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Global Citizens, National Shirkers

Summary:
CAMBRIDGE – Last October, British Prime Minister Theresa May shocked many when she disparaged the idea of global citizenship. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she said, “you’re a citizen of nowhere.” Her statement was met with derision and alarm in the financial media and among liberal commentators. “The most useful form of citizenship these days,” one analyst lectured her, “is one dedicated not only to the wellbeing of a Berkshire parish, say, but to the planet.” The Economist called it an “illiberal” turn. A scholar accused her of repudiating Enlightenment values and warned of “echoes of 1933” in her speech. I know what a “global citizen” looks like: I see a perfect specimen every time I pass a mirror. I grew up in one country, live in another,

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CAMBRIDGE – Last October, British Prime Minister Theresa May shocked many when she disparaged the idea of global citizenship. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she said, “you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

Her statement was met with derision and alarm in the financial media and among liberal commentators. “The most useful form of citizenship these days,” one analyst lectured her, “is one dedicated not only to the wellbeing of a Berkshire parish, say, but to the planet.” The Economist called it an “illiberal” turn. A scholar accused her of repudiating Enlightenment values and warned of “echoes of 1933” in her speech.

I know what a “global citizen” looks like: I see a perfect specimen every time I pass a mirror. I grew up in one country, live in another, and carry the passports of both. I write on global economics, and my work takes me to far-flung places. I spend more time traveling in other countries than I do within either country that claims me as a citizen.

Most of my close colleagues at work are similarly foreign-born. I devour international news, while my local paper remains unopened most weeks. In sports, I have no clue how my home teams are doing, but I am a devoted fan of a football team on the other side of the Atlantic.

And yet May’s statement strikes a chord. It contains an essential truth – the disregard of which says much about how we – the world’s financial, political, and technocratic elite – distanced ourselves from our compatriots and lost their trust.

Start first with the actual meaning of the word “citizen.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth.” Hence citizenship presumes an established polity – “a state or commonwealth” – of which one is a member. Countries have such polities; the world does not.

Proponents of global citizenship quickly concede that they do not have a literal meaning in mind. They are thinking figuratively. Technological revolutions in communications and economic globalization have brought citizens of different countries together, they argue. The world has shrunk, and we must act bearing the global implications in mind. And besides, we all carry multiple, overlapping identities. Global citizenship does not – and need not – crowd out parochial or national responsibilities.

All well and good. But what do global citizens really do?

Real citizenship entails interacting and deliberating with other citizens in a shared political community. It means holding decision-makers to account and participating in politics to shape the policy outcomes. In the process, my ideas about desirable ends and means are confronted with and tested against those of my fellow citizens.

Global citizens do not have similar rights or responsibilities. No one is accountable to them, and there is no one to whom they must justify themselves. At best, they form communities with like-minded individuals from other countries. Their counterparts are not citizens everywhere but self-designated...Continue reading here

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Dani Rodrik
I am an economist, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. My most recent book is Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (Norton, 2015). I was born and grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. I still follow Turkish politics very closely, as you will find out if you spend any time with this blog.

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