Last year in Geneva during GLOBAL+5, our inaugural festival of global governance, David Held – a seasoned academic versed in the topic and born to be a member of our jury – was very much preoccupied. As we walked together into the grand ball room at the Four Seasons hotel, where in the early 1920s ambassadors would meet to socialize and dance between daily meetings to build the first global political entity, Held and I discussed the fact President Woodrow Wilson never received support from Congress for the United States (US) to become a member of the utopian Société des Nations.
This paradox is still part of the US vision today, in everything that touches on the broad sweep of issues constituting global politics. It is a yes-and-no position, which ends with a ‘no’ in most cases – from the law of the sea to climate change, reform of the International Monetary Fund and that too long list with which we are all familiar. Since the fi rst edition of GLOBAL+5, Held has co-written a book with two American academic colleagues about the state of contemporary global governance. Its title? Gridlock. Calling for a far more multidisciplinary approach in the analysis of global issues, the authors wish to see vastly improved effi ciency in collective decision making at a crucial moment in our history.
Though I agree deeply with their call for a more holistic approach to global politics, something seems to be missing. The future is calling across many issues and the answers from our leaders have been found wanting. A vacuum like this cannot last.
Voices will soon be heard, however, as always. One just might be Jaron Lanier’s. In the 1980s, Lanier was a leading mind driving us all into virtual reality. Now, this former digital idealist claims free content is bad for everyone, citizens and corporations alike. Today, apart from being a “technologist,” a serial entrepreneur and an employee at one of the largest US tech firms, Lanier is among the few thinkers one should pay attention to in order to learn why we are heading in the wrong direction when it comes to the digital world. Lanier’s new book Who Owns The Future? is THE book younger and elder generations should read together.
Amusingly, the question sounds familiar – uncertainty over “who owns the Internet?” has been haunting us for the last decade, since the US government and companies such as Google took it over. Lanier’s point is all about one word: “value.” Lost value, not added value, as the giants of the Internet are milking the value out of people while ultimately shrinking markets. “It’s a hard lesson to learn,” says Lanier. “As an idealist, I supported an open system for a lot of people to access information, but when a few businesses have the largest computers, it’s an ideal business proposition where these few actors demonetize the position of lots of people. It’s a non-sustainable solution.” The idea of the ‘for-free’ is indeed unsustainable.
It has always been a pain for an editor like me – fighting to maintain an independent media voice and platform – to listen to the former Editor in Chief of Wired being paid a fortune to explain to others that ‘free’ was the big way to make money. That was certainly the case when he would tour the world being paid to say so. Today, as Chris Anderson is no longer a salaried staffer at Wired, he advocates for the 3D-printing revolution instead – obviously not a free-3D.
Contrary to what one might think about politics at the global level, it will soon become the true business of many citizens and voters, as any real ability to change the world will always lie fi rst with us. This issue is full of fresh views and new faces – do not miss those from Iran, Indonesia and Switzerland – as we keep covering global politics for our responsible readers.