Lately I’ve been pondering the limits of democracy, particularly it’s scalability. Democracy and implicit obligations of governmental institutions lead me to believe that countries should be capped at 100 million people. When this threshold is reached, countries would split into multiple countries along appropriate geographic and cultural lines. This process would be beneficial for a number of reasons.
We know that companies that are too big are dangerous, so why not countries? There are a number of legitimate arguments for and against it, so let’s get into it!
As populations grow, representation becomes more difficult and less accurate
Cultural divides are often entrenched in history and compound with time. Politically, the majority culture often overshadows and effectively silences these differences. There are some notable exceptions to this like Brazil, possibly because it’s populated by relatively new immigrants. That said, even relatively younger nations are facing issues with recent ideological and cultural splits.
Big governments cannot respond with agility, especially towards slow-moving crises
If the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that agility is vital when it comes to national threats. Over a million Americans have died from COVID, due in large part to inconsistent COVID measures. That coupled with (mostly) unrestricted access between over 330 million people caused rapid spreads and mutations we’re still trying to understand.
Pandemics aside, governments are remarkably bad at dealing with large diversities of issues. In the US we have floods and droughts, hurricanes and earthquakes, swaths of farms and densely populated cities. Currently there are levels of government and public-funded institutions that manage these issues, but certain interests win out over others. More smaller governments with smaller jurisdictions would at least lead to fewer internally competing priorities and more “winning” issues.
Of course, one notable exception to this point is any sort of tyrannical government. An iron fist can control a huge population. My politics have trended more authoritarian the more people disappoint me, but I still endorse distributed power. Power distributed across too many people though is ineffective and unfocused.
Smaller, more powerful jurisdictions improve quality of life
With the exception of HOAs, smaller jurisdictions often lead to better resources for the people within them. Municipalities enable access to services like education, sewage, and emergency services. Federal and state policies govern standards and production, but that crucial last mile delivery is done by much smaller governments.
Many people wouldn’t find issue with the way things are now, but better things are possible! The further people are from their governing bodies, the more difficulties they face in advocating for themselves. This holds true whether the distance is ideological, geographical, or economic—and all of these differences generally increase in large populations.
Countries have the highest level of sovereignty, so it makes sense to apply the population cap at this level rather than at the state or city level. There could be other grades of population caps, but that’s not the hill I’m dying on at this time.
Population caps encourage allyship over annexation
There will always be a competition for resources in our current system.* At the moment, this seemingly inevitable competition happens on multiple levels. People should control their own resources and be able to trade as they see fit. Governing an exceedingly large and diverse body of people will always result in the de-prioritization and exploitation of certain populations.
Sovereignty confers an inviolable right to protect one’s interests. It also protects people from some exploitation. Exploiting a population with no sovereignty is much easier, which is why so many countries fight and faught for their own. It’s why almost every former British colony fought for their independence.
Having a hard cap on population prohibits at least some annexations of territories. The resource wars have largely evolved beyond annexation into economic coercion, but this policy would at least eliminate some current intra-national conflict. Dividing some of the worlds largest countries would enable people to better advocate for themselves at every level. This would also encourage governments to form mutually beneficial alliances with each other.
Smaller populations allow for more nuance in national identity and easier “re-branding”
We can debate until the cows come home about the boundaries and meaning of a national identity. A nation’s identity couldn’t possibly cover every single one of its inhabitants, but that doesn’t make it any less important for anyone of them. We are at least partially defined by the countries we live in.
As humans we want to belong, and part of that belonging is feeling acknowledged where you are on multiple levels. Ideology, geography, and economics intersect in unique ways with the potential for a lot of nuance. Much in the same way that people can better advocate for themselves politically in a smaller nation, they can also more easily influence the national image to better reflect themselves.
While I’m firmly against identity politics (that is, supporting someone based on identity rather than policy), identity influences a lot of politics. Rapidly changing demographics (via education, technology, and immigration) mean that nations must be agile with their politics and national identity. Our identities influence and engender policies that have material effects on people’s livelihoods. This is also why I think we should have more caps on who can run for political office (age, net worth, professional affiliations, etc.), but that’s an issue for another post.
The case for 100 million over other numbers
My basis for 100 million as a cap is based partially in science: as humans, we prefer base 10 numbers. There are many countries (and cities!) with over 10 million people that avoid the issues that I mentioned. That makes the next largest factor 100 million, which also opens up some interesting supporting evidence in the real world.
Every country with a population over 100 million has funky and clear divisions within them that cause strife. Of course this isn’t exclusive to larger countries (looking at you Spain / Catalonia) but it’s a reliable pattern. I also believe that many borders in the world should be re-drawn to better account for various cultural and geographical divides. This is especially true in Africa, since the natives had little say in the borders they now have to operate within.**
I also hypothesize that countries with smaller populations have more political diversity. This could also be that a lot of small nations have better education systems or some other factor. Anyone with more resources or information, please share!
Having more countries honestly wouldn’t affect us much
Maybe it’s my American education speaking, but I don’t think most people know the name of every country now. Ultimately, this policy would only create around 40 new countries. If we redrew some African borders along historical and cultural lines, we may end up with a few more.** It would ultimately change nothing in our day-to-day lives except how we consume some of the news.
Admittedly, the Olympics and World Cup could be even more chaotic than they are now. An easy solution could be to use our new alliances to create Allied Country (AC) Teams. This also allows for a better pool of athletes to choose from. Athletes with multiple citizenships already switch which countries they compete for, so it wouldn’t be a wholly unprecedented shift. A good case also exists to do away entirely with the Olympics and World Cup, at least in their current exploitative form, but that is also a separate issue.
There’s also the issue of the United Nations, but it’s not like they have any real power anyway.
I’m a firm believer that better things are possible, but I’m not always sure what the better things are. There’s always more to learn, so feel free to debate me on this. After all, if a hot take is posted on the internet and no one comments on it, is it even hot?