Fri. Sep 25th, 2020

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NEW ASPECTS OF POWER IN THE LIGHT OF GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS: MOISES NAIM AND HIS INSIGHTS ABOUT POWER DECAY

end of power

How do recent developments of the world have changed the concept of power? What does
power and being powerful mean within the new framework of this new world? What can be
told about the new scope of the power, powerful actors and the future of these new powerful
actors? Moises Naim, in his book The End Of Power: From Boardrooms To Battlefields And
Churches To States, Why Being In Charge Is Not What It Used To Be which was published by
Basic Books in 2013, focuses on developing insightful arguments and clear explanations for
those questions. Despite the much-debated conventional argument on accelerated
concentration of power within the hands of very few people in the new millennium, Naim
puts spotlight on a different debate on power, and aims to explain how power decays and
loses its edge. According to Naim, however, power is decaying and no longer buys as much as
it was in the past because it is easier to get, harder to use and easier to lose. What could be the
underlying explanation behind this argument? This paper aims to interpret Naim’s arguments
on power and hopes to bring a comprehensive understanding on the impact of the recent
global developments on using the power as a way for influence.
Naim focuses on definitions of power, influence and measurement of the power as three main
concepts; muscle, reward, code and pitch as four channels of the power, and The More
Revolution, The Mobility Revolution and The Mentality Revolution as three major
developments of the modern world which have scattered the power among increasing
numbers of newer and smaller players from diverse and unexpected origins. Although power
required size, scope, history and tradition in the past, those barriers no longer shield the mega-
players from being challenged by micro-powers. By putting the challenge between mega-
players as traditional powers and micro-powers as the new incumbents at the centre of his
argument, Naim starts by criticizing the two debates about the impact of the internet and
changing geo-politics on changing dynamics of the power. He mainly argues that neither the
birth of internet nor the changing politics can explain the new power dynamics alone unless
the three revolutions and their role in power decay is kept in mind. According to Naim,
different than the influence which can be defined as the capacity to change the behaviour of
others by changing the perception of situation rather than the situation itself, the power is the
ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of individuals and groups; and can be
measured by understanding the channels to exert it. The use of force (muscle), carrot

(reward), moral obligations (code) and convincing with advertisement (pitch) in the right way
help to manipulate other party’s decision by changing the assessment of the situation no
matter this change evolves to an improvement in the situation or not. In the past, using these
channels and holding power required size and capacity. The barriers mentioned above,
however, do not facilitate concentration of the power any more due to increased numbers of
identities, motivations, abilities and attributes of the players. Today, a micro-power may
easily develop the ability to use the four channels of power and overcome the old barriers by
focusing on those identities, motivations and abilities.
Here it is important to clarify what he means by referring to power decay. Up until the
beginning of the 19 th century, big size, scale, centralized and hierarchical Weberian type
organizations had enjoyed the concentrated power in their hands because entry barriers to
markets, transaction costs, regulations and licensing procedures helped them to form
monopolies and prevented small powers to challenge those big power centres. Birth of the
internet and the end of Cold War, however, facilitated three revolutions and decoupled the
power from size and capacity; which, in return, eroded the capacity for effectively managing
the control of money, resources and loyalty of people. This, as a result, generated a power
decay and decreased the capability for using power as those mega-players did in the past. As
Naim argues, global developments created more of everything in quantity and quality where
the population size, standards of living, level of literacy, quantity of products, number of
countries, number of terrorist organizations, natural disasters, environmental threats and even
the number of economic crises increased due to the More Revolution. Parallel to that, Money,
goods, people, ideas, values, labour, migrants and information started to flow faster and easier
with the internet and mobile phones which led to the Mobility Revolution. These revolutions,
in return, created a shift in the mindsets of people and new aspirations and expectations of
huge-sized populations challenged authorities more than ever thanks to the Mentality
Revolution. Today, it is much more difficult for states and mega-players to reward people and
buy their loyalty because there are many options for them. Moral obligations and traditional
dogmas are no longer taken for granted by the people where cost of loyalty has increased due
to the awareness of universal values in addition to new alternatives and opportunities in the
market.
In today’s world, unlike the Cold War times, rising middle class started to challenge despotic
leaders and authoritarian governments where lifespan of governments is shorter than before.
Thanks to the Mobility Revolution, as Naim notes, an individual travels the world cheaper

than before and this global individual can easily erode the power capacity of centralized
authorities by just using social media power. Not only political leaders but also international
regulators, social media campaigners, interest groups and a stockholder in finance markets are
the actors in governing. A hacker can challenge the security of the state, a terrorist group or a
non-state military actor can easily destroy a country psychologically where Naim gives the
example of the drones used by Hezbollah to attack Israel. As it was seen in 9/11 attacks,
hegemons have also the limits in providing security for their own people. The monopoly of
the state in use of violence is heavily challenged and private armies or drug cartels forcefully
or voluntarily shared the role of security with national military armies. This monopoly is
challenged not only in security but also in foreign affairs where government-organized non-
governmental organizations (Naim uses the term Gongos) are representing states abroad
together with Ambassadors. At the end of the day, the rule of geopolitics has changed in such
a way that small countries started to use economic diplomacy and soft policy to challenge big
countries, by facilitating economic tools such as intellectual property and licensing rights or
other instruments such as religious, ideological or ethnic arguments. The internet, in this
respect, enabled small countries to challenge big powers economically where domination of
markets by few companies from the West is no longer applicable. Today, Skype from Estonia
can easily compete with Google, Qatar can use soft diplomacy after it bought Volkswagen or
Paris St. Germain football club. All in all, entry barriers against small powers are no longer
applicable due to the three revolutions and mega-players can no longer enjoy the same
comfort zone for their power concentration as in the past, even though they did not totally
dissolve.
In depth-analysis of Naim’s book reveal that he criticized the conventional debate on
concentration of power in the hands of very few people and argues that it is a power elite
myth. As a matter of fact, half of the total wealth of the whole world concentrated in the
hands of 26 individuals by 2019, which was 41 individuals in 2017, 62 in 2016 and 388 in
2010. Here, it is important to note that Naim focuses on the influential capacity of the power
rather than concentration of it. That is to say, despite its concentration in terms of material
resources or monetary terms, money or material capitals are no longer the source of the ability
to buy the loyalty of people. In other words, concentration of wealth does not necessarily
mean to use the channels of power to change the behaviour or perception of others. A 16
years-old youtuber or an individual social media influencer may be more powerful than the
wealthiest individual in terms of buying loyalty of people by convincing them through pitch.

Likewise, a radical fanatic may easily challenge the security of the same wealthiest individual
with his improvised explosive integrated to a drone, which may cost only a few dollars. As
Naim clarifies, power concentration does not prevent the power decay where concentrated
power loses its ability to control those four channels as it did in the past.
This insightful book about power decay may drive three key conclusions about the recent
global developments. The world is smaller in geographical terms however the scope, ability,
needs, alternatives and expectations of individuals are much higher than in the past. Although
the power play is not in equal terms, opportunities for gaining power is more equal but also
losing it is easier than in the past. Finally, being powerful does not mean being secure or
being resourceful in manipulating others’ decisions anymore.

This book review is written by Dr. Burak Kürkçü

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