Opinion: Martin Wolf (chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, an honorary fellow of the Oxford Institute for Economic Policy): Consider the biggest obstacle to a more even spread of global prosperity and the provision of essential global public goods: not global economic integration or transnational companies, as critics allege, but the multiplicity of independent sovereigns. It is not just the failure of states, but their existence, that creates the problems we now confront.
Inequality among individuals has exploded over much of the past two centuries, not because of increased inequality within countries, but because of the divergent growth of different societies. …If so, not only the absolute, but even proportionate, gaps in average living standards between the richest and the poorest countries in the world will continue to grow.
What then lies behind such massive divergences in performance? A large part of the answer, as we have seen, is cumulative historical forces causing divergence. As countries grow richer, they are better able to afford high standards of education, health and public services. …Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum from success to failure, societies seem stuck in an equally powerful vicious cycle. Very low standards of living mean correspondingly limited ability to provide any of the necessary public goods that underpin economic growth.
Consider then a world in which the US was not one of the world’s countries, but a global federation with equal voting rights for all. Far greater resources would then flow to the poorer regions of this imaginary “world-country,” to finance infrastructure, education, health and the machinery of law and order. …While everybody should be better off if countries combined to provide global public goods, it is normally in the interests of individual countries to let others bear the cost.