What are national borders for and why does the way that we cross them change? For some time, borders provided distinct barriers between countries providing a checkpoint between paces to protect against the passage of unwanted people and goods. Borders are harder when there are natural barriers that define them.

But there is another important role for borders, not to control what crosses them but to manage what is contained. Limits define the internal as well as the external, adding clarity to political processes and creating a sense of connection and identification. Externally things are excluded. Internally populations are included and controlled. But the globalisation processes of the post World War II era improved information and communications technology and transport connectivity are having an impact on the role of borders and the ability of sovereign countries to influence national culture rules and processes.


Is national control of the economy a thing of the past?


When Bass Waterhaut et al. announced at the 2009 Congress of the Association of European Schools in Planning that: “The idea of the nation-state having complete control over its territory may have to be consigned to history”(Bas Waterhout and Wil Zonneveld, 2009), part of the idea of sovereign power had already taken a hit. People were already wondering what the role of the national government might be in a European Federation.  National borders sit uneasily with the way we use space exacerbated by information and communications technology and other globalisation processes. And the question is relevant outside of the EU in that many thinkers began to think about the value of post-nationalism.


Political and territorial interests move steadily with changing technology and political ideals. While central political power rests with national governments, the economic powerhouses are cities (Glaeser et al., 1991). And so, the relationship between urban economic and social or cultural frameworks is changing.


Do our political institutions, cultural relationships and social processes still relate to the idea of the nation-state? The Greek concept of the city-state which morphed into national and Imperial power is still the basis of many of our thoughts about civil and social infrastructure.  But, is it valid to think this way?


Will the fourth industrial revolution remove the need for the state?


The industrial revolution reinforced the power of the national or imperial entity. In more recent times individual and institutional relationships developed across borders loosening the relationships between commercial and government institutions but driving new international relationships. Multinational organisations and individuals trading across national boundaries apply all sorts of workarounds to circumvent national interests.


But the government still has a role (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012). Some of it might flow to local or regional organisations, and more decision making might elevate to international arrangements and institutions. The national climate for development and trade sits with central government entities.


Loosening national boundaries and border controls to allow the free trade of goods and services has been a trend across the world. Globalisation, international communications systems and cheap transport by sea and air conspired together to facilitate international trading agreements(Cudahy and Ebrary., 2006).


Can Government protect us?


The leaders of global productivity sit behind the protective cloak of sovereign governments when it suits them. Free markets work best when intellectual and physical property rights are protected, and the costs and risks of doing business are reduced(Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012). Global enterprise needs certainty and clarity for investment decisions and to manage risk. But does it still need a geographic location to facilitate investment?


An international trading organisation might question if geography matters anymore. But there are some important geographical questions to be answered by anybody setting up a business.


Which countries have the best climate for investment and employment? Legal and cultural issues will determine the climate for investment. Is there a willing and able workforce with adequate training or education? Are political and juridical systems stable and fair and appropriate for the type of activity envisaged?


Another factor that a company might want to consider is the location of other firms with complementary interests.  If the business requires specialised skills or resources, then it might co-locate. Sometimes or an ecological relationship that builds capacity through a process, or provides for the use of waste materials by a complementary industry requiring businesses to consider geography, but these are seldom national issues, and management can be delegated to lower orders of government.


Looking for investment options to build on local strengths can become a local or regional endeavour. National government might be called on to facilitate movement across borders. So, national governments seem to have less influence in the development of local markets and of the relationships that they develop internationally. But, that does not mean that they don’t have a role in developing the strategic relationship and in the protection of property rights and working conditions.


Borders will become more porous, and goods and ideas will flow more freely growing the world economy. Governments will have less influence over their subjects, but they will also have an increased role in maintaining and protecting citizens against loss of property value and being subjected to internet and trade fraud and deception. Keeping trade fair and markets open will be the balancing act of the next industrial revolution.




ACEMOGLU, D. & ROBINSON, J. A. 2012. Why nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty, London, Profile Books Ltd.

BAS WATERHOUT, A. F., DOMINIC STEAD, & WIL ZONNEVELD, V. N., JODY MILDER 2009. Reinventing spatial planning in a borderless Europe: emergent themes. 23rd Congress of the Association of European

Schools of Planning (AESOP). Liverpool, UK: Association of European Schools of Planning.

CUDAHY, B. J. & EBRARY. 2006. Box boats how container ships changed the world. 1st ed. New York: Fordham University Press.

GLAESER, E. L., KALLAL, H. D., SCHEINKMAN, J. A. & SHLEIFER, A. 1991. Growth in cities. National Bureau of Economic Research.