I am in the European Union for the first time in five years, on a combination vacation and business trip. I mention this because the vacation part attunes me to more than just my customary meetings with geeks and entrepreneurs. And I've come to a controversial conclusion: we are facing the end of the nation state.
The nation state has outlived its usefulness. In a world of air travel, unmanned drones, and interwebs, its insularity cannot be sustained.In the EU, nations have already combined, and whether it works or not in the long run (right now the Germans are furious that they may have to bail out the Greeks, who are in turn furious that they may have to begin actually paying taxes), the truth is that their economies are, indeed, intertwined, especially because they all face similar challenges from the penetration of Asian and African immigrants into their national cultures. Already in the UK and in the Netherlands profound conversations are occurring about the dangers of multiculturalism. The very fact that these conversations are occurring means those countries are already multi-cultural: it's not newly-arrived immigrants who are being radicalized by Islamists -- it's often second and third generation European Muslims who are learning from YouTube.
This morning I awoke to the BBC discussing a UK scheme to charge airlines an emissions fee to fly over its airspace. This plan, which will go into effect in 2012, is both a revenue-raising opportunity and a way to offset the carbon emitted by all the air travel passing over EU air space, is being fought my the US, which doesn't feel it should subsidize EU environmental policies.
As a denizen of the large, nationless, open space formerly known as the WorldWideWeb (yes, that's what the www in those URLS stands for), I think I can see what this means: we are all too connected to fight over real estate anymore. Nobody's land or airspace belongs to a nation anymore: entire countries belong to new populations of immigrants, and air space, like oceans and unincorporated land masses, have wide open spaces and spaces that can't be claimed by specific geo-political entities.
This has profound implications that we haven't thought of since we in the US killed most of the Native Americans and shoved the remaining populations onto reservations. What if the Native Americans were right?
What if nobody owns land? What if it is merely in trust to us during our lifetimes -- a kind of life estate for our use? Would we treat it differently if we truly believed that?
In the past few years, many developed nations have found out this truth the hard way: through the global recession brought on by the American real estate crisis. In the mortgage debacle, which is still going on, millions of Americans found out that they did not, indeed own their homes anymore. Kicked off their land and shoved into rentals as the Native Americans were forced on to reservations, they withered and died as consumers, producing global ripples that transcended any one nation state. Because not only didn't the Americans own their own real estate: their lenders didn't know who owned it either. Shattered into countless pieces, mortgage-backed securities proved (as the Native Americans always said), that no one owns the land .
It's actually comical if you stand back far enough and look at it. Of course the US should repay the EU for soiling its air space, in the same way the EU should repay the U.S. for bailing out the EU after we sold it a bill of goods about nation building abroad-the coalition of the unwilling, as it were.
At any rate, this last recession brought home the point that the nation state isn't immune from the problems of everybody around it, or indeed of everybody who flies over it. "We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately." Who first said that? Benjamin Franklin, about the American Declaration of Independence. A good thing to think about on Independence Day 2011.
Follow Francine Hardaway on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hardaway