to hold on or to let go?

The World Bank is a global development agency and reorganizing National  borders is development.  

The World Bank is a global development agency and reorganizing National  borders is development.  

 Interesting! "Pacific Possible", a strategy document from the world's  biggest development agency, the World Bank, suggests open access to Australia and New Zealand for two Pacific Island nations severely affected by climate change. Here's an accessible explanation of the issues. It doesn't seem like a big deal: For two tiny nations access to the major regional economies is a lifeline yet it amounts to only 0.6 % of Australia and NZ's immigration quotas. Simple and obvious, right?

Wrong! Lets think a bit more. Open access sure, but why only to New Zealand and Australia? Yes they're the two biggest countries regionally, both wealthy and both massive per-capita CO2 emitters. They can, and should, bear some responsibility. But wait! The Pacific is bordered by premier CO2 emitters China, USA and Japan. Huge, rich and culpable. Shouldn't there also be open access there? Many other rich CO2 emitters lurk around the globe. And why just two tiny Pacific Island nations? What about drought affected Kenya and Somalia? or Brazilians whose Amazon rainforest sequesters so much CO2- should they have free access to countries which became rich on fossil fuels? The plot thickens.

In the very time of Brexit and Trump’s* wall the planet is telling us the day of the nation state is over. Or should be. Resources have long since been globalized and finance slides seamlessly through national tax nets. If CO2  doesn't obey border guards why should people?  Today's motto has to be "Think Global,  Act Global ". National borders simply do not fit that. The best (?only) way for countries to accept they've become unfairly rich on fossil fuels and need to reduce emissions is by having to welcome in people who they're unfairly making poor. By accepting responsibility for CO2 not just reaping its benefits  the rich of this planet will cut emissions. Maybe. Nothing else has been able to  make them do that. If that is true open borders could be a lifeline not only for citizens of low lying Pacific Island nations but for us all.    

While we’re dismantling archaic nation states let’s think about other modalities of human organization past their use-by date. The current economic system springs to mind. It was clearly very good at unsustainably exploiting resources in the days when there were always more resources to find  but it has empirically proven itself to be disastrous at today's urgent needs- equality and sustainable development. The Bretton-Woods institutions (the World Bank is one) aren't  ideal either. They were designed to maintain the wealth and military supremacy of their founding countries and have done that well. What we need today for global governance is power distribution and just, human and environment centered decision making. Let's get to that- fast!

Many more out-dated  structures rule our lives. Once gender was used to organize humans, still is in many situations. What about age? Children have most stake in the sustainable development of the planet and the least say. Instead they watch old rich white people in old  rich white countries vote in parochialists like Donald Trump or parochial ideas like Brexit or shout parochially against migrants. They see little happening for sustainability which is more important for them than for oldies who crave wealth. What about democracy itself? It seemed a great idea to the Greeks and did improve on e.g. feudal government but it has also delivered a lot of  inequality war and environmental destruction. Maybe it needs some tweaks. Urgently. 

Why this on a development blog? Well, it is an example of a central development concept. Nation states, passports, border controls and the rest are simply human constructs. Thing we made up to organize ourselves by. If Development is continuously fitting human organisation to the social and environmental context then cultural constructs are  always development questions. "Why nation states?" is a large-scale example. At a national scale apartheid in South Africa was morally wrong and a bad way for South Africans to organize themselves. Despite western backing for apartheid (in return for access to resources) South Africans made their long walk to freedom.  That was good change- aka development. Caste in India is morally and socially abhorrent, but Indians have not fully awoken to its  evils. It will be development when they abandon it.  On smaller scales a group of people may need to understand that it is time to change centuries old grazing patterns because now rains come at a different time, that they should send their girls to school although they never used to, that its time to change marriage practises or food or clothing....Sure it is always hard to let go of tradition but these are development questions. Knowing when to let go and when to hold on always is. Tradition, the crystallization of generations of wisdom, should not be relinquished lightly but in changing contexts communities must also nimbly adapt. It is a fine balance. The trick is to know when tradition is important wisdom for the world as it is, and when it predicates inappropriate behavior designed for a world that no longer exists. Nation states, deeply part of everyone's cultural identity, fall into the latter category for me.   

At whatever scale we're at it is always relevant to ask what tradition is appropriate, what is not and look at who gains power out of old structures, whose interest it is to maintain them, who might benefit from changing them. Nation states, global economics, caste rules and inhumane marriage practices all have winners who will be unwilling to relinquish the control these structures yield. The development worker's role isn't deciding for a group of people what they should hold and what they should relinquish, it is facilitating the conversation and enabling the solutions that emerge from it.   


(*Incidentally I think Brexit, Trump's wall and anti-immigration are all the rich world's futile knee-jerk attempts to pretend it can take globalization's wealth but does not have to accept any responsibility)