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Trumpxit signals the end of nationalism, not the beginning

Progressives need their interdependence day. 

Just as with Brexit, the US Presidential election result will have the pundits writing about a mass rejection of globalisation. The far right is on the rise, and immigration and tax avoidance are the popular targets.

The benefits of globalisation, especially for alleviating poverty, are quickly forgotten. The public demands that national leaders answer their fears. This has presented social democrats with a staggering challenge, a challenge that remains unanswered. How can social democratic politicians in a national government bring balance to an international market?

The Donald Trumps of this world have thrived on talk of closing borders. But in fact, it is the competitive nature of nation states that makes it hard to address the balance. For example, instead of co-operating together on tax, countries compete to have a tax system that is seen as the most attractive to business. In 2013, developing countries lost $1.1 trillion in tax evasion and illicit finance. The rate of those losses increases at double the rate of global GDP.

The free flow of capital led, in part, to the 2008 financial crisis. The obvious solution is international capital controls. Yet this isn't even debated by social democrats.

Then take migration, the far right's favourite stick to beat social democrats with. With the possible exception of North Korea, what nation state hasn't had migration throughout its existence? 

This is social democracy’s Gordian Knot. We believe government should bring balance to the market. Meanwhile, those who feel powerless by globalisation demand protection through strengthened nations, which can lead to culturism and worse, racism. They point at “them” and demand borders and walls to protect “us”. Such a stance leaves us institutionally divided at a time when humanity needs to co-operate globally to address the world's financial challenges. 

In fact, the modern concept of nation state is a 17th century institution designed for war, not regulating trade. Hobbes' Leviathan rooted the social contract in security. As European monarchs realised that embracing capitalism and scientific exploration could expand their power, the need to separate “us” from “them” became pertinent. The seventeenth century only had three single years without war between European nations - indeed, as the oldest among us remember first hand, war ravaged Europe until 1945. Nationalism became a useful means for colonial subjects to resist imperial rule. 

Today, the founding purpose of the nation state has never been less relevant. Since 1945, no UN recognised nation state has been conquered and ceased to exist. Even prior to 1945, the last serious international war in South America ended in 1941. Today conflict is mostly within nations (think Syria's civil war) or limited to border skirmishes and armed interventions. Only Africa provides more numerous exceptions to this trend.

This is an achievement of globalisation. War has become too expensive. We possess the technology to kill the powerful as they sit in the Kremlin or the White House far behind enemy lines. Meanwhile, peace has never been so profitable. The growth of long distance trade and foreign investment means that international peace brings much more wealth than international war used to. As globalisation continues, the raison d'être of nations will move towards irrelevance.

And the public are beginning to realise this. The Remainers demanding Calexit and Londependece are not just having a strop. It is illuminating that their reaction to electoral loss is not to protest the result, but to seek to replace a nation state with a smaller state rooted in a common humanity. Such states would be interdependent upon other power centres in order to survive. The Londepenence meeting I attended last weekend confirmed this. As the global population grows and becomes increasingly urbanised, it seems more and more likely that such interdependent power centres will be based on cities or group of cities. The social justice challenge for progressives in the 21st century is how to ensure that in a world of interdependent metropolitans, no one outside of these clusters gets left behind. 

Mark Rowney tweets at @markrowney.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.