So far and yet so near….
Geographically speaking the distance between Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Davos, Switzerland, is about 10 514 km; politically speaking they are closer than ever before. The themes of Davos 2011 are similar to those of Porto Alegre. In its background report on major risks facing modern society, the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) identified two: the growing disparity both between and within states and the failure of global governance. A similar diagnosis is provided in the latest issue of The Economist under the title The Rich and the Rest. The message is clear; the fruits of globalisation have not been distributed properly. The gap between the richest and the poorest has widened significantly. The results? Increasing instabilities in societies worldwide (e.g. North Africa), mass movement of population, and a lack of trust in public institutions, among others.
While focusing on figures and statistics, both Davos and The Economist have missed the writing on the global (and Facebook) wall: ‘It’s fairness, stupid’. For example, statistically speaking, Tunisians are much better off than people in most Arab countries and in the rest of Africa. Infrastructure is solid. The population is highly educated. The economy is doing reasonably well. What fueled the young people’s anger on the streets of Tunisia is a deep-seated feeling of injustice and a lack of fairness in a society divided between the kleptocratic elite and the rest of the population. Ultimately, it was a matter of restoring dignity. Similar tensions exist worldwide and could trigger further political earthquakes, including the risk of major social, technological, and humanist breakthroughs of globalisation being undone.
The second major risk for the modern world is the failure of global governance. Currently, multilateral institutions cannot provide solutions to increasingly complex problems such as migration, trade, food security, and climate change, to name a few. ‘Davosers’ will probably realise that there are no quick fixes. Most of these problems are ‘wicked’ problems with one solution opening up new problems. But, they can do something over the next few days.
For example, they can openly address the merits of various ‘clubbings’ in global affairs, such as G20. Yes, G20 is better than G8, but worse than G192. It fails the test of fairness and inclusiveness. What about the remaining 172 countries which haven’t been invited to the G20 table? Are they likely to accept and implement G20 directives? This exclusivity lays the groundwork for additional instabilities in global society. Even the argument that the G20 increased efficiency compared to big UN gatherings is questionable. If there is political will, there will be a way to make global institutions functional. Small and developing countries won’t be an obstacle to this. For them, an efficient, fair, and functional United Nations is a matter of survival. This is also the case for big and richer countries, but they may not be aware of it yet. Without a rejuvenated United Nations, we may risk being siphoned through the black hole of globalisation, a hole that’s being increasingly widened by social, economic, and political disparities. If this happens, it will affect all of us.
While identifying two major risks – increasing disparities and the failure of global governance – Davos missed making the link between them. One of the reasons for the increasing disparity in modern society is the lack of pro-development global governance. A recent attempt to correct this in the guise of the millennium development goals, was simply too little too late. The system of global governance requires much deeper structural changes. This year, Davos identified two major risks; next year it will hopefully make the link between the growing disparities and the way in which our world is governed. Such a development would reduce the distance between Davos and Porto Alegre even further. The closer they are, the better our chances for a more prosperous and harmonious world.