Weak states can pose as great a danger to U.S. national interests as strong ones, President George W. Bush declared after the 9/11 attacks, and so Washington embarked on two decades of counterterrorism. But the next decade is likely to highlight the importance of middle powers, each of “whose leaders consider that it cannot act alone effectively but may be able to have a systemic impact in a small group or through an international institution,” as Robert Keohane has written.
In demonstrating how some of the world’s most powerful people hide their wealth, the Pandora Papers have exposed the details of a global system whose basic contours were already well known. Property laws have long been written by and for the wealthy, giving the public ample reason to suspect that the system is rigged.
Amidst the debate, fears, political polarization, and regrets surrounding globalization, we cannot ignore a central reality: much of it is not reversible or even resistable. As in other periods of human history where new connections are forged between geographies and civilizations—whether driven by empire building, technological change, regime change, or climate change-driven migration—Pandora’s Box, once opened, cannot be closed. The flow of goods, services, people, and capital will continue across borders and increasingly encompass once isolated parts of the world.
Scientia potentia est—knowledge is power. The old adage has acquired a sinister connotation with the alarming dominance of Big Tech in the economy and society as a whole. Corporate Europe Observatory recently revealed that the sector is now by far the leading business lobbyist of European Union institutions.
But this is only the tip of the Iceberg of what the Italian economist Ugo Pagano calls ‘intellectual monopoly capitalism’. Knowledge, which should be a (non-rival, non-exclusive) public good, has been privately appropriated by top companies as capital: the share of intangible assets among S&P 500 corporations increased from 17 per cent in 1975 to 90 per cent in 2020.
If this is not a time ripe for writing about utopias, when would be? After the financial crash of 2008, the greatest growth in the democratic world of xenophobic extremism since Nazism and fascism, and the still current pandemic, many certainties of preceding decades have been blown away, leaving a vacuum utopian writing properly fills. Now comes the time to imagine futures which are not just better but altogether different.