Monday, June 25, 2012
Large and unified or small and squabbling?
What’s better for the advancement of humankind, large unified territories or small little places that don’t really get along?
Think back to history. The Roman Empire spread learning over a very large area. Advances were made in many fields. When the empire fell we slipped into the Dark Ages.
. . . which lasted until the Renaissance. There were an awful lot of little countries at that time, yet that’s when art and science reawakened.
I had to ask myself, what did those two prosperous time periods have in common? It all comes down to mobility. The Roman Empire built excellent quality roads that were relatively safe to travel on. Ideas and people could travel easily.
The Renaissance time period, as I see it, still comes down to mobility. Countries were divided, but borders were fairly porous. If someone ran afoul of the local ruler, it was a short trip to a different country. Trade crossed borders. Even things like cannon, essential to war efforts, crossed borders of rival countries. If you can’t stop cannon from moving around, you certainly can’t stop ideas.
What about today? Is the EU good or bad for the average person under its umbrella? On one hand, the EU has kept a lid on European wars, so that’s a good thing. It has also made travel between member countries much easier. On the other hand the EU can enforce rules and regulations across a large area, stifling innovation and local solutions to problems. Has the EU passed the point of diminishing returns?
The United States seemed designed from the ground up to try and take advantage of large and small dynamics at the same time. Brilliant in theory. The Federal government would take care of things like roads, water ways, navies, armies -the things that make travel and trade easy and safe. The states could all adapt to local conditions and cultures.
At one time, if a person had to remake themselves, they’d do something like move out West. They were still in the same country, but under a different set of local rules and expectations. Newer territories tended to be looser and more open to new ideas.
That was then. The Federal part of the design has grown and grown until its power reaches into everyone’s day to day lives. Moving to a different state makes a difference, but not the huge difference it once did.
Now it looks like there’s a chance the EU will break up. How will that affect human progress in the long run? On the positive side, it would free a lot of smaller places from central control. That should help innovation. At the same time, however, there’s talk of severely restricting movement between countries. If the Internet remains relatively free and open, ideas could cross borders making up somewhat for travel restrictions. However, governments seem to really want to restrict and control the Internet.
Maybe we should look to the remains of the old USSR. It’s been broken apart long enough that we should be able to judge if individuals are better off or not. If the break up has been good for humanity, we should be starting to see some innovations about now. There are some fascinating things brewing in some of these countries that could have major implications down the road, but they are in their infancy.
Has the impact of the break up been lessened by many of these countries joining other International organizations like NATO, the IMF, International trade and finance agreements, or other schemes? Have multi-national corporations become stifling empires of their own?
For humankind to thrive, I’m looking for situations where mobility (of people goods and ideas) and personal freedom are both allowed or encouraged.
I look at the news and wonder what will become history.