The modern nation-state is in a secular decline, made inevitable by the rise of a global market system. Even developed nations, like the US, are not immune to this process. The decline is at first gradual and then accelerates until it reaches a final end-point: a hollow state. The hollow state has the trappings of a modern nation-state ("leaders", membership in international organizations, regulations, laws, and a bureaucracy) but it lacks any of the legitimacy, services, and control of its historical counter-part. It is merely a shell that has some influence over the spoils of the economy. The real power rests in the hands of corporations and criminal/guerrilla groups that vie with each other for control of sectors of wealth production. For the individual living within this state, life goes on, but it is debased in a myriad of ways.
The shift from a marginally functional nation-state in manageable decline to a hollow state often comes suddenly, through a financial crisis. This crisis typically has the following features:
- Corporations and connected individuals systematically loot the nation-state of financial assets and natural resources through a series of insider/no cost deals. These deals are made to "save" the nation's economy or financial system from collapse.
- Once the full measure of the crisis is known, the nation-state's currency falls precipitously, it's debt becomes expensive, and it is forced to submit to international oversight/rules.
- The services the state provides rapidly evaporate as its bureaucracy is starved for cash/financing. This opens up a window for the corruption of government employees unused to deprivation.
The Dynamic of Primary Loyalties
The decline from functional but weak nation-state is extremely sudden. For individuals, there is a rapid and sustained decline in the standard of living. Additionally, there are spot shortages of critical items and commodities -- particularly food, medicine, and energy (since these are globally fungible). Large and small business fail across the board, or become prey to connected companies/individuals with access to the remaining coercive power of the nation-state. As the deprivation becomes commonplace, people turn to primary loyalties for support and services -- loyalties to a corporation, tribe, gang, family, or community. These groups, energized by new levels of loyalty but deeply obligated to reciprocate this loyalty with support, become extremely aggressive in pursuit of their survival. Once this shift in loyalty is made, a self-generating cycle of violence, crime, and corruption (fueled in large part through connections to the global market system) becomes entrenched. The nation-state, at that point, becomes irretrievably hollow.
It's instructive to view the US Treasury's plans for a bail-out of the global financial system through the lens of the hollow state. By this measure, the bailout as it stands today, is a form of financial looting of the US Treasury (it isn't socialism, since the government isn't nationalizing the financial system). Trillions of dollars in government monies ($700 billion to begin with) will be infused directly into the coffers of corporations and wealthy individuals (via hedge funds). Specifically, the plan buys toxic assets at inflated prices and sells them back for nearly nothing -- no equity or assets of real value are provided in exchange for the purchase. The national debt will likely grow 20-30% in a single year, with obligations extended to many trillions more in guarantees.
Given this, one potential next step forward is a decline the credit rating of US debt (which radically increases the costs of US borrowing), a collapse in the dollar relative to more stable global currencies, and a rapid decline in government services. Other scenarios achieve the same result with different timing. Regardless, our (the US and the UK) journey to a hollow state has officially begun.
NOTE: Philip Bobbitt got it wrong in his book, "The Shield of Achilles." The prosperous market-state he envisioned through constitutional reform isn't possible. The REAL market-state, the form of governance that that has truly embraced the global market system, is hollow. In effect, a state that doesn't place any barriers between itself and the global marketplace. As a result, the only real opportunities created by the emergence of the market-state are opportunities to steal extreme wealth.