Sketching a Planetary Public Policy Approach

As I am wrapping up my time at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, it is time to write down some of the lessons I learned here at Erfurt University, where Martin Luther developed some of the frameworks for Information Revolution I. The Willy Brandt School is a brave experiment in bringing together students and young professionals from over 40 countries to rethink public policy. It is an experiment that is important in our days, where we are confronted with huge challenges on this planet. One day last year, while walking to my lecture, it hit me that we are working on the project of planetary public policy. I then wrote a short blog-entry that I always wanted to expand:

Planetary thinking is a term introduced by Martin Heidegger, to reflect the role of philosophy (a Greek/Western concept) in comparison to other systems of thought. Planetary public policy balances different approaches to public policy problems, reminds us that problems come in all sizes (local to global), that we can learn from each other, but that solutions need to be “tropicalized” (adapted to the local context). If public policy is about thinking about having a structural impact, then planetary public policy is about “rocking the planet.”

Planetary public policy combines (a) an acceptance of global problems (climate change, trafficking of women, drugs, weapons, etc.), with (b) an appreciation for comparative learning in public policy (e.g. issues of birth control, slum dwelling, public transportation, crisis management are similar in kind in very different environments), and (c) a sensibility for inter-civilizational exchange of ideas concerning our planetary publics. It is a simple doctrine, but remember territorial sovereignty, the doctrine that has been guiding our thinking and doing for the last 300 years is just as simple. Simple grammars allow for surprisingly complex frameworks. But in the 21st Century, no public policy school can ignore it.

Looking back…

The doctrine of territorial sovereignty developed as part of the transformation of the medieval system in Europe into the modern state system, a process that is linked to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The emergence of the concept of sovereignty was developed in analogy to the Roman civil law concept of private property.  Both emphasizing exclusive rights concentrated in a single holder, in contrast to the medieval system of diffuse and many-layered political and economic rights. Within the state, sovereignty signified the rise of the monarch to absolute prominence over rival feudal claimants such as the aristocracy, the papacy, and the Holy Roman Empire. Internationally, sovereignty served as the basis for the anarchic nature of the international system and for its ground rules like the exchanges of recognition on the basis of legal equality, diplomacy, and international law. This led to an international system where states were responsible for their own security and self-sufficient in their social and economic needs.

However, with globalization we moved into a world where somehow these two core rules of the international system are broken. we are moving into a world where states are not reliant on themselves in terms of economic production anymore, and neither are they in terms of security. The most basic question we would ask you is, who of you is wearing clothing that’s made in just one country, at this moment. Even Lederhosen, the typical Bavarian dress, all of them, including the Burghausen style are produced in India.

What we are missing is a unifying doctrine that allows us to place our actions in such a world. Territorial sovereignty has lost its grip over us, but planetary thinking is only slowly emerging. Here are the three basic tenets of this emerging doctrine:

Accepting Global Problems

Global problems become global by being referred to as global. Even if the impact of climate change will be different locally, we have firmly constructed it as a global problem. But others less so. Last year, our planet’s population lost $9.3 billion to 419 scams. 419 is a paragraph number in the Nigerian penal code, in the law, which deals with a very specific cyber crime, which is basically have you ever received an email that said,

I am a princess from Nigeria, and my dad left me $80 million in a bank account that I need to transfer out of… Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Texas, or Southern Bavaria. I need your help to do that, and I will be of course very helpful in giving you 50 percent of what is in the bank account if you help me.

Is that a global problem? Should it be constructed as such?

Comparable Local Problems

Planetary public policy assumes that there are local problems that we can compare to each other and learn from each other. For example, squatting on public lands. What is the Malaysian solution to squatting on public lands versus what is the Mexican solution to squatting on public lands versus what is any other country that has that problem? For a long time, we had assumed that local contexts would be so different that learning across continents would not take place.

Inter-civilizational Meaningful Conversations

Inter-civilizational Meaningful Conversations remind us of the question, how can we develop a fair platform on which we can have a conversation? A conversation between different cultures and through space and time. And that, of course, is the challenge we are facing in the Brandt School, with students from more than 40 countries. But it’s also the challenge that we have to face when we are trying to solve this issue of humanity surviving on this planet.

So public policy in the 21st Century needs to focus on global problems, comparative public policy challenges, and inter cultural, inter civilizational meaningful conversations.

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of "". Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

28. July 2010 by Philipp
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , , | 4 comments

Comments (4)

  1. None'

    one of the reasons comparative politics were not-so-sexy was the fact that it tried to fix every problem and phenomenon into the Western perspective, at least at its early days. with the flow of information we can share at this point, and the possibility to place representatives of the same problem from different latitudes to discuss and deliberate, i think we are at an excellent moment to rethink many of the assumptions we did last century about the limits of this approach to public policy analysis from the comparative perspective.

  2. I completely agree! And have to admit that as the text stands right now, it is not free of technocratic or Western biases… The third dimension “a platform for inter-civilizational discourse” at least hints at the solution that you have outlined.

  3. I agree with your three areas of focus Philipp. I think that is a great description of the “what” of planetary public policy.

    They made me think about the “how” of conducting such planetary public policy.

    Global institutions such as the OECD, EU, UN, WTO… etc. are comforting patterns of governance that we are all familiar with. National and local congresses, parliaments, councils all look like the structure of these global organizations. But as complexity increases I think the only robust channel for planetary exchange will be self-organized like-minded groups. Open source is a great non-govermental example. (Can you think of good governmental examples of these types of networks?) Linked through technology in tight or dispersed networks, I think this form of organization will in time, become more resilient and effective form of policy-generation than the more rigid planetary structures we have put in place. Networks like these can identify (global problems), exchange information, (about local solutions), communicate (interculturally and globally), grow or recede with much more agility than pre-designed global structures. Could the medium of conducting planetary public policy be networks of organic(self-organized) global groups? Does it matter?


    I actually believe that by now, people grow up thinking globally. Many don’t even face the problem of needing to rid themselves of thinking in national borders only, because their digital world does not know these limitations. Thus, joint-problem solving should become much more natural for future generations.