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Global Norms as Global Public Goods

Hakan Altinay - 5th April 2013
Global Norms as Global Public Goods

We are increasingly becoming aware of a growing need for global public goods. Yet, one category of such goods, global norms, is missing from our lists, essentially because we rely on an overly statist conception of public goods. Smith, Weber, Elster, Putnam, Williamson, Fukuyama and others have demonstrated that a society and an economy need not just enforceable contract, but also norms, predictability and trust. More recently, Robert Axelrod, Cristina Bicchieri, Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis, Brian Skyrms, and Edward Wilson have provided us with nuanced accounts of how norms and cooperation emerge and evolve. This growing body of scholarship should further sensitize us to the need for global norms. The web of centripetal forces pulling us together is intensifying. Our destinies are increasingly a function of what happens in other countries, and how people from other countries choose to act. If we do not have some way to nurture trust, maintain predictability, strengthen the fragile fabric of global norms and forge a global civics, we will not be able to navigate the treacherous waters of global interdependence.

Policy Implications:

  • Lists of key global public goods should include the category of global norms.
     
  • We learn and reproduce norms by discussing and debating them. The norms we need globally will have to be forged through thick debate between peers. We need multiple fora for these debates.
     
  • Given our increasing need for global norms, opting not to tear the existing fabric of global norms through hubris and unilateralism, and instead supporting the process of developing and deepening global norms, are vital first steps.
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