Power and Identity in Governance

Identity and Power

Political power is most effective when the source of power matches the identity that people relate to. In the United States, people identify first and foremost with their country. And most of the power comes from the national level, which is why the federal government is able to govern effectively. If people felt a closer identity to the state they live in, and the state was always being told what to do by the federal government, the federal government would have a hard time maintaining control.

In Sir Paul Collier’s MOOC “From Poverty to Prosperity” from Oxford on EdX, he uses the Roman Empire as an example of the imbalance between power and identity. The Roman Empire was a supranational structure that ruled over many smaller regions and tribes. These smaller groups did not feel loyal to Rome; they felt loyal to their own people. The Roman Empire therefore had to spend a lot of energy controlling these subnational groups. When an entity has power, but not authority, it has three choices in how to attain authority from its people. First is repression, usually by force. This method is expensive, and if the constituents have a strong enough force to fight back, it can lead to open conflict. The second method is to block a group out the way Rome did to Scotland with Hadrian’s Wall. And the third method is just to continue issuing directives and pretend you are in power, even when you and your subjects know you are not. Collier says that Rome actually ruled in this way in much of the land it controlled.

What about in Africa, where many people feel more loyal to their tribe than their nation? After all, the national borders were mostly drawn arbitrarily, whereas people have been loyal to their tribes for centuries. There are two approaches to deal with this imbalance between a national power structure and a sub-national identity among the people. One approach is to shift people’s sense of identity toward their country, rather than their tribe. One way to do this is to heavily promote national symbols like the flag and national anthem. Another approach is to accept the sub-national identity and create a more decentralized power structure. Countries like Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada have all done this very successfully to accommodate their diverse populations. An example of a successful approach in Africa has been Nyerere’s efforts in Tanzania. He combined the two approaches by going on tour around Tanzania to unite the tribes and then creating a presidential system that alternates between a Muslim and Christian leader of the country. Tanzania opted not to allow for different political parties, because Nyerere was afraid the parties would form along tribal lines, which would lead to conflict. This has worked pretty well over the long run. In Kenya, political parties have done just what Nyerere feared. The president in power along with his party usually favor their own tribe, which leads to conflict. In 2008, this conflict boiled over in the presidential election and lead to over 1,000 deaths.

The principle of identity and power explains a lot about supranational structures like the UN and the EU. The UK recently left the EU because the people of the country didn’t like being told what to do by a larger-than-nation entity. This is further evidence that power and identity should be aligned, or else people may reject the power structure. The UN is another supranational structure that receives a lot of criticism and pushback from its member states. Critics argue that the UN does not “have enough teeth,” and is “overly bureaucratic,” and “is unable to get anything done.” These problems all stem from its supranational nature. Although, maybe these characteristics of the UN are not really problems at all. If there UN were to begin wielding more power and enforcing rules and regulations on Member States, they would undoubtedly resist. The imbalance between supranational power and national identity would again get in the way. So the UN really cannot exist as a potent power structure. It must be a convener, a coordinator, a thought leader, and a forum for dialogue. Those who complain does not do enough would probably be the first ones to complain if the UN began extending its control and imposing its influence on Member States.

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Socialism: An Explainer

There are many different versions of socialism (Leninism, Stalinism, etc.), but they mostly fall under the category of Marxism. Karl Marx was a German philosopher and economist who wrote The Communist Manifesto and other influential texts. Marx’s big idea came at a time when many European countries were transitioning from monarchical systems to democratic and capitalist systems. Under the new capitalist economic system, the owners of the means of production, who Marx called the bourgeoisie, were exploiting the common laborers, or the proletariats.

Marx’s solution to this flawed economic system was to shift ownership of the means of production to the workers themselves, instead of the wealthy managers. To achieve this condition, means of production would first shift from powerful individuals to the state, and then to the general population. When the state owns the means of production, the society can be considered socialist. When the proletariat own the means of production, the society can be considered communist. No societies in our world are or have ever been truly communist. Even societies which we consider communist (China, USSR, North Korea), are socialist in practice. That is, the means of production are owned by the state. One reason that the transition between a socialist society and a communist society is so difficult is corruption. In order for the transition to occur, the government must give up all of its control. No government has ever been willing or able to do this, so a truly communist state has never existed as a result.

The system that exists in most countries of today’s world is a mixture between socialism and capitalism. Capitalism lets private business and the free market provide all of a society’s goods and services, while socialism pools money and resources from the citizens and lets the government reallocate these resources to provide goods and services to the people. If there were a spectrum with capitalism on one side (business leaders control the economy) and socialism (government controls the economy) on the other side, the United States would be close to the side of capitalism. And yet, even the United States government controls primary and secondary education for most of the population, health care for veterans, poor, elderly, and Native Americans, and social services like police, fire departments and libraries. Countries like Sweden and Canada would fall much closer to the socialism side of the spectrum. They manage to succeed economically and provide more services to their people from the state.

Source: NowThis World