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Web 2.0 and Global Reform
To the chagrin of policymakers, online collaboration will give voice to citizens
Ranjit Goswami (ranjit)     Print Article 
Published 2007-01-30 10:53 (KST)   
Much debate is taking place all around the world on the impact of Web 2.0. Scrutiny of many of these debates, focusing on the impact of Web 2.0 on micro-issues, may make one ponder its potential macro impact.

By now, we all are aware of the often-repeated catch phrase that change is the only constant in this universe. However, despite the many changes that have taken place in the world since World War II, we haven't seen significant changes in the level of governance or in policymaking. Where market forces have grown stronger in the last 60+ years, the income divide has increased to catastrophic levels within countries and within societies within countries, climate change has moved from an academic debate onto the policymaking stage, terrorism has increased with the definition of a terrorist (and that of a rogue state) meaning different things to different people, and nearly half of the world's people still struggle within various definitions of poverty even though there are clear indications that collectively there is an abundance of resources.

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Where have things gone wrong? Looking at these indicators and the environment more optimistically, one could say that's the best that could be done in the last 60 years. Irrespective of which side of the table one sits on, the debate now is whether the continuation of the same set of policies and governance should continue for the next few decades.

A careful scrutiny, however, may lead one to believe that the benefits received in last 60+ years were the result of scientific and technological progress. One may argue that the economic environment was successful in creating and nurturing innovation and radical technological shifts. Therefore, the debate should focus on whether the impact and coverage of those innovations could have been passed to a higher percentage of people at a faster rate. The point of debate concerns two groups and their performance -- scientists and policymakers. The scientific community no doubt did an excellent job, though they did invent those weapons of mass destruction. So what about the performance of the policymakers?

That our policymaking platforms have increasingly failed can be seen in the structure of the U.N. What matters most within the U.N. is the Security Council, where 10 percent of the world's population controls 80 percent with the all-important veto. Cases like the Iraq fiasco, where the U.N. sat and watched as the U.S. and its allied forces "illegally" invaded the country, have raised queries about the relevance of the U.N. in the modern world. The same is true of the World Trade Organization -- where close to a billion people (less than one-sixth of the world's population) from the U.S. and the E.U. can hold free trade discussions to ransom. Policymaking platforms failed to make any progress in Cancun (Doha, 2003) and Geneva round (Doha, 2007), prompting Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, to state: "The alternative to what's on the table is not the perfect deal, but no deal at all."

This lack of progress has increasingly raised questions about the utility of government-owned-and-controlled policymaking platforms.

Thankfully, as the importance of the U.N. declines, and as the ability of most governments to meaningfully impact the quality of life for its citizens (positively) lessens, market forces have filled the gap. (A good sign?)

Therefore, we see that the World Economic Forum, founded by Klaus Schwab, which had no official policymaking status when it began, now comes to the rescue -- be it for renewing the Doha round or for debating climate change. Compared to its official status, this "private party" of global business and economic leaders has become successful in resolving many a global issue, either temporarily or permanently.

I am not sure on how to interpret this trend going forward. The good thing is that market forces, when markets are indeed free and fair, have mostly (at least so far) yielded better results than government initiative. The bad thing is that governments control those market forces through policy measures; and more so, by the all-important continuously increasing money supply. Ultimately, market forces chase the money that government creates through its "fiats."

The Internet, again thanks to the scientific community, somehow escaped limitation at the hands of policymakers (despite the U.S. Department of Defense and ARPANET), and reached the masses. Policymakers now increasingly debate how to control this force; however, the force has already grown and continues to grow stronger than many other forces.

As for the Internet, China is concerned about the good and bad changes that it may bring to its single-party social fabric, U.S. warmongers are afraid that Americans will learn things they weren't meant to know (about the government, usually deemed "classified"), the British prime minister feels the media is to blame for his growing unpopularity at home (and more so globally?), copyright owners and policymakers are at a loss on the best means to protect, price and distribute their intellectual capital, and so on.

True, things have slowly started to crumble, but make no mistake about it -- the old order is falling. Like the statues of former tyrants. The policymakers can no longer keep the people away from the policymaking stage.

What changes can these apolitical, nameless, borderless, age-group-less millions of people bring? Potentially, much needed global reforms -- starting with the constitutions of nations and the charters of global bodies to determine key policy issues, like defining free and fair market forces and trade practices. The Internet provides access to much-needed knowledge, from various schools of thoughts, that can potentially bring about a true democratic society. The people want us to unite; our policymakers want us to remain divided across various lines.

Not too soon or too fast, for the Internet has not yet reached five-sixths of the world. But even now, with this low base, the alarming call to the policymakers rings loud and clear, getting stronger with each passing day. It's a wake-up call. Governments and policymakers take heed. Before the Internet makes you irrelevant.
©2007 OhmyNews
Ranjit Goswami is a research scholar with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, India; and is the author of the book "Wondering Man, Money & Go(l)d'".
Other articles by reporter Ranjit Goswami

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