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Symposium 2015

Solution for Human Dignity, Common Good and Stewardship as Values for Economies

The Challenge

A World Economic Forum (WEF) survey of 140,000 business people and policy-makers in 2009 found that 75% thought the world was not just facing an economic crisis but a values crisis as well. What, the ...

A World Economic Forum (WEF) survey of 140,000 business people and policy-makers in 2009 found that 75% thought the world was not just facing an economic crisis but a values crisis as well.

What, then, are the values that should be guiding us? Are values always culturally determined, or are there some core or absolute values that can give us direction?

Solutions and “Resolution”...

“If there is a sense of reality, there must also be a sense of possibility.” (Robert Musil)

Since the 2008 financial crisis, we have wasted far too much energy trying to return to “normality” of the days of rapid economic expansion. The flawed linear assumption that the postcrisis world’s challenges were only temporary has underpinned policies that have yielded only lackluster recoveries, while failing to address core problems. The postcrisis era is over, and the “post-postcrisis world” is upon us promising a future not of steady, predictable trends but of irreducible uncertainty with the risk of discontinuities and of rapid, unpredictable change.

Human development resides on economic, ecologic, social and cultural pillars and constitutes a dynamic balancing by states and societies in exploiting the environment, creating economic wealth and fulfilling social needs.

However, the development agenda is dominated by the rational positivist approach that effectively ignores or marginalizes the basic cultural, social and individual human drivers in the totally new conditions, while most political actions to offset the piling up challenges have focused on isolated “solutions” linked to health and safety, international and economic stability, or the environment, such as the prevention of accidents, the conservation of natural capital, or the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Today the world needs a new framework of systemic solutions that enable a truly holistic approach within the global world of today and tomorrow.

Within this approach values and freedoms, acquired in the course of history are not superfluous resource, they are basic intangible assets of the civilization. Technically equipped, but morally flawed attempts to shape the future, risk turning into disastrous defeats that go beyond just restitution of the past.

We already feel daily the exponential and worldwide growth of hatred energy. We have got used to the shocking news. Used and immunized. Rediscovered nationalism, burning bloody conflicts, massacres of the civilian population, decomposition of nations, societies falling into the abyss of barbarism and/or humanitarian catastrophes, immigrants flooding the Western world, but rejecting its principles and foundations, horrific crimes committed on religious or ideological grounds, decapitations in front of the cameras have almost seized to shock us.

Albert Einstein once said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome was the definition of insanity. How then are we to assess the 20 years-long attempts to corral the world into the future stubbornly insisting that our system is the only imaginable one?

In order to devise “solutions” capable to bring about the real “resolution” we need to upgrade the development strategy shifting from mainly technocratic modernization of the economic system to a broader agenda of the sociocultural modernization of society. This will require much bolder look into the future not distorted by the lens of the present as well as a much better understanding of possible long-term consequences of the new trends:

  • What are the implications of the integrated global economy for global governance? Will globalization overcome resovereignization trends?
  • How could the IT and communications revolution change social standards and human behavior patterns, and, thus, the world order?
  • What are the probable outcomes of the evolving new balance of political, economic, and military power, shifting the “centers of gravity” from West to East, from North to South, and from nation-states to private actors? Will it recreate a new “multi-/uni-/bipolarity” of the world or give birth to a lateral self-adaptable and heterogeneous international network instead of exclusively states-based system?
  • Will divergences and increased volatility result in more global breakdown? Or will the development of multiple growth centers lead to increased resiliency?
  • Will rapid changes and shifts in power lead to conflicts?
  • Will the growing scarcity of natural resources—such as water and arable land—in many of the same countries that will have disproportionate levels of young men—particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and parts of the Middle East—increase the risk of intrastate conflicts? How may the spread of precision weapons change the character of some of these conflicts? Will regional instability, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, spill over and create global insecurity?

 

And certainly the world requires a different way of thinking about the economy. It’s time to face the fact that economic growth is not a panacea. Euphemisms like “green economy” or “shared sustainable growth” will not help. If a system is fundamentally flawed, making it more efficient or accountable will not resolve the problem. This model locks the world in continuing crisis, social injustice and the danger of environmental disaster.

A rapid transition to a different model is needed. And this does not require blind rejection of growth. What we need is the rejection of the blind growth. We need a fundamental transformation within a generation—in energy, industry, agriculture, fisheries and transport systems, and in producer and consumer behavior.

Fortunately, many good and workable ideas and relevant technologies are already in the pipeline (decoupling, circular models, performance economy, collaborative commons, zero marginal cost economy, etc.)

But in order to maximize our chances to shift towards a sustainable, equitable and “happier” world we will need:

  • A holistic approach, linking development and environment, not just in analysis but also in governance policies.
  • An Economic MODEL transformation (rather than its optimization)
  • A decoupling of economic growth from the use of energy and raw materials.
  • Enrooting circular/performance/decoupled economy models by consistent implementation of policies enabling relevant drivers and instruments;
  • Human empowerment at all levels to ensure that the leaders take the adequate decisions, organizations (public and private)—support and control the change, while the citizens assume and realize their responsibilities.
  • A rights-based approach in a commons-based economy (equity and recognition of limits of planet), coupled with effective means to check and demand the accountability of all stakeholders.
  • Markets reorientation by valuing natural and social capital
  • Incentives for “net positive” transformation of business models
  • The policy solutions that could trigger the necessary transition to the new model include:
  • Agreeing on ambitious, binding, targets for resource efficiency to encourage the maximum reuse and recycling of materials;
  • Promoting innovation by giving priority to sustainable design and closed material loops;
  • And reforming tax, primarily, by lowering taxes on labor and raising them on the use of virgin materials.

 

The development of new policies to manage the challenges and to respect the realities of the natural world offers a myriad of positive opportunities to generate those new ideas, new practices and new partnerships that are needed to overcome the present crisis by reorienting and restructuring our development model to a really sustainable, resource-efficient, and inclusive path.

But, however important economics and technologies are, achieving the required level of global, systemic change, will require true transformative leadership, systemic vision, and courage, rather than an adaptive strategy of small steps. It will need policies reprioritizing toward the goals reflective of new drivers, uncertainties and systemic challenges instead of the traditional geopolitical considerations and banal economic growth concerns.

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