Today citizens are more likely to know who their president is than they are their governor. In the future they’ll be much more likely to know who their governor is, if they know who their president is at all. Technology is unbundling and obviating the traditional roles and services of nation states and further reducing their relevancy by revealing them to have been ideologically fissiparous all along.
Depending on your standards the first role or service to show signs of being unbundled was either space exploration or monetary policy. In 2002 SpaceEx was founded and in 2009 Bitcoin launched. But it looks like that is just the start as technology is gradually making its way to other core governmental services1 2.
For example, while the U.S. military stands 1.38 million people strong a standing military of any size will soon be mostly obsolete as physical warfare is largely replaced by cyber and biological warfare. Cyber and biological warfare are geographically agnostic and can even be carried out by individuals. In some cases it’s not even possible for a defending nation state to position itself between its people and an aggressor — the Equifax hack was a cyberattack against the American people by a foreign nation but at no point did the two nations interface. There are also no economies of scale to cyber defense, instead nation states represent centralized points of vulnerability. And when it comes to defending against cyber and biological attacks there is very little advantage in sheer manpower, what matters is technological know how and execution.
In addition to the military, technology is also coming for the legal system. Typically corporations have been incorporated in the United States or the United Kingdom due to the large history of case law and a supposedly unbiased legal system. But there is no reason a third party that is not prepackaged with a nation state couldn’t fulfill the same role. It may actually be optimal as jurisdictional boundaries are further blurred by the internet, after all a software company started today is international by default. State agnostic services like this will evolve reflexively with the process of unbundling because even as nation states disappear we will still need neutral substrates that transcends borders for things like commerce to take place on. These state agnostic services will have a similar profile to Bitcoin, which is international and lacks a foreign or domestic policy agenda3.
Physical residency is also being obfuscated. You can live anywhere and work anywhere in the world and these two places needn’t be the same. As speed of travel increases you can spend a ton of time pretty much anywhere, you could actually change the rule of law you’re subject to several times a day and the relevancy of the nation you are a citizen of will occupy a diminished level of significance. Even without ultra fast travel it seems as though senators and members of parliament or congress will loose their legitimacy as the disconnect between their actions and the material impact of their actions widens in the mind’s of their constituents.
This unbundling of nation states by technology coincides perfectly with the ideological unbundling already underway in many countries and will combine to further compound the dissolution of nation states.
In the 1950’s there were four television channels. So at best there could only ever be 4 different takes, but regulation and the business model drove broadcast channels to appeal to the largest common ideology of a nation. As a result choices were limited and perceptions of reality fairly homogenous. By the 1980’s cable arrived. Now there were 500+ channels but the business models still drove cable companies to appeal to the largest common ideology of a nation4. It wasn’t until the internet arrived and fully democratized the distribution of information, that the number of view points could proliferate. The major newspapers and cable news channels were no longer the sole arbiters of information and purveyors of opinion. The internet had revealed us to be fissiparous all along5 6.
In a fissiparous world nation states will inevitably subdivide. An ideologically diverse nation will only be capable of agreeing on one thing: denouncing those currently in power. Beyond that the country will be politically incompatible and it will be impossible to legislate solutions. This inability to legislate will further reduce the relevancy of national governing bodies at a time when technology is already revealing nation states to be an anachronism. The governing bodies that remain will be of a much smaller scale and composed of like minded individuals who have self-selected their residency on the basis of the legislative philosophy of the local government. This fragmentation it likely to leave many uneasy as it invokes associations with civil wars but unlike in the past this new paradigm will exist in a world with greater geographic mobility making it a world defined by choice and the freedom to test out new forms of governance. But that is not to say this process will be devoid of violence, rather that the violence that does emerge will be inherent to nation states’ attempts to resist the natural progression of this dissolution rather than the dissolution itself, as the balance of power between nations and their citizens will have reached the point where any attempt at resistance will necessitate authoritarianism7.The best possible outcome really is for nations to recognize that this process is just an extension of the unalienable right to the pursuit of one’s own happiness8.
March 2021 — In an interesting and underreported series of events that highlights this new dynamic, two technology companies, Facebook and Google, have taken down two separate government sponsored hacking operations. Facebook took down a Chinese Communist Party sponsored hacking operation and in the case of Google they actually shut down a counter terrorism operation run by an ally of the nation state they’re incorporated in.
July 2021 - On July 11th Virgin Galactic became the first company to fly a civilian into space. Interestingly this achievement was met with outcry and derisive comments suggesting billionaires should focus on solving child hunger as well as other problems that would traditionally be considered the responsibility of governments. All together this struck me as an implicit acknowledgement by the people that national governments are incapable of solving actual problems but private individuals and companies are.
Reluctance to offer tuition vouchers may be due to politicians’ concern for making the Department of Education and themselves obsolete. ↩
It’s possible that recent calls for antitrust regulations in the technology industry could be a manifestation of the unconscious threat politicians feel technology poses to their legitimacy. ↩
One might consider credit bureaus to be low tech precursors to these non-governmental third party systems of record and mediation. ↩
In the cable tv business the more viewers you have the more you can charge for advertising, the more affiliate fee revenue and the easier it is to get distribution for your other cable channels. ↩
The large number of viable candidate in the 2016 primaries on both the Democratic and Republican side is evidence of this very proliferation of opinions. ↩
Attempts to moderate social media platforms are just attempts to return to the previous state of discourse in which the number of possible opinions were constrained. ↩
What about conflict between these mini-states? It’s possible there will be more of it, but it’s not necessarily better than the alternative which is keeping a lot of people with competing desires under one roof and the conflict that that breeds. But if anything it’s likely that this dissolution will only increase the frequency of violence not the magnitude. The potential magnitude of violence that existed between the USA and the USSR far exceeds the potential for violence that might exist between neighboring city states. ↩
This is really just a return to the historical norm. In all likelihood we will look back at the nation states of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries as aberrations and consider greater ideological variation the default with shared beliefs only stretching so far. ↩
First published March 2020