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What Do I Get Out of It?

Every day, the American leadership asks Sunnis and Shiites: isn’t it time to forego your petty loyalties and forge a new and powerful Iraqi nation? The benefits seem clear enough: personal safety and security; the possibility of economic reconstruction; an independent nation without meddling from Iran and Saudi Arabia, much less the US. In many regions of the world, the emergence of nationalism and meaningful governance are one and the same.

Now, step-it-up one level, and ask the same question of Germans, French, and Greeks: Doesn’t it make sense to invest the European Union with more power, not less? The Euro has been a great success; why not ask for the same result in a unified code for legal systems and contracts, the regulation of monopolies like Microsoft, and trade negotiations with China? Does it really make sense to balkanize food and drug regulation, passports and immigration, anti-terrorism police work, or government oversight of financial markets?

Historically, we have seen many nations that were sustainable on a higher level of federation – e.g., the US after the Civil War – and many that were only sustainable on a lower level – e.g., the Czech Republic or Bosnia. There has been a great deal of political science devoted to understanding the difference. At some level, it comes down to millions of people deciding that “they will get more out of it” by affiliating at a higher level.

Globalism is really just the next level of aggregation. It makes sense because globalization is already well underway; what lags is governance. Not UN-style bureaucratic sluggishness, but governance in the same sense that we support national governments for domestic issues. Imagine if political disputes between two [United] States were resolved in the same manner that Britain and Argentina resolved the Falklands dispute. Or, that the FDA was a state-level function, and required drug approval in all 50 states before a drug could come to market. We have no trouble supporting government within a nation that has sufficient coherence, power, and authority to govern effectively. With globalization a fait accompli, we need more than a Wild West form of governance to achieve a civil world.

The question is, what should citizens do? You could send a check to Doctors Without Borders, or UNICEF, or Amnesty International. You could join one of the many interest groups with a global perspective on human rights, the environment, or worker safety. These are all worthwhile causes; eventually the global commons could metamorphose into something more civilized. However, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Expat Nation is potentially a novel and viral way for non-governmental forms of benign authority to emerge. First and foremost, it is not the UN, which as a descendent of nation-state politics is constrained to a very limited sphere of activity. Expat Nation is based on a different organizing principle: people with common needs and values voluntarily adopting a new, super-national allegiance. It is grassroots and self-selected; you don’t have to be born into it but you do have to choose to “immigrate.” As guests in host countries, expats have a unique position in the commerce of nations – if we don’t add more value than we cost, nations simply boot us out. As itinerant, unrepresented residents in host countries, we need more than our embassies and Chambers of Commerce to lobby for our interests.

What are our interests?

  • No taxation without representation
    • Focus tax revenues from expats on protecting the global commonwealth
  • The free movement of labor and capital, backed by . . .
  • Global institutions of law
    • Adoption of simplified means of conflict resolution that are scaled to the size of the problem, but backed by Expat Nation members
  • Uniform practices and policies to:
    • mitigate exploitation of the unprotected
    • rein in corruption
    • counter terrorism, the drug trade, and multi-national mafias
  • Encourage transparency in governance through the free flow of information
  • Give up anonymity (in tax reporting, [secure] internet usage, and most public roles) in exchange for accountability, security, and the protection of individual human rights
  • Enhance systems of trust and reputation to enable cooperation among unrelated parties
  • Democratic, but constrained by constitutional agreements to maintain a . . .
  • Globalist perspective over nationalist interests

The devil is in the details. As a work in progress, most of the details are still up for discussion. After all, this grassroots movement needs democracy and participation! There is no question that these general principles are rife with potential conflicts and internal inconsistencies. Where does legitimate national interest end and the global commonwealth begin? When is personal privacy protected and where does public accountability become more important? These questions are not easy to resolve with Expat Nation any more than they were without it.

I am optimistic that Expat Nation members can resolve these issues and move forward to establish more powerful and effective means of governance. We have a greater stake in successful globalization than most of our national brethren. Because we will aggregate based on shared interests and values instead of birth location, we can overcome the greatest barriers to collective action.

Equally important, globalism has been around the world of big ideas for quite some time, and it does not have a lot to show for it. We need to reconnoiter, learn from history, and start fresh. Today, I have no trouble identifying dozens of policies that could be adopted by Expat Nation “members” that would directly benefit me. Would others benefit the same way? Would these be enough to push potential members over the tipping point, from pure-nationalists to Expat Nation dual citizens? Without critical mass, Expat Nation will surely die.

Expat Nation is compelling precisely because there is “something in it for you.” It is not purely philanthropic; it is potentially a win-win for expats and host nations. To paraphrase Alfred Sloan (former president of General Motors), “what’s good for expats is good for the world.” Or, a little less arrogantly, expats are uniquely positioned to create and adopt civic governance that will benefit globalization and host countries alike. The challenge ahead is to build “Governance 2.0” from scratch; gathering a critical mass of participants to be powerful, while staying true to the principles that make it effective.

To borrow from Robert Frost:

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down!”

[from Mending Wall]

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