Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Institutional Metaphor

My undergraduate major (and indeed the first program I pursued in graduate school) was International Relations.   As an undergraduate I participated in Model UN; representing the newly freed Botswana in one year and being the only representative of the Republic of South Africa in another.

In one set of projects in my first year in graduate school in the late 1960s I spent a fair amount of time at the UN.   This afternoon I was going to a dinner and drove by Turtle Bay (which is the site of the UN)   (PICTURE ON THE LEFT)

The UN looks absolutely seedy, which is as I imagine the institution to be.   The dome looks like it is in serious need of repairing a lot of deferred maintenance.  The front walls, which were once impressive, now look water damaged.

I suspect that supporters of the UN would say that the institution looks neglected because it has been by the great powers.   I think the disrepair evidenced in the building is an indication of a greater institutional rot based on the ascendency of the General Assembly - having bigoted nations preside on the Human Rights Committee is but one example of this rot.   At the same time the rapid growth in trade agreements between and among nations has encouraged more direct relationships that these great forums once tried to promote.

The UN let a contract to renovate the structures in 2007 for $1 billion.   In less than a year that cost had ballooned by 20%.  A year later the cost rose by another third and some estimates peg the full restoration at $3 billion.   The whole thing might be a great metaphor for the failure of big ideas.

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