If I ruled the world: Garry Kasparov

We need alternative energy, a global Magna Carta and a base on Mars
January 25, 2012

My first step as ruler of the world would be to announce a timetable to elect my replacement. Even in a thought experiment we should acknowledge realities, and no system of government can be effective for long when it is not responsive to the people. This is not merely about power corrupting, or that even a benevolent dictator will fail to fulfil the needs of his subjects. An authoritarian regime may competently fulfil its initial promise, or resolve an existing crisis, but without the feedback loop of democracy, moral and intellectual stagnation are inevitable.

Democracies are not immune to this societal hardening of the arteries either. The current global malaise and the financial crisis that precipitated it are the result of decades of rising complacency in the west. But the intervention of a powerful government is more likely to exacerbate such problems than to bring meaningful solutions. The free market is what works—and having the state help it is usually a contradiction in terms. Indeed, my last act as ruler would be to dissolve many of the institutions under my control, along with my office.

Of course, I would not have accepted this position without indulging a few of my whims, too.

In fairytales, the one wish that cannot be granted is usually true love, and my powers are similarly inadequate. This is a shame, as my dream is to rekindle the love of exploration and achievement that carried humanity from the Renaissance to the Moon landing. From the peak of their influence in the 1970s, the values of sacrifice, risk, investment and excellence have been steadily supplanted by the values of gratification, security, credit and equality. Instead of building the future, we are in a desperate struggle to preserve the status quo.

To kick-start the return to innovation, I would curtail the use of fossil fuels and launch a trillion-dollar initiative for alternative energies. This is not the defeatist, turn-back-the-clock vision of the Kyoto protocol and its ilk. The world needs ever more energy. Instead of working on better nuclear technologies, many nations, including Germany and Japan, renounced nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. They have learned exactly the wrong lesson from a catastrophe at a 40-year-old plant. We stopped innovating, stopped improving, and we have paid the price.

Part of the new research would go towards a massive new space programme. Bases on Mars and the Moon would create a new frontier to inspire the dreams of humanity—just as important as the countless scientific advances it would bring. Critics might say we need to worry about today, and spend our money on present earthly concerns. But by thinking only of current hardships, we betray the future and guarantee greater suffering. Plus, as ruler of the world I would be able to make sure my critics were on that first mission to Mars.

My emphasis on real engineering would be matched by a disdain for the financial engineering that has become so devastatingly prominent. The rules of the free market have been rigged by bankers and politicians. Stock investing used to be about quality companies being rewarded by investors; today, companies follow the market. I am against over-regulation, however, so cleaning out the world’s financial stables requires creative thinking.

First, no one with a degree would be allowed to work in the City, Wall Street, or anywhere else in the financial industry. If something is too complicated for arithmetic and basic algebra, it is likely unnecessary, and eventually destructive. Our top minds are needed in physics, neuroscience, and computing, not finance. Next, companies would receive tax breaks in proportion to how much they spend on research and development and in inverse proportion to how much they spend on lawyers—this will distinguish who is innovating from who is just trying to protect the status quo.

On the political front, and assuming the world returns to something like its current form after my reign ends, I would implement a global Magna Carta to bind the world’s democracies together in the face of dictatorship and terror. The United Nations lends itself to mockery when the likes of Cuba and Syria sit on its Human Rights Council. The world’s democracies would unite on a foundation of human rights—and the nations who failed to meet these standards would be pariahs.

With those humble goals achieved, I could step down and return to the more difficult tasks of making chess a part of school curricula around the world and getting my daughter to eat her broccoli.