Modi Is Right On Collapse Of Global Governance: 10 Paradigm Shifts We Must Deal With

Modi Is Right On Collapse Of Global Governance: 10 Paradigm Shifts We Must Deal With

by R Jagannathan - Friday, March 3, 2023 11:04 AM IST
Modi Is Right On Collapse Of Global Governance: 10 Paradigm Shifts We Must Deal WithPrime Minister Narendra Modi. (Twitter)
  • Here are 10 things that have changed, and for which we need to look at more hybrid and integrated solutions.

    What we did in the past to address our challenges are no longer relevant.

The Prime Minister was right to flag the serious drop in global governance over the last few years.

Speaking to the G-20 meeting of foreign ministers yesterday (2 March), Narendra Modi said: “We must all acknowledge that multilateralism is in crisis today... The experience of the last few years — financial crisis, climate change, pandemic, terrorism and wars — clearly show that global governance has failed.”

He is right, but the truth is global governance has been hitting new lows not just over the last 15 years, but ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

The collapse of Soviet-era communism created the illusion that we were close to “the end of history”, where only one system — liberal democracy and capitalism — was worthy of emulation.

The three-plus decades since then have proved everybody’s assumptions wrong, and we now are in a situation where there is no leadership, only power-play at work.

Just when we need enlightened global leadership, what we have is extreme narrow-mindedness and foolishness among both political leaders and public intellectuals.

The period between 1989 and 2022, the latter year marking the start of a new global proxy war between Russia and the West, has changed so many things that we no longer know how to conduct our affairs.

Most intellectuals and political leaders in most countries do not know even how to frame the important issues of the day, making it difficult for coherent policies to be articulated, leave alone be implemented.

Every issue has got linkages to so many other issues, that it is near impossible to separate cause and effect.

For example, we know that climate change will have a huge negative impact in most parts of the globe.

The fact is every major event since 1989, including the ongoing and excessive financialisation of the markets, the 9/11 war on terror, the global financial crisis of 2008, the Eurozone and Brexit turbulence, the concentration of power in the hands of the state and big tech, the rise of autocratic China and the Ukraine war have had a direct or indirect impact on climate change — mostly for the worse.

If most parts of the world are no longer on talking terms, how will we even get a credible climate deal?

The huge use of dirty munitions in Ukraine and the global sanctions against Russia have ensured even greater use of fossil fuels even as the war itself has caused massive environmental damage in war-torn eastern Europe.

The rise of China and cheap consumerism has led to a western overdependence on debt.

Pandering to the ever-growing desire for new technology and goods has reduced citizens in most countries to just consumers.

When everything is so cheap, what is the chance that we are going to use our natural resources with greater care for the environment?

If every hiccup in the economic cycle is going to result in governments printing more and more currency to address the short-term fall in consumption, how will we ever get out of this debt trap?

Post the 1980s, globalisation has forced a shift of supply chains to China, but now, as China looks set to restart again, parts of supply chains are being shifted elsewhere in a bid to balance political and economic risks.

How can we believe that the duplication and creation of the same capacities in newer countries is somehow going to be better for the environment than earlier?

With the US weaponising global finance to inflict damage on the Russian economy, a new rebalancing is underway to reduce overdependence on the US dollar.

This will have its own consequences for geopolitics and trade — and consequently for the environment.

To use a much cliched term, the intellectual and political “paradigms” within which we have been operating so far have changed, but we still haven’t abandoned the old ways of thinking.

We are still operating within the box, using the failing economic, political and social frameworks of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Here are 10 things that have changed, and for which we need to look at more hybrid and integrated solutions.

What we did in the past to address our challenges are no longer relevant.

First, the relationship between citizen and state has become more transactional, a fact buttressed by suggestions from some intellectuals that “civic nationalism” is the way forward.

There is no evidence whatsoever that civic nationalism has worked anywhere, just as there is no evidence that a society based only on “rights” — which is what “liberals” keep harping on — can work.

For a proper balancing between rights and responsibilities, we need social institutions and communities to play the middle role between state and citizens, subtly balancing rights and responsibilities.

Our solutions lie in finding new social institutions to lay middleman between state and citizens, but that is precisely what liberals and the powerful state do not seem to want.

Second, the power of unelected institutions has risen exponentially. Whether it is non-state actors like ISIS or Al Qaeda, Big Tech firms like Google and Apple, or even powerful billionaires like Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar or George Soros, enormous efforts and resources are being poured in to influence and shape citizens’ thoughts.

It is now as difficult to believe in what the state, charismatic politicians or the media are telling us as in the good intentions of the billionaires who want to mould the world to their ways of thinking.

It is a bit ludicrous to assume that Gates, Omidyar and Soros have complete (or even real) answers to the genuine problems of the world, including individual disempowerment.

Third, the power balance has tilted in favour of capital against labour.

This is not a new phenomenon, but we still refuse to acknowledge it formally.

We don’t have to be Marxists to understand this reality.

The existence of huge amounts of surplus capital around the world, and the favourable treatment capital always get vis-a-vis labour in matters of taxation, has given us a world where the world of jobs has been completely polarised.

There is huge demand for skills that improve returns on capital (ie, technology development), and good demand for jobs that demand practically no skills (logistics and retail work, for example), but jobs in the middle — medium skills, good incomes — have started disappearing.

This polarisation in the skills market is so acute, that no one has any good answers.

Upskilling and reskilling are buzzwords, but cannot be applied to entire masses of people.

Fourth, the balance between consumer and producer interests is badly skewed in favour of the former.

We have spent the last century crowning the consumer as king or queen to the detriment of producer interests.

The word producer, when defined broadly, includes not only companies but the individuals who work to produce anything, whether goods or services.

But technology has been used to benefit consumers at the cost of large masses of producers.

This is at the core of our jobs problem.

It is worth recalling that while the set of consumers is always larger than the set of producers (we are pure consumers when we are young or old), without more producers we cannot have more consumption at some point.

And when we produce more with less and less people, which is what artificial intelligence tech is leading us to, we destroy not just jobs, but entire social structures and human relationships.

Fifth, there is less citizenship more consumerism.

The ability of more and more companies to give something for nothing — often in the digital spaces — has reduced citizens to mere consumers.

When you get something without paying anything, you are still paying something: most probably your data and privacy.

In this process, without our knowing it, we have just bartered our independence as human beings for being served as consumers.

If this process is not reversed, soon we will just become well-fed zombies.

Sixth, the age of impermanence is at hand.

From the age of the European Enlightenment to the industrial revolution and, more recently, in the new technology-mediated world, there was an implicit assumption that progress happens in only one direction: that people will become more prosperous, more intelligent, and more rational, as time goes by.

But the pace of change is so overwhelming that nothing seems to last, not our iPhones, nor our cars, or our jobs.

Who will worry about the future and our environment if coping with the present is itself so difficult?

Why save when we can buy without saving or earning?

The ownership society will fade as people choose to lease or hire things in future.

The world no longer feels like it is meant to last, and that makes our thinking short-term oriented when solutions demand longer-term thinking.

Seventh, fast change means that our data is outdated even as it is being put out.

Every month we get new data on jobs, inflation and growth, but if much can change in one month, how useful is this data?

Our Monetary Policy Committee was divided 4-2 in favour of focusing on inflation, as the data showed, rather than growth.

But what if the minority opinion is more likely to be true?

Can we drive forever looking at the rear-view mirror, or is it better to look at the future that has already happened by looking at real-time data which technology can easily provide?

Eighth, is electoral democracy of the kind we now have going to work in future?

If governments are going to be changed every four or five years, when solutions to difficult problems may take a decade or more of trial and error to validate, clearly our electoral cycles are out of alignment with our globalised challenges.

We clearly need newer models of democracy to work with.

Ninth, are work and leisure two sides of the same coin, or a binary?

During Covid we saw how easily people took to work from home, and now we are seeing resistance to full-time office work even though Covid seems to have disappeared (from people’s minds at least).

What this tells us is that the work-leisure binary that settled agriculture and the industrial revolution spawned is past its sell-by date.

Work and leisure are not opposites, but two things we need in varying combinations for a reasonably fulfilling life.

We need work to earn a living; we need leisure to be ready for work when that is available.

In the gig economy, people will discover this is closer to the truth that spending several hours of the day commuting to work or spending eight hours at a factory or workplace.

In the gig economy, especially in the age of ChatGPT and other artificial-intelligence-backed technologies, the choice is not about employment or unemployment, but partial employment and entrepreneurship.

We need to build our own little business when we are employed, so that we have something to fall back on when the jobs disappear.

Tenth, the physical and the psychic need to be meshed into a non-binary whole.

The last 500 years have seen huge material progress, but a serious regression in the internal well-being of mankind.

And this has happened despite huge progress in our understanding of human psychology, our inner drives and behaviours.

The Eurocentric consensus, that the temporal and the spiritual are two different and separate spaces within the same human being, is patently wrong.

It is time to integrate the two and unify humans into thinking that one supports the other.

They are not contradictions existing within us.

India, with its ancient wisdom and non-binary approach to life and living, needs to rediscover its age-old wisdom and adapt the usable parts of it in the new age.

We have to lead the change to improve global leadership.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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