Is there a “Right Size” for Cooperation?

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Libraries, like this massive one in Copenhagen, are a sign of a healthy, collaborative society.

While I’ve been in Europe I am following what is happening nationally in the USA via Vox news, the Atlantic and New Yorker social media, and FiveThirtyEight and other podcasts. They are bearing witness to extreme democratic dysfunction. Clowns appointed as judges, bills written in secret, a President tweeting his id. Meanwhile in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries they are quietly inventing ways to turn household waste into energy without pollution and cooperating with one another to ensure everyone has enough.

I mention this to my friend UK Sarah on our walks and she says what she said in New Zealand, “Yes, but how many people are there?” Denmark has 5.5 million, New Zealand 4.5 million. It is a bit of a conversation ender. However, this morning I woke up wondering if those who predicted the USA would break into regions were in fact prescient. Perhaps democracy works best on a small scale. Not the scale of the town hall meeting alone, which frankly I’ve experienced as both a tyranny of petty-crats and a glorious thing. Maybe something on the scale of a region like the Pacific Coast states. We share a coastline and I-5. ┬áIn Denmark, they maintain their social democracy, in part, through a strong consensus on what Danishness is and is not. The Pacific Coast states share a pioneering history, plus an orientation to the Pacific and a majority of the populations are post-modern. It would be easy to also include Hawaii, and harder to include Alaska.

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Public Transportation is another sign of collaboration. (Waterloo Station in London)

I remember in the 80s there were a number of intellectuals writing articles about the demise of California. One that sticks in my memory compared it to ancient Alexandria and proposed that with so many languages spoken in the schools and so much conflict over the environment and resources that surely the ship of democracy will sink. Actually, thanks to the creative and technology economies, California is thriving in many ways that many parts of the USA are not.

Another intellectual recently argued that the way forward in the USA will be led by our great cities. The Pacific Coast states have many excellent cities, but they are only sustained by the agricultural production and the watersheds of the associated rural places around them. So while there may be much innovation in cities for many things, a city cannot live behind a wall. Their survival depends on a dense network of connection to the outside world.

Do we need a federal government? Or a European Union? This is the open question that I am faced with in the U.K. and reading news from home. The righty-right leaning Republicans have been arguing the federal government is too expensive, too large, too meddlesome for many years. By electing an unqualified person to the chief executive they are perhaps forcing the question on the rest of the electorate. They may not like the answer that the collective comes up with.