[Note: this is a follow-up to my post a few days introducing the theme of un-nationalness.]
Krosno Odrzanskie, Poland. Dakar, Senegal. Greenwich, London. Uzice, Serbia. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cardiff, Wales. Praia, Cape Verde. Edinburgh, Scotland. Derry, Northern Ireland. Blaegoevgrad, Bulgaria. Guadalajara, Mexico.
These are the birthplaces of the 11 who took the field in today’s Barclays Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Stoke City, two venerable English clubs. The starting line-up were born, on average, 1896.56 miles from Manchester. Which is the distance between Manchester and Ankara, Turkey. Which is in Asia.
Not one person born in Manchester made that starting line-up.
The goals were scored by men born, on average, 4106.32 miles away from Manchester, one from Cape Verde and one from Mexico.
Why is all this important? Because until 1982, when Arnold Muhren transferred to United, they’d never really fielded a “foreign” player, from beyond the UK and Ireland. [While some claim Carlo Sartori in 1967 as the first, I am led to believe his family moved to Manchester while he was a young child, and he came through the junior ranks as any other domestic child.]
Talent knows no borders, and Manchester United have done a good job garnering and harnessing global talent. As far as the club was concerned, it did not matter where they were born, or what nation they represented. What mattered was how they played football.
So the Manchester United of today is quite different from the Manchester United of a few decades ago. All made possible because of the relatively free flow of capital, and of labour, across borders, not just in Europe but beyond: at least four of the players aren’t European; and the owners of the club are American.
For some decades now, it has been getting easier and easier to move money around the world, with the unintended consequence of making terrorism and tax avoidance easier. For some decades now, it has been getting easier and easier to move around as an individual, as the relative cost of travel has dropped and the need for talent has grown unabated. So labour and capital have moved more freely than ever before, creating an environment Ken Ohmae described vividly over two decades ago in his seminal book The Borderless World.
But it’s not just labour and financial capital that move freely nowadays; knowledge or “human” capital, along with relationship or “social” capital, also have this ability now.
Which gives governments a real headache. Because they want to lock in their “customers”, the people and companies that pay the taxes that allow them to exist. The traditional swords and ploughshares of government — regulation and taxation — are fashioned into the flowers of freedom, as companies migrate between regulatory and tax regimes at will.
This erosion of “national” power is happening at all levels: the state, the company, even the individual, as the tools of lock-in get diminished in scale and quality.
In choice there is power; the continuing evolution of the tools of communication and transportation have increased “customer” choice significantly, and out of this choice has come about the growth of un-nationalness.
In some ways it’s what I have been saying for some time now: many of the lock-ins of the past are being eroded: every artificial scarcity is opposed by an equal and opposite artificial abundance; over time the abundance wins.
As a result, new institutions, organisations and ways of working continue to emerge, built on un-national principles. Facebook, Skype and Twitter would all appear on a list of the top ten “countries” of the world; virtual currencies continue to grow apace, despite not being issued, underwritten or guaranteed by countries; money is borrowed and lent at micro levels; political funds are raised on the internet; soon, even law will be drafted on a collaborative basis.
New un-national tools like the internet and the Web are entering their golden age, enabling amazing levels of communal activity and collaboration.
Historical lock-in models practised by governments and monopolies and monolithic hierarchical institutions are being dismantled while they sleep; the movement from analog to digital has shattered the erstwhile peace of the news, publishing, music and film businesses; education and healthcare are in range; and government will follow.
For many years now, people like Stewart Brand, Howard Rheingold and Esther Dyson have been writing about these changes. More recently, Clay Shirky, Don Tapscott and Doc Searls have been documenting the changes and explaining the rationale behind the changes.
But these are hard changes. So there is a reluctance amongst the changed to accept the change. Puerile pieces of legislation litter the landscape, as governments and incumbents seek to hold on to what they had.
But it’s over. Over. Because the tools of choice are in individual hands. And there is no master switch. By design.
Which means it’s time for all of us to understand more about the principles behind un-nationalness, underpinning the statelessness of today.
For starters, I think we should be considering these:
- The Principle of Simultaneity: Un-national things happen at the same time everywhere; an un-national film is released everywhere and in all format in the same instant.
- The Principle of Unownability: Un-national things are owned by no one. In Doc Searls’ words, they’re NEA. Nobody owns them. Everyone can use them. Anyone can improve them.
- The Principle of Emergence: Un-national things standardise through market adoption rather than by diktat or decree or regulation. There are no standards bodies to game, no lobby mechanisms, no palms to grease.
- The Principle of Federability: Un-national things have to be built on the DNA of federation rather than the toxins of monoculture and monopoly.
When humans have real choice, they choose where they work, where they live, where they pay their taxes, where they raise their kids, where they die.
These choices are increasing, despite the efforts of some governments and some corporates.
Historical structures, built on hierarchical principles, had choke points where control could be established.
Today it’s like trying to control air or space or the oceans. Un-national things.
Of course new toxins emerge, new dangers become apparent. Which is why we need the work of people like TED. Like the WEF. Like the Berkman Center. To delight us with what is possible. To warn us of the risks. To give us a forum for debate. And to ensure we have the freedom and the choice to be part of those debates.
Incidentally, if you want to see what happens at Davos, why not try and get invited there? Take part in the Davos Debates, there’s still time.
A coda. If you have the time, read The Kernel For This Blog, something I wrote nearly six years ago. It’s how I visualised un-nationalness at the time.