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Global Complexity and Development

Here are some ideas on global complexity, post 9-11, and on international development, as seen from the point of view of complexity. This is an extract from a longer piece on media and development. The references to Rihani are to Samir Rihani and if you follow this link you can access some of his material on Complexity and Development. The Garten references are to Jeremy Garten, and his article in the Economist soe time back.

Many of the issues come down to one basic question: Is it true that everything we do is being incorporated into, and dominated by, global discourses which are less and less tied to (let alone controlled by) national States and local communities? To rephrase: Are we increasingly being dominated by a new(supra-national) global elite, which has no national loyalties or accountability, as its loyalties are only to itself, and to the global capital markets?
Garten says that the historically unique way in which late 20th Century global markets cut themselves off from national and local control and interests, and operated in a hyper-discourse of global capital and ‘free’ trade, in which money and trade seemed to flow almost transparently across the world is being cut back: ‘downsized’, in its own parlance.
He points out that the regulators are back, national borders are once again in fashion, and the “‘primacy of geopolitics over economics … is once again a fact of life” (ibid). One of the key elements of this global hyper-discourse is precisely its transparency – the extent to which transaction costs (particularly in capital markets) have been reduced to close to zero: zero cost and zero time, with no regard to distance or place, all of which has been possible because of the exponential growth and efficiency in global ICT networks.
As we said, new technologies always tend to increase existing discrepancies in power. International capitalism triumphed after the end of the Cold War, and it quickly took advantage of ICT to consolidate and expand its hegemony. However, these global technologies and markets are in principle open to be exploited by anyone, and so other transnational organisations like Al-Qaeda smartly took up the opportunity too – the more so because Al-Qaeda has deliberately structured itself as a virtual organisation.
The discourse of globalised capital developed and expanded these transparent and virtual technologies and communities of practice. It oversold the financial potential, which resulted in the dot-coms crash of the late ‘90s. It also allowed considerable abuse and deception in key areas to continue and grow: areas such as financial scams, money laundering, tax avoidance and corruption. All of these developments have now necessitated fundamental and substantial corrections in capital markets, audit, and regulation.
After Enron, the dot-coms crash, and 9-11 there will be concerted efforts to curb the negative aspects of these virtual communities of practice or, to put it anther way, to limit the abuse of virtual communities of practice. The problem with both religious fundamentalists and market fundamentalists (Bin-Laden and international global capitalism - or “marketisation” as Rowan Williams puts it, or more graphically as Robin Cook put it, “feral capitalism”) is that they demand uniformity. And in both cases (as George Soros says of marketisation), this paradoxically “creates a very uneven playing field” (quoted by Rihani 2002: 242). Rihani goes on to explain that globalisation
bleaches all variety out of the world system. Ostensibly, globalisation presumes that one universal fitness landscape exists, or could be engineered to suit all nations. That is fiction. In practice, the leading powers, using the formidable resources available to them and their global agencies, have set out to force all nations to compete on one fitness landscape on which these powers thrive” (emphasis added).
Bin-Laden is similarly convinced that his ‘one fitness landscape’ should be imposed on all Muslims, if not everyone else as well. (See for example the Taliban’s educational policy in Afghanistan, which was consistent with Al-Qaeda’s policies, in which education was largely restricted to the teachings of the Koran, and not much else).

Rihani’s point is not that it would be more interesting to have variety in our social institutions. His point is that global development (as opposed to the development of market globalisation) is not possible under the conditions of the G7s’ preferred ‘fitness landscape’, nor is it the most appropriate ‘fitness landscape’ for most developing countries. Further, it was also not appropriate at the time of similar stages of development for the G7 countries in the 18th and 19th Centuries. He quotes Soros again (op cit: 63) who argues that “assertions by market fundamentalists that markets should be regulated by nothing more than profit and competition distort global capitalism into a greater threat to open society than any totalitarian ideology”.
Rihani argues at great length, and supports his argument with evidence from many countries, that
progress is not a function of cost… The danger in isolating wealth as the primary impediment is the temptation to conclude that little can be done until the economy has been uplifted substantially. That, fortunately, is not the case (op. cit: 211 – emphasis added).
On the previous page he compares the case of India with that of China, and says:
China decided to seek local solutions, while India depended on imported ideas. A near obsession with basic needs, indigenous remedies, and communities that function as supportive units has enabled that country to cross the capability divide [emphasis added]. Having moved up the human development ladder, China is now ready to tackle economic development”. And he goes on to emphasise that “the capability for most people in a nation to interact effectively is determined to a large extent by their state of nutrition, health and knowledge. Without that capability, they will be powerless to take an active part in the natural evolution of that nation as a Complex Adaptive System.
The discourse of globalisation, or the discourse of market fundamentalism ‘fits’ with the interests of the G7 nations, and the global financial institutions, but doesn’t fit at all with the interests or concerns of the majority of the other (G187) nations. In these countries what is most important is that communities of practice at a micro level need to develop “indigenous remedies, and communities that function as supportive units” (Rihani, ibid), rather than expecting macro economic discipline to do it all for them. South Africa, which has deliberately done just this, will be an interesting case in point in the coming years, particularly as the impact of HIV/AIDS mortality and morbidity works its way through the economically active part of the population. This is likely to undermine the macro economic policies favoured by the South African government and the G7 nations.