Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa (eds.)
22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations

argaiv1991

Prepared by Michael Marien

September 2013

 

22_ideas_cover
22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers. Edited by Piotr Dutkiewicz (Prof of Pol Sci and Director, Center for Governance, Carleton U, Ottawa) and Richard Sakwa (Prof of Russian and European Politics, U of Kent; Associate Fellow, Chatham House).  NY: New York U Press, Aug 2013, 466p, $27.95.

 

A joint publication of the Social Science Research Council, Russia’s World Public Forum, and NYU Press, based on the premise that we live in a very fragile world in crisis.  “Quite simply, we live in uncertain times—in a sort of ‘inter-regnum’ between old and new ruling paradigms. This book is about ideas on how to cope with these global uncertainties.”  In turn, this means addressing multiple interconnected economic issues, and “more broadly interconnected problems of limits to development, poverty alleviation, inequality, ecological crises, regional disparities, new modes of power, the future of urbanization, strained multicultural coexistence, and the growing role of religion amid a wave of global postsecularism.”  Unfortunately, “we have simply not been able to transcend the barriers of our past knowledge and our accepted paradigms, as if our collective imagination were permanently stunted.”  However, “there are in fact many innovative ideas about how to look at our world and address its many problems; equally important, there are people who can turn these into viable policy solutions.” (Dutkiewicz, pp. xi-xiii)



RETHINK THE NATURE OF HUMANITY

Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Prize winner in 2006 for developing microcredit in Bangladesh) argues that a system valuing money above all else sees humans as atomized and selfish actors.  Rather, “all human beings have unlimited potential, unlimited capacity, unlimited creative energy.” (p.4)  Poverty is a blockage of this energy, denying people to unleash their potential.  Poverty is the same in Bangladesh, the US, and elsewhere, caused by the same process and the same system: the best seed of the tallest tree will only grow so big if put in a small flower pot.  Poor people are bonsai people, never given the space to grow.  Human beings are selfish, which comes out of self-protection, but “this has been overblown in economic interpretation.”  All humans are equally endowed with selflessness, completely forgotten by economists.  In both developing and developed countries, we can create non-dividend social businesses on the basis of selflessness, to solve the problems we see around us, notably unemployment.  We must design a new system that allows people to take care of themselves, where the word unemployment is totally unknown.  We must first re-interpret the human being as both a selfish and a selfless being, and then recognize that selflessness can be expressed through business.  Yunas has created more than fifty companies, including the Grameen Bank for microcredit, each designed to solve a problem.


Will Kymlicka (Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy, Queens U, Kingston) notes that a major challenge in our world of “staggering inequalities” is to convince majority groups that social relations with minorities are not a zero-sum game, and that society can benefit from rights granted to minorities.  We have basically abolished slavery, delegitimized colonialism, made remarkable strides in the rights of women and children, and developed a world culture of human rights.  But these fragile macro-level changes are sometimes more rhetoric than reality, the changes are very unevenly spread, and they are vulnerable to retreat.   The form of globalization we have had over the past thirty years is neoliberalism, which has often been harmful and has essentially trumped any meaningful multiculturalism. For the past 200 years we’ve lived in a world of nation-building states, which has led to killing or expelling minorities, coercive assimilation, or stigmatization.  However, one more or less irreversible change is that “minorities around the world are today more likely to be politically mobilized rather than passive in the face of injustice and exclusion.” (p.30)  Some countries have more or less achieved true justice between dominant groups and historical minorities, but progress is less evident for indigenous peoples, partly because the starting level of injustice has been much greater.

 


TRANSFORM HOW THE GLOBAL ECONOMY WORKS

Joseph Stiglitz (University Professor of Economics, Columbia U) focuses on two areas in the defective standard paradigm of economics that need to be addressed: sustainability and inequality.  To think about sustainability, we need to think about pricing public goods and externalities, as well as incorporating intergenerational issues.  “As we become more interdependent, there is greater need for collective action and rules of the game that ensure mutual gains.  Interdependencies create externalities, and externalities create market failures that need to be dealt with by some kind of regulatory mechanism.”  (p.53)  But there is no reason to have universal regulations.

Ha-Joon Chang (Faculty of Economics, U of Cambridge) argues that free-market economics has failed badly and should be discredited or even banned—yet, even in the face of crisis, it persists.  However, rather than a massive overhaul of the entire global economic system, a pragmatic gradualist approach is needed that is neither sweeping nor global.  Revolutions are neither guaranteed to happen nor to have the desired effects if they do happen.

Jose Antonio Ocampo (Prof of Economic and Political Development, Columbia U; former UN undersecretary-general for economics and former finance minister of Colombia) rejects one-size-fits-all models of development and describes a complicated road ahead for a majority of the world’s states.  A true South-South system is starting to emerge, but the old center-periphery system is still dominant. Despite lots of talk about the rise of the BRICS, there is not the same sense of unity in the South as in earlier decades.  The current international monetary system is inconsistent with globalization, and we thus need a different system.  A multicurrency system may be even more unstable than the current system. The other alternative is a true international currency, which can be partially adopted and may be forced by circumstances.  We also need to create a Global Economic Coordination Council at the UN, as proposed by the 2009 Stiglitz Commission.

RECOGNIZE EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Paul Watson (founder and president, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) views the most pressing concern right now as the diminution of biodiversity, especially in our oceans, which is extremely serious.  “If the oceans die, we die.”  (p.96)  But for the most part they are out of sight and out of mind.  “We have to understand that this is not Planet Earth; it’s Planet Ocean.” (p.96)  We can absorb a lot of damage on the land, but the oceans can absorb only so much before they begin to collapse, which is happening through overfishing everything.   The only positive things being done are by individuals and small organizations worldwide; “I don’t expect anything from governments.  The whole nature of government is such that they cause problems.  They don’t solve problems”  (p105)

Mike Davis (Distinguished Prof of Creative Writing, U of California-Riverside) predicts that our children will almost certainly participate in the biological climacteric of our species, sometime between 2060 and 2090, when global population peaks at about 10 billion.  Food production must almost double to feed this future humanity, but we are unlikely to sustain current levels of agriculture output to 2050, much less expanded production, due to global warming, hydrological chaos, and desertification.  The revolution in plant genomics and in precision irrigation presupposes prioritizing grains over meat in the interests of smallholders; otherwise, a Big Ag revolution in the countryside will lead to further displacement of rural people, who will be dumped into cities and their squalid fringes, at a time when 40% of the global labor force is unemployed or scratches for survival in the informal sector.  “It is clear that we need to become a planet of gardeners, in Patrick Geddes’s sense of constant communal tinkering to make our cities function as integral parts of nature… (and) we need to build this new Ark quickly.” (p.114)  The demographic challenge is not population growth per se, but its geographical distribution and age skew.  “’Human citizenship’ (protected but flagless rights to work, migrate, and vote) must become the central democratic demand of this century.” (p.115)  The true global problem is actually undermigration, which is why it is important to make transnational civic life possible.  “Too many experts…uncritically accept current rates of urbanization as inevitable, when in fact they are accelerated by the massive neglect and oppression of the rural poor.  Any discussion about the fate of cities must also be a debate about the future of the countryside.” (p.134)

Olzhas Suleimenov (Kazakhstan representative to UNESCO; geologist, poet, and writer) views Central Asia as a model of the future social order made up of people of different religious faiths.  Political elites must work to harmonize interethnic and interfaith relations.  “In the course of their development, the great nations are transformed into mini-humankinds, and they minimize the danger of potential global confrontations.” (p.148)  The undeniable fact is that it is happening and gaining momentum. “This new century should be called the century of interdependence, because only the realization of our universal interdependence will help humankind to survive” (p.149).

Vladimir Yakunin (founding president, World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”; head, Dept of State Politics, Lomonosov Moscow State U; president of Russian Railways Joint Stock Company) opposes “wild capitalism” and calls for a higher level of state regulation to temper predation, which is one of the drivers of the modern paradigm of the global world.  Two key points are absolutely essential to the future paradigm: protecting the environment so that we are able to survive, and filling human life with ethical content and an appropriate attitude to self, other people, and the world at large.To change the paradigm, one must include change in social responsibility, on the part of both the state and every person.

 

UNDERSTAND THE GLOBAL BALANCE OF POWER

Immanuel Wallerstein (former Distinguished Prof of Sociology and Head of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton U; founder of world-systems analysis) has viewed the relative hegemonic decline of the US for over three decades, with a “precipitate decline” since 2000, as other countries begin to act directly counter to the way the US wishes them to act.  The growth of US debt is a sign of this decline.  The period of 1945-1968 was the height of US hegemony, and the strongest period of economic growth in the history of the world-system.  We are in a structural crisis today, which can be seen as the spirit of Davos (the elites at the World Economic Forum) vs. the spirit of Porto Alegre (the meeting place of the alter-globalization World Social Forum), which seeks a relatively democratic and egalitarian world.

Zygmunt Bauman (Emeritus Prof of Sociology, U of Leeds) sees a growing separation between politics and power—between the means to enact change and the vastness of the problems that need to be addressed.  We are living in a new world of liquid modernity, where change is the only constant and uncertainty the only certainty.  Our current troubles are underpinned by the dearth of normative regulation, unending deregulation, and the overall decline of the public.  The fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in an era of “interregnum,” where the inherited means of getting things done no longer work, yet new and more adequate ways have not been deployed.  Unlike our ancestors, we don’t have a clear image of a destination—a model of global society, economy, politics, and jurisdiction.  Instead we react to the latest trouble, experimenting, groping in the dark.  “In the state of interregnum, everything may happen, whereas nothing can be undertaken with full confidence.” (p198)  This situation cannot persist, because of “natural limits to running through a minefield while doing next to nothing about disarming the mines, and, if anything, adding to their numbers.” (pp198-199)

Bob Deacon (Emeritus Prof of International Social Policy, U of Sheffield; advisor to World Bank, UNICEF, and UN) notes that the ILO, going back to 1919, has tried to articulate international standards for workers.  As social problems increasingly cross borders, we need to outline a set of arguments and policies to shift us from global neoliberalism to some kind of global social democracy, with systems of global taxation and global regulation.  Deacon is a founding member of the Globalism and Social Policy Programme (GASPP), which promotes this vision through a set of policy briefs and a journal, Global Social Policy.  Although quite limited, the Millennium Development Goals was the first global social policy, with targets for the whole world.  But they didn’t address issues of inequality.  The ILO has taken the lead in promoting a global social protection floor.

Peter J. Katzenstein  (Prof of International Studies, Cornell U) describes the main trend facing our crisis-ridden world as diffusion of power among a range of actors,  with the US no longer as prominent as it was 30-50 years ago.  “This is the one overarching trend in the world in which we live.  It makes governing and governance more challenging, interesting, and innovative.  It opens many new possibilities, and it creates many new risks.” (p.220)  But he is “profoundly skeptical” as to whether China will be a global power.  China is the most rapidly aging society in the world.  Too many Chinese people remain desperately poor, and an unstable China will destabilize global capitalism.        

QUESTION THE ROLE OF DEMOCRACY

Craig Calhoun  (Director, London School of Economics and Political Science; former President, Social Science Research Council; Distinguished Visiting Prof, NYU) argues that the ongoing crisis is not simply one of capitalism, but of the modern “package” linking politics, economics, and social relations.  The most worrisome aspect of the crisis is that it poses a grave threat to social reproduction (education, health care, etc.), thus “we’re in for a period of disorganization and destabilization.” (p.248)  Within capitalism, “the extreme financialization exacerbated the undermining of the package,” (p.250) in that neoliberalism has brought a kind of intensified attack on institutions.  “The issue for the future is how can we reproduce and improve the institutional structures in which we live together and work together and organize our lives together.  And democracy is a piece of that.” (p.257)  There are big obstacles to broadly social democratic kinds of solutions.  What we need is a shift in attitudes about large-scale public provision, because there is no other way to meet the scale of the challenge.  But the problem in achieving policy solutions in most of the world’s rich countries is “a superabundance of relatively narrow, relatively ephemeral interest group organizations and a relative weakness in getting these connected to each other and sorting out common programs.” (p.264) This function used to be performed by political parties, but it has declined.

Ivan Krastev (Chair, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Bulgaria) argues that the modern crisis is unique, in that public trust in both the market and political elites has been shaken simultaneously.  While democracy is universally accepted as the most desired form of government, there is a growing frustration with democratic politics as we know it.  A post-democratic capitalism is beginning to emerge as one of the major challenges facing democratic politics today.  The market revolution of the 1980s strongly asserted the value of choice and opened up much space for innovation, but it also delegitimized the idea of a public interest.  The Internet makes us much freer than previously, but it also creates “echo chambers” where like-minded people constantly talk to each other.  “One of the many paradoxes of globalization is that we are living in a much more interconnected but at the same time fragmented and even segregated world.” (p.270)  The promise is that transparency will restore trust in institutions, but this is a very unlikely scenario.

Fred Dallmayr (Prof of Philosophy and Political Science, U of Notre Dame; co-chair, World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”) describes inter-civilizational dialogue as fraught with many difficulties and possible derailments, in part due to memories of colonialism and imperialism.  Any future cosmopolis has to respect diversity and the fact that non-Western cultures are increasingly active in shaping the future of the world.  There is an enormous number of lessons that the West can learn from China and from Russia, but such learning is foiled by an attitude of hegemonic arrogance and self-contentment.  “Genuine dialogue requires not only talking but a great deal of listening.” (p.301)  Before talking one needs to first cultivate the great art of deep listening.


RESPOND TO THE ECONOMIC CRISIS  

Manuel  F. Montes (Senior Advisor, the South Centre, Geneva; former UN chief of development strategies) argues that the Asian crisis of 1997 was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the current global crisis, which has led to the public sector bearing the costs for private sector missteps.   The overall remedy is more stringent regulation of the financial sector that would align finance with real economic productivity and address social concerns.  However, “in many cases the responses to the economic crisis have exacerbated the situation and reduced the possibility of recovery.” (p.30)  The supposed emergence of the BRICS is oversold.  The Prospects of the global economy still depend on the rich countries getting their political and economic act together.  Otherwise, the system will stagnate for ten or more years, or collapse into a state of autarchy.

Political economists Shimshon Bichler (Israel) and Jonathan Nitzan (York U, Toronto) view the current crisis as a systemic one afflicting a fatally flawed system.  “The entire edifice hangs in thin air, and everyone keeps quiet, lest it collapse.” (p.332)  What has changed is the specific nature of capitalism. “While capitalism has become increasingly universal, the unified theory that once explained it has disintegrated…instead of a single study of capitalism, we now have a multitude of distinct disciplines…all trying to barricade their own turf.” (p.337)  If we wish to change society, we need to embark on a totally new path: instead of studying the relations of capital to power, or capitalism as a mode of production, we must conceptualize capital as power.  We need a new cosmology of the capitalist mode of power, as well as a counter-cosmology for a humane alternative. 


MAKE DEVELOPMENT POSSIBLE  

Jomo Kwame Sundaram (former UN assistant secretary-general for economic development) worries that decreased international inequality may be distracting us from growing intranational inequality.  “The most promising future for development economics lies in critical interaction with both orthodox and heterodox economics.  This implies a necessary renewal of development economics but also greater humility on the part of economists more generally, especially in understanding and informing contemporary challenges of economic development in oligopolistic market economies.”  (p.376)

Kemal Dervis (vice president for global economics and development, Brookings Institution) defends the European model of social democracy which is taken for granted and underappreciated.  He worries about the “tendency in many countries for the income distribution to become more unequal,” and the greater concentration of income in the top 1% of the population (the US is the most accentuated example of this).  The number one priority for European social democrats is to find a way to define the European model for the globalized world of the 21st century.  “What is needed are regulations and rules and norms that are regional and then become global.” (p.392)  There has to be harmonization of financial regulation, and an approach to taxation that doesn’t allow capital to always move away as soon as taxes rise.  We also need ways in which the international community jointly manages migration.

Vladimir Popov (Prof Emeritus, New Economic School, Moscow; advisor in UN Dept of Economic and Social Affairs) points to growing social inequality worldwide and the continuing under-regulation of finance.  The world is unstable, but not to the point of a crisis of global capitalism.  But “it will come eventually” because there is a beginning and end to every social system, and capital has a short-term planning horizon.

Jiemian Yang (president, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies) envisions a “three-speed growth scenario” over the next decade, where the developed countries grow at a slow pace, the BRICS grow more robustly, and the other emerging economies grow at an accelerated speed.  “China will still contribute around 30% of economic growth to the world every year in the next decade.” (p.418)  Big changes are expected in the structure of the international monetary system, as the dominant status of the US dollar continues to decline.  The role of the Japanese yen and the British pound will also decrease.  Global economic governance is expected to become more fragmented, but it will be further “greened” by the rise of environmental and climate change issues.


CONCLUSION 

Co-editor Richard Sakwa summarizes the contemporary crisis as one of the reproduction of social forms and ideas:
  1. the reproduction of the future (in that time horizons have been shortened in the postcommunist era and “the end of communist utopianism was accompanied by the denigration of all progressive visions of the future”);
  1. the reproduction of capitalism (given the failure of the regulatory regime of “late capitalism”);
  1. the reproduction of society (the nature and role of the welfare state, education, and health care);
  1. how the institutions of global governance need to adapt to the new challenges (clearly the notion of global government is far-fetched at the present stage of planetary development, where pressures are rising for more effective institutions of global governance);
  1. the “end of the future” and the crisis in the reproduction of alternatives (“a crisis of solutions”).  
In sum, “this book has not provided any easy ready-made remedies, but…it has pointed out how we can begin to contribute to the dialogue and understanding without which any remedy is meaningless.” (p.434).    


COMMENT 

The title of this important and stimulating volume of readable conversations is somewhat misleading, in that many of the “22 Ideas” do not seek to “Fix” the world but more to understand its present uncertain and uneasy condition.  Moreover, “the World’s Foremost Thinkers” advertised in the sub-title is a bit inflated, and better understood as seasoned experts (mostly economists) discussing some global issues, with a welcome selection of many non-Western thinkers, none of whom have any supportive comments about free-market “neoliberal” capitalism.  Notably missing from the discussion is the total absence of any mention of security concerns, minimal attention to sustainability, and no mention of any of the many technology revolutions now underway for better and worse (other than brief mention of the Internet by Ivan Krastev). That said, several of the conversations deserve mention, notably Muhammad Yunas on the world’s poor as “bonsai people” never given space to grow, Will Kymlicka’s broad overview of minorities, Joseph Stiglitz on the two defects of standard economics, Mike Davis on population/environment issues applied to cities and neglected rural areas, Zygmunt Bauman on “liquid modernity” and our era of “interregnum,” Bob Deacon on the emergence of global social policy, and the attempt of Shimshon Bichlet and Jonathan Nitzan to rethink capitalism.  
          
Various interviewers were recruited for these 22 conversations, several of whom were women.  But no woman is among the 23 “foremost thinkers” who were interviewed.  The book does suggest “how we can begin to contribute to…dialogue and understanding,” as Sakwa notes.  But much more is needed, especially as concerns recognition of “the many innovative ideas about how to look at our world and address its problems,” all-too-briefly mentioned by Dutkiewicz in the introduction.  Identifying and learning from all or most of these ideas, from all countries of the world and from both genders, may well be our most important task.

 

 


 

 
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter
For Email Marketing you can trust