in the future, do you imagine your professional social unit to be separate from being Torontonian or Canadian? I'm sure that would surprise the Canadian Medical Association or the Law Society of Upper Canada.

(Sorry if that's a bit avilicious, but I think the point had to be explicitly made.)

"In the age of fourth-generation warfare, systempunkts, franchise terrorism and other disruptive methodologies, we're likely going to see more, rather than less, of those stability problems."

Buzzwords. In another age we would have been talking about "bomb-throwing anarchists", "assassin", or the "propaganda of the deed". Even the word "terrorism" dates to 1795 in the English language (according to merriam-webster.com). Asymmetric warfare has always been with us. Anybody that tells you that it's something new, keep on ehand on your wallet.

Tony said...

Milo:

"Easy communications means that the physical location of the government is not all that important to how it does its job."

Except I wasn't talking about the government per se. I was talking about the fact that for the last two hundred years or more, the economic and administrative capitals of state have not necessarily been the same thing, as they were previously. I picked the Congress of Vienna as a date of interest for a very specific reason -- it began the month after Washington, DC was burned, the canonical example of a capital being razed without destroying the economic life of a state. (Because the real economic power in the US was in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston.)

Raymond said...

"Which is why already established but non-devolved large states (Russia, China, US, India) have an advantage going forward."

Don't forget Brazil, Indonesia, and depending on how extensive the effects of global warming, possibly Canada.

"Since when did the discussion shift to post-war WWII? I thought we were talking about the conditions that caused empire building and obtained while it was going on. Don't move the goalposts, please."

Throwaway line to acknowledge the relative uniqueness of Hong Kong's strategic location, that's all.

"Buzzwords. In another age we would have been talking about "bomb-throwing anarchists", "assassin", or the "propaganda of the deed". Even the word "terrorism" dates to 1795 in the English language (according to merriam-webster.com). Asymmetric warfare has always been with us. Anybody that tells you that it's something new, keep on ehand on your wallet."

You don't get along with John Robb well, do you?

And yes, asymmetric warfare has been around for a very long time. I think Al Qaeda and the Black Hand are different orders of magnitude in terms of effectiveness and durability, though.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"You don't get along with John Robb well, do you?"

I admire his powers of self-promotion, in the same way I admire P.T. Barnum's. I perceive a similar regard for his public.

"And yes, asymmetric warfare has been around for a very long time. I think Al Qaeda and the Black Hand are different orders of magnitude in terms of effectiveness and durability, though.

That's quantitative, not qualitative. They're still just wild-eyed pistol waivers, trying to change the world to fit their desires. If they ever won anything, they would find themselves having to manage in the same way anyone else in power does.

In fact, looking at the Taliban's woeful incompetence once they took control of Afghanistan, one wonders whether AQ and their allies aren't really a pale immitation of the real wolrd shakers of the past. Radical revolutionaries used to be able to write constitutions, build gulags, etc. The Taliban made the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution look like good government.

Raymond said...

"Like I said, it's an empirical exercise. And I mean empirical in the strictest sense -- you can't reason what the right size is, or what the most efficient set of relationships will be."

That problem would be NP-Hard, and I'm certainly not volunteering to code the model.

"As for the city as a social unit, of course. And? Anything with people in it is a social unit. But overlapping social units aren't mutually exclusive. Do you cease to be a Canadian because you're a Torontonian? In fact we know you don't, because you have previously used "Canada" and "ours" in the same sentence."

When I'm in a US city, I'll usually tell people I'm from Toronto instead of Canada. Partly because of the specificity, partly because of the combination of cosmopolitan and recognizable that doesn't apply if I were to mention I was originally from Edmonton. I get some funny looks from US border guards sometimes, when they see "Akron, USA" listed as my place of birth on my Canadian passport. And within Canada, I'll identify as from Toronto instead of Ontario (no offense, Thucydides) and won't mention I grew up in Alberta.

Overlapping social units can get pretty complex.

"...do you imagine your professional social unit to be separate from being Torontonian or Canadian? I'm sure that would surprise the Canadian Medical Association or the Law Society of Upper Canada."

Heh.

Upper Canada was the old Confederation-era name for what would become Ontario. The UCLS is an Ontario-only body, much like the New York State Bar Association.

As for the CMA, well, that's a longish story. It's really a toothless umbrella licensing body. The real power is in the provincial medical associations, because health care is run at the provincial level. The majority of the funding and the entirety of the administration and regulation, in fact.

Back in the mid-nineties, the Alberta government began major cutbacks to health care funding. Arguments over privatization ran wild and nasty. The province was an inch away from implementing a parallel private health care system (and using the Notwithstanding clause in the constitution if necessary) when the federal gov't rejigged the equalization scheme and essentially bribed Alberta with increased transfer payments. The Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association wound up on opposite sides of that fight, and the CMA threatened (but never implemented) some fairly heavy penalties to try and stem the southernly flow of doctors. (My father was considering it himself - he'd done his residency in Ohio when I came along - and ended up staying only because of the kids.)

TL;DR, the CMA would be chagrined but not surprised at the argument of one's status as a doctor superceding one's status as a Canadian.

When I say that Canada is the most decentralized country in the West, I'm not exaggerating. I've been inside a federal government building exactly three times: once when I paid my taxes for the first time, once when I got my first passport, and once when I signed up for the Reserves. Coming from a family of teachers and medical personnel, I cut my teeth on provincial politics (worked for the Alberta Legislature for a time, too). When I mention the idea of the Province of Toronto (whether likely or not to happen) it would be very close to what we've (sort of) been talking about here: a city-state within a nation-state's military umbrella.

Raymond said...

"That's quantitative, not qualitative. They're still just wild-eyed pistol waivers, trying to change the world to fit their desires. If they ever won anything, they would find themselves having to manage in the same way anyone else in power does."

True enough about the pistol waving. However, modern networked communications (IMHO the biggest difference between BH and AQ) are considered a qualitative force multiplier, even by the US Army.

"In fact, looking at the Taliban's woeful incompetence once they took control of Afghanistan, one wonders whether AQ and their allies aren't really a pale immitation of the real wolrd shakers of the past. Radical revolutionaries used to be able to write constitutions, build gulags, etc. The Taliban made the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution look like good government."

God, yes. However, compare to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have taken on some state-like characteristics and responsibilities, but haven't yet become true states unto themselves (and likely never will). And their governance (of sorts), while problematic, isn't quite the self-defeating train wreck the Taliban inflicted.

I'm also curious about your thoughts on the various non-state actors (mostly militias) which did most of the fighting in the Second Congo War, and whether or not you consider Medellin to have been functionally a separate city-state at the height of the Escobar years.

Raymond said...

...it began the month after Washington, DC was burned, the canonical example of a capital being razed without destroying the economic life of a state.

Lighter note: the building I work in is directly on top of the old Parliament building you Yanks burned down in response. I'm staring at the plaque as I type. It was called York, then, instead of Toronto.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Overlapping social units can get pretty complex."

Yes, they can. But by your own anecdotes, they're only important in context. So, to relate things back to the topic, cities as social units are only important within given contexts. When we were fighting the Germans in WWII, we weren't fighting Berlin or Hamburg (to say nothing of Vienna, Prague, or any of the other cities of the extended Reich). We were fighting the Germans, except for when we were fighting "Berlin" as a euphamism for the German national government.

As for the international recognizability of a city's name, when hasn't that been the case? I don't think that when an ancient man said he was from Rome, Athens, or Babylon, there was any doubt about what that signified.

When I used to go overseas, I'd tell people I was from Los Angeles. "Ah, yes -- Hollywood!" Well no, not really, not even from Los Angeles proper (I'm from a suburb named Rosemead), but that's what LA means to most people not from there, even in the US. If you say you're from New York, people think of the Manhattan skyline, not Queens or the Bronx. If you're from Chicago, it's the Sears Tower and maybe the Loop; nobody cares about the North Side, South Side, or West Side. I wouldn't count on international name recognition meaning all that much.

"True enough about the pistol waving. However, modern networked communications (IMHO the biggest difference between BH and AQ) are considered a qualitative force multiplier, even by the US Army."

Force multipliers only matter if they are unbalanced. German mechanized doctrine was a big force multiplier -- right up to the time it wasn't, because everybody else adopted similar equipment and used it in a similar fashion. So, the Taliban has modern comms. So what? So do we.

"I'm also curious about your thoughts on the various non-state actors (mostly militias) which did most of the fighting in the Second Congo War, and whether or not you consider Medellin to have been functionally a separate city-state at the height of the Escobar years."

Re: non-state actors in the Congo. Rebels always have been non-state actors, by definition, even if they promote a shadow government to seek international legitimacy. It's nothing new if that's what you want to suggest.

Re: Escobar's Medellin. No different than Capone's Chicago, just more bumptious, ruthless, and on a smaller national stage.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Yes, they can. But by your own anecdotes, they're only important in context. So, to relate things back to the topic, cities as social units are only important within given contexts."

Context is king, though, isn't it?

And while I do see your point, the last twenty years' worth of irregular wars seem to have a fixation on cities, to the point where they almost defined the war in question all by themselves. Sarajevo, Mogadishu, Kigali, Kandahar, Baghdad. (Before you say anything, I know cities have always been important targets. I'm talking about the weird kind of irregular warfare where control of the city is multilayered and discontinuous, and can seem like an entirely separate war from the one waged outside. I'm talking about Sniper Alley, not Stalingrad.) I'm genuinely curious if you see this as anything new, or just a continuation of old trends.

"Force multipliers only matter if they are unbalanced....So, the Taliban has modern comms. So what? So do we."

Corollary: force multipliers matter when they create balance or lessen imbalance. My point was more of "So, we have modern comms. So what? So do they."

"Re: non-state actors in the Congo. Rebels always have been non-state actors, by definition, even if they promote a shadow government to seek international legitimacy. It's nothing new if that's what you want to suggest."

Sort of what I already thought. Is the concept of forming militias to fight militias as the primary means of prosecuting a war a trend, or just something specific to that time and place?

"Re: Escobar's Medellin. No different than Capone's Chicago, just more bumptious, ruthless, and on a smaller national stage."

Yeah, but there was always something about both Capone's Chicago and Escobar's Medellin which seemed to go further, seemed to become not just an uncommon criminal, but a larger threat to the state.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"And while I do see your point, the last twenty years' worth of irregular wars seem to have a fixation on cities, to the point where they almost defined the war in question all by themselves. Sarajevo, Mogadishu, Kigali, Kandahar, Baghdad...I'm genuinely curious if you see this as anything new, or just a continuation of old trends."

Hmmm...I think it's a symptom of the increasing urbanization of the world in general. I'm not sure it says anything about an increasing importance of cities as the focus of conflict. It's just a shift of low level conflict out of the country into the cities, because that's where the people are. But cities have been involved as objectives and battle sites since Biblical times (e.g. Jericho, Jerusalem, and Troy).

"Corollary: force multipliers matter when they create balance or lessen imbalance. My point was more of 'So, we have modern comms. So what? So do they.'"

Point taken. But it's hardly anything new. a hundred years ago, it would have been: "So we have telephones. So do they." A thousand years ago it would have been: "So we have a network of spies and assassins. So do they." Technological force multipliers are ephemeral, transitional things, because once you make the enemy aware of a technology, he'll put it to use himself, as soon as he can. Enough of a lead in the right technology -- for example, radar in WWII -- can have a significant effect in a relatively short symmetrical war. In a low level conflict extending over decades? Not so much.

"Is the concept of forming militias to fight militias as the primary means of prosecuting a war a trend, or just something specific to that time and place?"

Much of what was going on in Cambodia in the late Sixties and early Seventies was militias fighting militias. Even after the Khmer Rouge took over and the PAVN got directly involved, there was still an element of "popular forces" in the various groups fighting each other.

Many of the Indian Wars in the 19th Century were at least partially fought by irregular forces on both sides. The Indians were by definition irregular, and US federal regulars were often augmented by local militia callouts.

I think in the context of Africa, and especially the Congo, there are a lot of competing states involved in almost every war who don't want to get directly involved, so they do things by remote control through locally raised irregulars. Obviously, if you have enough parties doing that, the irregulars will fight each other more often than not. Aside from that, in any situation where you have the collapse of a government and multiple claimants all fighting each other for control, the forces involved are not going to be the most highly organized or disciplined.

I think this is just the way of most of the world, in most times and places. Our highly organized societies and wars have somewhat blinded us to that fact. Even the armies of the Classical Greeks and the early Roman republic, if looked at objectively by today's standards, would have seemed more like tribal militias engaging in internecine warfare, than what we normally think of when we say "army".

"Yeah, but there was always something about both Capone's Chicago and Escobar's Medellin which seemed to go further, seemed to become not just an uncommon criminal, but a larger threat to the state."

I hardly think Capone threatened the state. I don't even think he seriously threatened the stability of Illinois. Escobar was just a bigger, more vicious fish in a smaller pond. And in the end a local problem in Medellin, even when it spilled over into Bogota, couldn't bring down the Colombian state.

Tony said...

I almost forgaot, Re: militias fighting militias. That was definitely the pattern in the Ukraine and Yugoslavia during Nazi occupation. And that was also a mostly rural war.

Rick said...

The Escobars and Capones strike me as variations on the 'marginal' theme - as someone noted, they don't really threaten state power structures, even in Colombia.

On a larger scale isn't this also true of Osama et al? They can do shocking damage when they get lucky, but they've created no mass movement, let alone taken over instruments of state power anywhere these amount to much.

Thucydides said...

Militias and other irregular actors are getting more attention today, but I believe they are no more or less prominent than they were in the 70's, or the 1770's for that matter.

What is probably not noticed as much is many of these "militias" are actually under control of State actors; Hezbollah and Hamas are pretty much arms of Iran, and the former USSR funneled a great deal of money and equipment to terrorist groups back in the Cold War.

City States would probably have to use irregular forces as an economy of force measure, hire mercenaries and take other measures to defend themselves and project power on a small budget. The historical record of the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta is a combination of diplomacy, hiring of ships crews and mercenaries from the Dalmatian coast, organizing alliances and (occasionally) pulling ships and weapons out of the arsenal.

Thucydides said...

An interesting look at how even the institutions of the State change, in the context of American history.
http://www.american.com/archive/2009/april-2009/the-coming-of-the-fourth-american-republic/

What will the Fourth American Republic look like?

Thucydides said...

An interesting look at how institutions change over time in the context of American history:

http://www.american.com/archive/2009/april-2009/the-coming-of-the-fourth-american-republic/

A Fourth American Republic might well be effectively a nation of City States bound together under a national charter, eliminating layers of intermediate State governments and bureaucracies in the name of efficiency and to eliminate large areas of potential corruption (there will still be corruption, just localized at the city and Federal level).

Historically, this is a reversion to confederations like the Hanse, or the early forms of the United States (properly referred to as "These United States" until the time of the Civil War BTW).

One big change a confederation of City States will have on the United States is the idea of the proper use of military power. The New American Army might resemble the Swiss citizen militia model, with Americans prepared to defend themselves and their loved ones, but without the inclination or means to project power outwards. This will reverse the trend started by the Second World War, where Americans saw their interests best served by protecting overseas trade (and by offering cheap protection to their allies). Limited power projection will still be needed, and a revised US Navy and Marine Corps can be the instrument of power for these purposes.

Naturally, this form of America would not have a NASA or national space program (only a few military ones under Federal control), but will be wide open to private space ventures (the new Rocketpunk Age!)

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"A Fourth American Republic..."

Sounds, in all honesty, like a lot of pro-business wishful thinking. Which is what you'd expect out of the AEI's house organ. As always, consider the source.

Milo said...

Thucydides:

"The New American Army might resemble the Swiss citizen militia model, with Americans prepared to defend themselves and their loved ones, but without the inclination or means to project power outwards."

This depends on whether the US will continue to be, or want to be, a Great Power.

If they for whatever reason lose their current political dominance, then turning inwards like this would be a logical conclusion. However, I don't see them just giving up their political dominance willingly. They're pretty culturally attached to being the "world police".

Rick said...

A NASA-esque space program strikes me as just the sort of thing a league of city states might undertake collectively - a project too big, and with benefits too oblique, to be arranged as an ordinary business venture, but in the interest and within the resources of the league as a whole.

I'll further suggest that as you get a ways into the midfuture, especially a multi-layered polypolar one, the more the 20th century ideological fixation on 'ownership of the means of production' may recede into the past and become irrelevant to contemporary issues.

Going the other direction, Venice engaged in a lot of 'state capitalism,' such as the state merchant galleys, but trying to interpret it in 20th century terms is pretty much meaningless.

Milo said...

The thing is that in a league of city-states, each collaborative project (space program, defense, road construction, etc.) needs to be negotiated independantly from scratch. In a nation-state, there is an authority that can easily decree new collaborative projects using the existing power structure.

Of course, some would say that making it harder for the government to make wide-reaching decrees without consulting its constituents is a good thing...

Thucydides said...

A meditation on the changes to the structure of the American Republic by a member the AEI is no less valid than the speculation that we do. Objecting to it on the grounds of origin is doubly strange since we often speculate on the nature of future economies and wonder what form of Mcguffinite will attract speculators (i.e. businessmen) to put their money and effort beyond the Earth.


The city state meme is popular (I think) because most readers and consumers of SF live in cities, and from experience most people are parochial (remember the remark uppost about identifying with the city of Toronto to foreigners?). As many people have noted, larger groupings have certain levels of efficiency and access to resources which smaller polities do not, so reversions to city states do not seem to be in the cards.

If anything, I might expect to see the effects of communications technology and the information revolution to disintermediate a lot of levels beteween citizens and the State, maybe the City State itself is too large a level of State power, and people will be able to organize in neighbourhood sized units to deal with really local issues, and hook up with like minded people and groups to gain access to larger levels of resources.

Speculate away

Milo said...

So... our glorious future is government by street gangs?

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"A meditation on the changes to the structure of the American Republic by a member the AEI is no less valid than the speculation that we do."

The writer has a right to speculate as much as he wants about whatever he wants. That doesn't mean anybody has a duty to take him seriously. I'm just applying a healthy, rational skepticism to somebody that's trying to sell something. Guess who I learned that from? A guy with the initials RAH.

"Objecting to it on the grounds of origin is doubly strange since we often speculate on the nature of future economies and wonder what form of Mcguffinite will attract speculators (i.e. businessmen) to put their money and effort beyond the Earth."

The point to be made here is that it is McGuffinite. The only space business that investors are likely to be interested in through the plausible midfuture, barring major, unforeseen advances in launch vehicle efficiency and economy, are ones with government contracts attached. The stuff of romance and the stuff of reality are not the same thing.

"If anything, I might expect to see the effects of communications technology and the information revolution to disintermediate a lot of levels beteween citizens and the State, maybe the City State itself is too large a level of State power, and people will be able to organize in neighbourhood sized units to deal with really local issues, and hook up with like minded people and groups to gain access to larger levels of resources."

Ever hear of span of command/control? You can't practically eliminate levels of administration, no matter how much technology you have, for the simple reason that the responsible officials can only control so many subordinates or, at the lowest level, can only service so many customers. Hierarchies don't exist because networks are absent, they exist as a very specific type of network that addresses two very specific problems: 1. How to give everybody involved face time with officials and 2. How to organize the labor of officials so that it is effective. Just because it's possible and cheap for you to email the President with your problems or advice, that doesn't mean its practical, or that it will ever be.

Thucydides said...

In my line of work, span of command is pretty all encompassing, but there are lots of interesting discussions afoot to see how to radically transform the hierarchy in the interests of economy and speed of decision making. Wal-Mart is a popular starting point, since they have a huge work force, global financial and logistics yet can outperform their competitors with as few as five levels of management.

A competing meme is "scale free networks", fractal organizational models which look the same at almost every level. The Internet is one such model, and tracing the spread of disease also seems to follow a scale free model, to use two exampes .

Politics, business and other organizations have settled on hierarchies as a means of distributing limited resources in limited time (and through limited communications channels), so it has a place in the here and now, but competing models can now challenge the traditional ones since may of the old barriers such as communications bandwidth and access to resources are coming down.

You can email the president, but you can also find the means to solve the problem on your own, or with the help of your friends in Singapore, Canada and Outer Mongolia. I believe that most people will choose the method which provides the fastest, cheapest or best results, which will render competing models irrelevant. Which model will prevail is an open question, and older models still exist in our society for certain specialized roles (Guilds or the Universal Church are not part of our day to day lives anymore, but are still around in the places they are useful)

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"...radically transform..."

This is where you lose me. I simply don't accept radical transformation as a conscious choice. The conscious choice is to evolve technology and see what happens. What does happen is serendipity. It has been said by MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray that military revolutions are not planned, they are survived. The same applies to any other kind of technology-based change.

As for scale-free networks, they seem to form through voluntary behavior. That's nice. The problem is that much of organiztion, in both business and government, is involuntary behavior. It's great if your friends in Singapore and Burssels can help you with your problems, but if their solutions are against your local laws, or simply not possible in your local business culture, then you have to do things through the existing government or business hierarchies.

Wal-mart's flat organization works for them because they have certain norms and use push logistics. They're broadly flexible, in the sense that they can respond to trends nationally or even globally, and do it very qucikly. But they respond in the same way everywhere. They're very well built for a juggernaut. If they have to be locally flexible? not so much.

Raymond said...

Happy Canuckian Thanksgiving, Thucydides. (Although it gets in the way of properly responding. Apologies for going back so far.)

Tony:

"Technological force multipliers are ephemeral, transitional things, because once you make the enemy aware of a technology, he'll put it to use himself, as soon as he can."

Technological advantage, certainly. Technological capability remains, and allows you to do the same with less, or more with the same. Modern comms allow forces to fight as a unit while more dispersed than ever before, and thus allow forces to exist which wouldn't be able to otherwise.

"I think this is just the way of most of the world, in most times and places. Our highly organized societies and wars have somewhat blinded us to that fact."

Yeah, I can probably agree with that.

Rick:

"The Escobars and Capones strike me as variations on the 'marginal' theme - as someone noted, they don't really threaten state power structures, even in Colombia."

I think the hollowing-out of state power structures is just as much of a threat to the state as its defeat. It's a different nature of threat, perhaps, but I wouldn't call it marginal.

Thucydides:

"A Fourth American Republic..."

My problem with the AEI is that they have a nasty tendency to draw their boundaries arbitrarily. That paper, for example, goes on and on about the New Deal (like most sufficiently conservative pundits insisting on far-reaching reform), but doesn't mention the Fourteenth Amendment, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, or the Interstate Commerce Act (while it lasted), which have more to do with shaping American business than Social Security.

Milo:

"If they for whatever reason lose their current political dominance, then turning inwards like this would be a logical conclusion. However, I don't see them just giving up their political dominance willingly. They're pretty culturally attached to being the "world police"."

They're not attached the being the world police as they are determined to never be threatened, which frequently manifests as police actions and invasions in support of their preferred agent of stability.

Rick:

"I'll further suggest that as you get a ways into the midfuture, especially a multi-layered polypolar one, the more the 20th century ideological fixation on 'ownership of the means of production' may recede into the past and become irrelevant to contemporary issues."

That depends on the marginal cost of national vs international trade (which has been steadily decreasing post-Soviet) and how many strategic resources can be identified as such (oil, gas, uranium - any others?). I suspect you're right, up until the point where old-school nationalism intervenes (however inefficient it may be in the particular case).

Tony:

"Ever hear of span of command/control? You can't practically eliminate levels of administration, no matter how much technology you have, for the simple reason that the responsible officials can only control so many subordinates or, at the lowest level, can only service so many customers."

I have heard of it, and levels of administration can in fact be reduced with a combination of specialization and delegation. If the lower units are given more autonomy, and direct communication with specialized support units is allowed, then the higher command levels are there to resolve conflicts over allocations when necessary. This effectively raises the number of subordinates per level. That's the part about the Wal-Mart model which works so well, because local purchasing levels can be quickly scaled without recourse to HQ. A similarly decentralized command structure also worked well for the US Marines in Fallujah, from what I understand.

Raymond said...

Thucydides:

"A competing meme is "scale free networks", fractal organizational models which look the same at almost every level. The Internet is one such model, and tracing the spread of disease also seems to follow a scale free model, to use two exampes."

The internet is in no way a scale-free model. The nature of IP (especially TCP/IP) results in a network which is inherently quantized and discrete. You'll get some elements of a scale-free model if the nodes are sufficiently clustered, but the internet in general has too many overlapping networks of too varied sizes to be considered truly scale-free.

"Guilds or the Universal Church are not part of our day to day lives anymore, but are still around in the places they are useful"

Guilds are still with us, in the form of professional associations which are backed by law. We just don't call them guilds anymore, and they don't cross borders as often or as efficiently as their medieval predecessors.

Tony:

"The problem is that much of organiztion, in both business and government, is involuntary behavior.""

I think some of said behavior can be considered a legacy model, borne of centralized communications and authority. In business, this model is being challenged (most notably in the tech industries) by smaller, more specialized companies and more flexible logistics. Not that it's a forgone conclusion, but battle has been joined. We'll see if government follows suit.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"Modern comms allow forces to fight as a unit while more dispersed than ever before,"

Not really. If two people are more than two maximum-weapon-ranges away from each other (at a stretch), then they're effectively acting independantly regardless of communication capability. They can cooperate only in a strategic sense, not a tactical one, and so aren't a unit.

Raymond said...

Milo:

Here I'm speaking of scales above small-unit tactics. And don't think that the ability of small units to call in air support without going through five levels of hierarchy isn't tactically relevant.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"And don't think that the ability of small units to call in air support without going through five levels of hierarchy isn't tactically relevant."

Al Qaeda does not possess this capability.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Here I'm speaking of scales above small-unit tactics. And don't think that the ability of small units to call in air support without going through five levels of hierarchy isn't tactically relevant."

Since when has a small unit ever been able to do that? If you're talking about a squad or platoon, there is no such thing as any kind of impromptu support, except by kicking the chain of command and seeing what falls out. It could be anything from company mortars to a JDAM strike, depending on what resources are available and how the higher-ups interpret your needs.

Even with the most highly networked C^(whatever the latest exponent is) system, the crisp young troop on the ground is still praying into a radio for Divine intervention, and has no control over whether or not his prayers will be answered, or how.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I think some of said behavior can be considered a legacy model, borne of centralized communications and authority. In business, this model is being challenged (most notably in the tech industries) by smaller, more specialized companies and more flexible logistics. Not that it's a forgone conclusion, but battle has been joined. We'll see if government follows suit."

I work for a small, specialized company. We have a national market because the Interwebs gives us that kind of reach. But internally we still work like any small business ever has.

Prior to that, I worked for a major HMO that tried to leverage moder ncommunications to flatten it's operations by a single level. That was a fiasco of huge proportions, as the company soon discovered that the intervening level existed for real human and geographic reasons. The organization found that there were many things that just couldn't be done by remote control, but being there in person on a timely basis required top level managers and their key support staff to fly monthly, and in some cases weekly, in order to do their jobs. At one point, the 0700 and 1600 Southwest flights between two major metropolitan areas looked like a company bus. After a while, department heads were scheduling meetings on the plane the save time. I think that led to a quarter billion dollar loss by the time people came to their sense.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"If the lower units are given more autonomy, and direct communication with specialized support units is allowed, then the higher command levels are there to resolve conflicts over allocations when necessary. This effectively raises the number of subordinates per level."

That works under certain business conditions. The problem with government is geographic scope and specialization. You have to have a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office within 50 miles of everyone in the state. And the people that work at the DMV can't do building inspections.

Thucydides said...

There will always be specific cases which require specialized handling, which means no single model can cover all cases or eventualities. In economics, this is spoken of as the local knowledge problem. look up "Organizations & the Local Knowledge Problem" http://hayekcenter.org/?p=2041

Disintermediation provides an opportunity to experiment with more models, and also to provide a more finely grained social, political and economic system so most people will be able to connect to the model that works best for them. (This has potential benefits for organizations which choose to fully embrace the model; SOF forces in Afghanistan were fully disintermediated in 2002, with individual soldiers given the ability to directly call aircraft for tactical or strategic level support. The Regular military establishment still has not gone very far don that road)

If you happen to believe in Guild Socialism, then it will be easier for you to find and join a guild. Even alternate economic systems will be able to exist. Many readers of this blog have heard that the virtual economy of MMRPG's interacts with the real world (you can purchase gold coins or magical items in the game from other players for real USD). At the other end of the spectrum we have the Hawala networks which transfer cash around the globe without any records for governments or conventional economists to track.

Cities provide the critical mass of resources and people to make such networks viable, but hopefully the long reach of the Internet and associated technologies can transfer these benefits to you wherever you choose to live.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"This has potential benefits for organizations which choose to fully embrace the model; SOF forces in Afghanistan were fully disintermediated in 2002, with individual soldiers given the ability to directly call aircraft for tactical or strategic level support. The Regular military establishment still has not gone very far don that road"

That's not factual at all. Specially trained and equipped Air Force tactical air controllers were attached to the SF teams and they were the means through which air strikes were directed on the battlefield, under the direction of the SF team leader. This approach goes back at least as far as Vietnam. No "individual soldier" directed air strikes.

Also, none of the strikes involved strategic missions. Yes, B-52s and B-1s were used as long endurance bomb trucks -- which was indeed an interesting innovation -- but the missions directed from the ground were, AFAIK, against immediate tactical targets.

Raymond said...

Tony:

I should have been more specific; I was referring to SOF teams with attached JTAC. Also, I believe the USMC includes an FAC at company level, do they not? (Can you also explain the JTAC/FAC terminology divide?)

"I work for a small, specialized company. We have a national market because the Interwebs gives us that kind of reach. But internally we still work like any small business ever has."

"Prior to that, I worked for a major HMO..."


That's just it - small businesses don't have the same requirement for some of the upper layers larger companies often require (as seems to be the case with your old job). Likewise cities, if given sufficient autonomy and tax revenue, can maintain and expand their own infrastructure more efficiently than state/provincial or federal levels.

WRT your HMO job, ouch. Not knowing the details, I won't comment too directly, but I'm curious if they were actually centralizing instead of delegating and specializing. If the former, those efforts are frequently doomed to failure, and the exact opposite of what I'm talking about.

The automotive company I work for is in the opposite situation in some ways. A couple years ago, we finally got a proper Canadian subsidiary, but at the same time the head office has been centralizing more of the warranty data and purchasing decisions. Given the differences between the Canadian market and the American one (especially in winter), not to mention the German market, this has tied our hands in frustrating fashion. And despite the appearance of effort towards modernizing communications with the engineers in Germany, the reality is even worse than before. (Which really doesn't help when your latest couple models are ridden with problems.)

"That works under certain business conditions. The problem with government is geographic scope and specialization. You have to have a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office within 50 miles of everyone in the state. And the people that work at the DMV can't do building inspections."

I know, and like I said, nothing is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes legacy models still work better. For geographic concerns, though, as urbanization continues the geographic assumptions underlying the state/provincial level begin to crumble ever so slightly.

Raymond said...

Milo:

"Al Qaeda does not possess this capability."

You ever heard the term "poor-man's air force"? Suicide bombers and IEDs are not exact analogues, but they do allow behind-the-lines strikes and attacks on heavier targets than small units normally are capable of. And it's been well-established that AQ cells have broad leeway to select targets for bombing.

Thucydides said...

Without getting too pendantic about things, the difference between Afghanistan 2002, where a SOF operator could literally pick up his satphone and speed dial "1" to reach an orbiting F-15 or B-1 and the hours to days long process it took during the 1991 Gulf War is like the difference between night and day.

SOF operators are trained to work as FACs, and they did direct the aircraft both tactically but also using in airpower in a strategic manner to cut off Taliban logistics, particularly in the operations leading up to the assault on Kandahar.

The implications of this are huge. Manning, equipping, logistics and the relative importance of the various services all come into play. How you deal with the after effects is also important; tiny forces can now apply power all out of proportion to their size, but you will still need a large constabulary force to take and maintain control afterwards...

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Also, I believe the USMC includes an FAC at company level, do they not?"

Theoretically. How common that is on the ground I don't know. I can tell you that my Marine rifle company in Operation Desert Storm (B 1/1) had an officer forward air controller and a radio man attached.

"(Can you also explain the JTAC/FAC terminology divide?)"

I'm not an expert on defense terminology, but something that is explicitly "Joint" is specifically intended for interservice operations. A Joint Terminal Attack Controller is supposedly trained and equipped to provide terminal control for an air strike from any service's aircraft, for any service's ground forces.

I think "TAC" is old, superceded terminology.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Without getting too pendantic about things, the difference between Afghanistan 2002, where a SOF operator could literally pick up his satphone and speed dial "1" to reach an orbiting F-15 or B-1 and the hours to days long process it took during the 1991 Gulf War is like the difference between night and day."

Well, since that never actually happened, except in some "Transformation" snake oil salesman's imagination, yes, we definitely can't get too pedantic. In reality, the TACP was handed a resource by a controlling authority, just like always. What made it seem so streamlined compared to the past was that there were so few troops on the ground, and each party of US troops was primarily tasked with coordination of air support. When you have few controlling agencies and a lot of firing agencies, of course the controlling agencies get the phone answered quickly, with a lot of resources on call. But it was still just a simple matter of a big supply and a small demand.

"SOF operators are trained to work as FACs, and they did direct the aircraft both tactically but also using in airpower in a strategic manner to cut off Taliban logistics, particularly in the operations leading up to the assault on Kandahar."

US Army Special Forces are trained to be the trainers and leaders of indigenous forces. Some may have training in joint fires control, but they're mostly reliant on USAF TACP for air support. That's because normally it's the TACP guys that have the AM radios to talk on air tactical nets, and the training to direct air strikes effectively.

Cutting off the logistics of enemy front line forces is interdiction, not strategic bombing. It's an operational mission, not a strategic one. And this is the first time I've heard of ground controllers involved in that in Afghanistan. Can you point me to a readily accessible source on that?

"The implications..."

From my POV, it's all claimed implications, not real ones. Certainly small, specialized teams with a lot of support can be highly effective in directing decisive fires. But that has yet to obviate the need of larger, forces to close the deal. SF teams certainly had an effect by making the USAF in effect the Northern Alliance AF. But we can't forget that it took the NA troops in the field to motivate the Taliban and AQ troops to concentrate where air strikes could affect them. And it took NA troops and others to actually take advantage of the air strikes on the ground.

MRig said...

This is a very interesting topic, as is the discussion that's followed. I'd been meaning to read and add to it but hadn't until now.

Something I don't think has been discussed, except briefly in the bits about hypersuburbanization, is the scale at which human environments will operate in the 21st century. It's a response to the problem Raymond mentioned:

"Exurban always seemed like the worst of both worlds. You're too far away to walk anywhere, and it's not even that pretty."

Urban/suburban/exurban sprawl in general has this problem, along with problems of congestion, pollution, global warming, gas prices, and so on. The North American middle class consumes massive amounts of oil with its lifestyle, not only getting around but by the endlessly cycling global supply chain that fills the big box stores and online mail-order suppliers.

We are now mentoring populations much larger than those of North America in the finer points of this lifestyle, and they are taking to it with aplomb. When China and India get their Thatcher and Reagan, when everyone in Asia and South America wants and can have two cars and a house in the suburbs, when we have to use oil that is harder and more expensive to tap, there will be major consequences.

Energy will not stay cheap forever, and no combination of electric cars and biofuels will solve the problem, absent a restructuring of how we live. Some aspects of globalization are here to stay. Barring a Kessler cascade or somesuch, we'll always have instant global communication. Others, like the endless supply chain, are not sustainable--and I don't just mean that in the environmentalist sense. Wal-Mart's business model works because it's cheap, and it's only cheap as long as oil is cheap.

MRig said...

So: how do we envision this restructured world?

One: http://transect.org/transect.html

Two: http://www.america2050.org/maps/

Three:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_city

The most important of these is the transect. Geoffrey is a village guy, so he'd live in T2 rural. More urban folks would prefer T4 through T6. Even in the T3 suburbs, there's a town square within a five or ten minute walk where you can go to the bank or the grocery store or the farmer's market and, hopefully, a stop on the S-Bahn into the city. If done right, these are close-grained enough that no transect is too massive on its own. In some cases, there's a sharp contrast--Central Park, for instance.

People living in the low-density zones are incentivized to have a hand in producing food and energy, like keeping a garden or putting solar panels on their roof. Residents of the core do their part just by living in higher density.

More of the goods everyone buys are produced not by anonymous laborers in another part of the world, but within the metropolitan area or the megaregion, because the transportation costs are too expensive to fly perishable food or tube socks in from another hemisphere, no matter how cheap the children are to hire. Partially this is because the invisible hand is working its magic, but it's also because policies of various political bodies have made it so that some negative externalities are more accurately reflected in a good's market price. If summits of state governments are unable to do what is necessary, perhaps summits of city governments can. With charter cities and special economic zones, perhaps they will have that autonomy.

In this world I describe, community is more important than it is today. People are more likely to pick a place and stay there for some time, and to follow local and regional politics more attentively, as part of the greater shift in culture pushed along by the the growing unreliability of oil and the ecological disasters that follow its overuse. The Gulf Coast has not seen the worst. Prepare for a Bangladeshi diaspora.

The broader pattern is one of localization. As R.C. said, this happens at sea as well, though it'll be a long time before seasteading is economically viable. Even this fundamentally libertarian project will end up being very communitarian by virtue of being life at sea. But it will be the good sort of communitarian where people have the freedom to smoke weed and love queer.

In a locally global world, the city continues rising to prominence, and given enough time this could extend to military forces as well. However, I would expect defense to be the Rubicon of state power, which they would defend most jealously and refuse to cede even as they are rendered less relevant in other areas, on both smaller and larger scales.

As for space, don't forget that the best place to build a space elevator is probably off the coast of Singapore.

KraKon said...

I'll add a bit:

First off-two new scenarios:

In my space warfare setting, space jockeys are brains in hard jars. It is not therefore unbelievable that connecting a brain directly to a computer input/output system doesn't have civil applications, at least for the rich.

This foreseeably leads to the opposite of suburbanisation of cities, centralization. The fastest servers and the baddest connection speeds are all kept as close as possible to the city center, if only for wire length. If this trend continues, the richest will leave nearest the city, the poorer a bit out, and the downtrodden either don't have access to the virtual wonderland or have lower accessibilty. This leads to a stratification where social hierarchy reflects geographic position.

The rich inside, the poor outside. The 'citizen' has access to virtual wonderland, the highest GDP (virtual economy), and will have maglev superhighways to the other cities. His house would be bare compared to our standards today, as he doesn't spent much time in it. All can be done from his seat, why travel and spend money on a view you will never exploit?

The poorer people spend less and less time in VR (T), have to work with their hands (or at least looking over the robots who do) and their capital is entirely real-based. He'd buy a view, a large house and own a car. He's poor but that's only relative- he's got the lifestyle if a North American.

I can see city-states therefore developping from there. The city state owns its money producing center, it's ring of rich specialists and outgrowth of tech and service industries. Around it would be the heavy industries, the chemical industries, the wheat fields and what ever.
States as today exist, it assures military responsabilities, exterior relations and national works (building roads, dams), but its importance is reduced to only being able to mobilize more capital than any single city state. That's it. Citizens in London don't feel related in any way to Manchester, if it were not for the flag making sure they don't rip themselves apart.

Second scenario:

Post-apocalypse. It would justify a cities of earth setting. After a period of stagnation, an energy crisis leads to a worldwide limited-nuclear war. Armies are taken as major targets, but the major cities remain or are reconstructed quickly. The city, having mobilized the whole of iots resources for its own reconstruction, doesn't feel a need to honour its national alliance with other cities, creating a self-sufficient city state with defence in mind and in competition with other city states. New York rebuilt underground and surrounded by autonomous laserbots and 15M high city walls?

Damien Sullivan said...

Lots of daily economic stuff may happen at city levels, but large states don't just build the roads and railroads, they make sure there aren't bandits on those roads. So good at it we've forgotten about the problem, but it used to be common.

There's also economic stability and enforcement of regulations which need uniformity to work. Keynesian buffering of business cycles; tax and benefit levels -- you can localize those, but then you also have to restrict trade and migration to avoid undermining the system, at the expense of efficiency and individual freedom.

In parts of the world we see both devolution and unification, e.g. Europe: regions like Scotland or Catalonia get more autonomy, but within the growing framework of the EU. The old nation state fades a bit, but you've still got a strong top down component. I don't think it'll go away; if the UK disappears peacefully, power will be going to both England (or London) and the EU, not just to London.

Rick said...

I tend to agree with this last point, that if there are hints of a post-Westphalian world they point most strongly toward a 'neomedieval' model with multiple layers of a hierarchy sharing attributes of sovereignty.

On the cost of energy, I am not entirely sure that it won't be relatively cheap. My impression is that the sustainable techs are approaching a price point not too far above the current fossil fuel price, and there is still a lot of room for progress.

That said, the energy splurge culture probably wouldn't last whatever the price of energy, but is a cultural response to suddenly having a lot of energy available for the first time.