The End of Power by Moises Naim is the most interesting book I have read in a while. It advances the simple thesis that power, defined as “the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups or individuals”, is declining. The way I prefer to put it, the choice set of our leaders has become more constrained.
Naim argues that power, not just political power, but corporate and military power is declining. A thought experiment can be as follows. Compare Barack Obama to a 13th century king. While Obama undoubtedly commands more resources, his choice set is fairly limited. There is constant pressure applied by various interest groups which constrain him. A 13th century king, on the other hand, has a wider choice set. He likely has a few advisors, but is largely free to act in any way he so chooses.
Naims thesis can be interpreted as a generalized form of the trend toward political decentralization that some have documented. In fact, Naim discusses such political decentralization, both arguing for and admitting the inevitable political innovation. He puts his thesis in grandiose terms, comparing the coming innovation to the Greek city state democracies and the French Revolution.
What Naim didn’t include was an explanation of why power is ending or a judgement of whether such an end is a good thing. I’ll try to provide a brief account of both. First, the world can be imagined as a series of networks representing the relationships between people. The further intertwined the networks are, the less power individuals have. They are constrained to follow the rules put in place by those in their networks. In other words, the decline of power is inevitable as the world becomes more interconnected. This is a good thing because making actions predictable is a necessary, though not sufficient, step for long term planning and economic development.
Naims book is also interesting because he represents the power elite. He was both a former executive director of the World Bank as well as editor in chief of Foreign Policy. The book has a blurb by Bill Clinton on the front. Other reviews include The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and George Soros.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in changing forms of governance and politics more generally.