If matter really matters less, and if we’re witnessing the death of distance, what, then, is the fate of the nation-state in the digital world? Science-fiction writers have posited worlds in which nations are replaced by corporations, in which computers take over governments, in which robots out-evolve humanity. The truth, at least according to University of California Los Angeles Professor Richard Rosecrance, may not quite be stranger than fiction, but big changes are afoot for nations nevertheless.
In Rosecrance’s new book The Rise of the Virtual State: Wealth and Power in the Coming Century ($26; Basic Books, Nov. ’99) nations are, for better or worse, not going anywhere, at least for the time being. Rather, says Rosecrance, as the networked economy realizes ubiquity, countries will rely for their prosperity more and more on intangible assets and less on physical real estate. Wars over territory and natural resources will therefore become less frequent, although ethnic and religious strife — expressed through acts of terrorism — may continue for some time. (Although it seems a little premature to discount what Rosecrance calls “territorial fetishism” at a time when the tech-driven economic boom has put real estate at such a premium.)
The rich north/poor south economic split that burdens contemporary geopolitics, says Rosecrance, will give way to a new system wherein “head” and “body” nations will exist in a symbiotic relationship; head nations (the United States, European Union nations, Taiwan, Singapore, and the like) providing product design and services, and body nations (China, Russia, and so forth) doing the manufacturing. The most effective states, not surprisingly, will be the ones that embrace a virtual corporate management style.
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