The semi-feudal corporate anarchy is one route we could go. Not necessarily a good
way, but it might be inevitable, given the way that corporation
s are rapidly outstripping nation-state
s in power
In such a world, there exists a council of owners of zaibatsu and multinational corporations, individuals with the economic clout necessary to advance their political agendas. This council might vaguely take on the shape of the old Japanese shogunates, or the British House of Lords as it once was. The council-members have absolute control of their own corporations; however, they meet together to decide matters which would affect the general economic climate.
In a corporate anarchy, of course, the corporations do not truly determine any kind of policy at all, really. You are perfectly free to do whatever you wish, and everyone else is perfectly free to stop you. You're perfectly free to rip a song and distribute that mp3, but the corporations are perfectly free to prevent this by whatever method they see fit.
You are perfectly free to leave a corporation at any time, and either join another one or try to set up your own; the corporations, in order to keep the global economy alive, must make provisions for competition, but the best way to succeed as a new corporation owner is to be both one hell of a savvy businessbeing and to have a completely new and innovative product idea; it's hard to compete with a conglomerate that already has your target industry sewn up.
What's to prevent murder? The corporation you work for will hire a razorboy and hunt down your killer, incarcerating or killing him as it sees fit.
How do you prevent abuses of this sort of system? What's stopping the zaibatsus from torturing or killing you for such an incredibly minor crime as stealing a song off a CD and redistributing it? Why, the other corporations, of course -- each corporation must watchdog the others, making certain that no one violates the code of ethics that they would all, hopefully, hammer out in the beginning.
"Yeah, right," you say. Well, this is just fiction; I didn't say it was practical in our decidedly un-ideal world.
The semi-feudal corporate anarchy is the governmental system I invented for the Proxima Shared Universe, which is a highly idealized vision. I just think that a system like this would be pretty -- that is, a wonderful breeding-ground for interesting stories, interesting lives and Interesting Times. In the Proxima universe, the "government" of the Proxima Centauri Consortium is called the Economic Protocol Council (blatantly stolen from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, but it was such a neat idea). The EPC doesn't deal with social issues in anything other than economic terms. Want to do drugs? Fine. Your business. Want to have an abortion? Fine. Your business -- but you wouldn't have needed one if your partner was using our SteriLife-brand Male Contraceptive Pill! Want to introduce unfair economic practices and upset the balance of power in the Council? Sit down and pray, because every zaibatsu in the Council is going to be gunning for you...
The EPC even has a Quality Assurance arm -- all companies, whether members of the EPC or not, can submit their products for EPC inspection; most products sold in the Consortium are certified by the EPC's QA experts, from frozen pizza to fusion reactors. Consortium citizens are perfectly free to manufacture, consume or use items that are not EPC-certified, but it's a "use at your own risk" proposition. Non-certified goods are held in much the same light as dodgy, black market stuff is in our world -- usually either cheap and shoddy, or profoundly expensive and difficult to come by.
Such governments as these would be veritable playgrounds of intrigue; in the real world, it wouldn't work, or it wouldn't be pleasant. But it's damn fun to write about.