Thomas Friedman declared in his 2005 book The World is Flat, that the world is flat. By that he meant that the internet, trade liberalism, and the like had enabled economies such as India to compete with the likes of relatively stronger economies like the USA and Japan. This “flattening” (or leveling of the playing field, as we might think of it) continues today in radically new ways that Friedman may not have imagined.
Cryptocurrencies have enabled value to transfer across borders in a permissionless way, with no authorization required by central banks. Despite all the talk of economic nationalism by politicians, it is more common now than ever for even commonfolk to hold multiple citizenships and permanent residencies, with little allegiance to any nation state. Complex networks, like those manifested on social media platforms, have made it increasingly obvious since the Arab Spring of 2011 just how powerful a networked public can be. As social media platforms increasingly engage in various forms of censorship, the networked public scatters to encrypted messaging apps such as Signal and seeks to decentralize the web: decentralized apps (DApps), smart contracts, and the like.
As Martin Gurri pointed out in his brilliant book The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, members of social movements on both the left and right (from BLM to Canadian truckers) seem to agree that the center (politicians, mainstream media, scientific elite, and the like) does not have the public’s interest in mind.
We do not know where this new world, with an increasingly polarized yet highly informed public will lead us. Or, at least, we do not know how the seemingly inevitable disruption will manifest in the coming years and decades. We do know that the nation-state as we know it did not exist until after the disruption that the Catholic Church experienced after the invention of the printing press. While we might like to point to Martin Luther as a catalyst for the disruption of Christendom, we must remember that Luther was not the first to challenge the Church. His 1517 posting of the Ninety-five Theses onto a church door in Wittenberg was timely in that he had the printing press available to widely spread his ideas. Suddenly the Church lost its monopoly on biblical narrative, especially after Luther published his German translation of the New Testament (from Latin and Greek). After this the masses could read the text for themselves and form their own conclusions from it directly. The cat was out of the bag, and the rest was history.
In the case of Europe, there was not a general agreement between Calvinists, Lutherans and Catholics that maybe the beliefs of the other should be seen as quirky rather than heretical (something to roll your eyes over rather than fight over) until the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. So the disruption that Christendom experienced was hardly a smooth landing.
We can hope for as smooth a landing as possible in the decades to come, for both ourselves and our families. In both the short and mid-term, we could see and participate in exciting foot-voting opportunities as nation-states create new pathways to permanent residence, and digital nomad visas and even citizenship to attract highly capable and often well-resourced digital nomads who are able to capitalize on exchange rate arbitrage. We might also see politicians in nation-states in the developed world embrace the carefully-articulated humanitarian and economic arguments put forward by the likes of Ilya Somin and Bryan Caplan to allow for people from the developing world to move to where they can be most productive and pursue their own happiness.
So while a great deal of disruption seems inevitable on the horizon, let us remember that turbulent times often come with unique opportunities.