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Who Needs the Nation State?

CID Working Paper No. 253
Dani Rodrik
May 2012

Abstract

The nation state has few friends these days. It is roundly viewed as an archaic construct that is at odds with 21st century realities. It has neither much relevance nor much power, analysts say. Increasingly, it is non-governmental organizations, global corporate social responsibility, or global governance on which pundits place their faith to achieve public purpose and social goals. It is common to portray national politicians as the sole beneficiary of the nation state, on which their privileges and lofty status depend.

The assault on the nation state transcends traditional political divisions, and is one of the few things that unite economic liberals and socialists. "How may the economic unity of Europe be guaranteed, while preserving complete freedom of cultural development to the peoples living there?" asked Leon Trotsky in 1934. The answer was to get rid of the nation state: "The solution to this question can be reached ... by completely liberating productive forces from the fetters imposed upon them by the national state."2Trotsky’s answer sounds surprisingly modern in light of the euro zone’s current travails. It is one to which most neoclassical economists would subscribe.

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