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The Case for a Global Constitution

After decades of globalization, there are more conflicts and disputes spanning multiple jurisdictions than ever before, and they will not be resolved by paying lip service to our shared humanity. The international community needs a new compact of agreed rules, formalized in writing, and enforceable by a designated third party. 

NEW YORK – In my book The Republic of Beliefs: A New Approach to Law and Economics, I was eager to demonstrate how the methods that have emerged from the long and fruitful dialogue between these fields could, with a little help from game theory, be applied to multilateral disputes and multi-jurisdictional conflicts. So, I included a section on the challenge of creating a global constitution. This is an idea with quite a long history.

In the fourteenth century, for example, Italy’s semi-autonomous city-states developed the “statutist doctrine” for resolving the problems that arose with trade and commerce across multiple legal jurisdictions. As Stephen Breyer, an associate justice of the US Supreme Court, suggests, in the absence of institutional dispute-resolution mechanisms, a case brought against a Florentine native by a native of Rome could have pulled both states into war.

Or, consider the Dutch East India Company’s seizure of a Portuguese merchant vessel, the Santa Catarina, in the Strait of Singapore in 1603. That episode gave rise to such fraught multi-jurisdictional questions that the Dutch jurist Huig de Groot (Grotius) had to be brought in to mediate, leading to one of the earliest attempts to codify international law.

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