PICT Faculty Lectures VIII: Governing the Global Polis

“Governing the Global Polis,” the 8th talk in the PICT Faculty Lectures series, took place at the Mairie de Paris Centre on Saturday, 4 May 2024. The talk was delivered by scholars and activists Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass, co-authors of the 2022 volume, Half-Earth Socialism.

In the talk, Troy and Drew proposed a return to utopian political and economic thinking in order to tackle the growing catastrophe with which the current neoliberal order is straddling humans and ecosystems alike. On the level of the economy, the speakers argued, such utopian thinking needs to re-engage the issue of centralized planning.

In addressing this task, the speakers maintained, we first need to work through the substantive critiques that have been levelled at economic planning. According to neoliberal thinker Friedrich Hayek, a planned economy cannot be successful because a modern economy requires a dispersal of information that makes central planning impossible. Economist János Kornai argues that institutions inevitably evolve towards either capitalism or Stalinism, with the former being preferable to the latter. Finally, in analyzing Socrates’ dialogue with Gorgias, we encounter the problem of expertise, namely how such expertise can be assessed by non-experts who may be more easily swayed by a rhetorician than an actual expert.

These problems, Troy and Drew suggested, are best addressed by a number of direct democratic measures that ensure active contribution to, and participation in, the planning process at all levels of decision-making and implementation. A general plan must be formulated at the top of a centralized system, but this plan must remain fuzzy enough that it can be fleshed out according to local knowledge and requirements.

In discussing possible aspects of such a direct democratic system, Troy and Drew pointed to new possibilities opened up by the internet and increased processing power as well as suggesting a variety of ways to secure citizen participation, from interactive apps to in-person assemblies. The speakers were keen to point out, however, that their reflections only represent the starting point of an ongoing discussion, one they plan to flesh out in their next co-authored volume.

We at PICT would like to extend our gratitude to Troy and Drew as well as all audience members who enlivened the talk and subsequent Q&A-session with their incisive questions and suggestions. For an excerpt from Half-Earth Socialism, Troy and Drew’s latest book, check out The Faculty Lounge.