Inequality leads for the first time the Global Agenda the World Economic Forum makes every year through a survey between the members of its council. The research identifies the issues thay they believe wil have the biggest impact on the world over the coming 12 to 18 months. The results are gathered in the Top 10 Trends, “a forecast of the social, economic and political flash points that reside our collective horizon“, according to the statement of Al Gore, vicepresident of the United States during Bill Clinton’s administration in the 90 and chair of the Meta-Council on the New Architecture of Governance.
“We are at a critical fork in the road, a period of decision that will dictate the health and viability of our civilization for decades to come“, wrtites Al Gore.
The Top 10 Trends which address the global debate in the next months are:
The income gap is no longer a problem between rich and poor, but directly affects the middle classes. In fact, it destroys the middle classes. According to the 2014 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, inequality is now perceived as a major problem both in countries of sub-Saharan Africa and in the United States. As the income gap widens in Asia and America, it persists in Europe and threatens growth in Africa. Although global economic growth proceeds at a healthy rate, poverty, environmental degradation, unemployment, political instability and violence continue to pose major challenges.
“These problems are often closely related to inequality,” says Amina Mohammed, special adviser to the United Nations, Vice-President of the Global Agenda Council and author of the chapter that deals with this trend.
According to the author of the chapter, Harvard University lecturer Larry Summers, “the term ‘persistent growth of unemployment’ refers to the phenomenon whereby economies emerging from recessions display economic growth while maintaining a simple, and in some cases even decline, in their level of employment.” This phenomenon is particularly significant among those between 25 and 54 years of age, “the back-bone of the workforce”, a segment in which unemployment has tripled within a trend that seems inexorable.
Professor Summers believes there is still time to correct this trend but it is essential that governments take action on the matter, starting with a change in education to enhance those aspects of knowledge that cannot be replaced by automation: “collaboration, creation and leadership.”
86% of respondents to a Global Agenda survey believe that the world is suffering from a crisis of leadership. Shiza Shahid, co-founder and Global Ambassador of the Malala Fund and editor of an analysis of the trend, believes that such scarcity of leaders is due to the fact that the international community has failed to address the main issues on the political agenda in recent years. “While our governments have grown, their mechanisms have been plagued by decades of factual alignment, dynasty and deep-rooted corruption,” he says. As an example, 90% of respondents in China to the Pew study point to corruption as a major problem, as do 83% in India and 78% in Brazil, according to other sociological research.
What, in his view, do leaders need to do to regain the trust of their people? The response of the panel is the sum of several virtues: a global and interdisciplinary perspective, long-term planning, strong communication skills, prioritisation of social justice and welfare over financial growth, courage, morality, and a spirit of collaboration. Undoubtedly, major demands that are certainly not visible among current leaders, either in politics or in business.
The end of the ‘Cold War’, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the incorporation of Russia and China into the global economic system have not been sufficient to improve world security. “Geopolitics and ‘realpolitik’ are once again taking a centre-stage position”, said Espen Barth Eide, director general of the World Economic Forum and author of this chapter. “Instead of fearing the opposition of strong States, we are now concerned about their weakness, about the breakdown of countries and the global reach of terrorist networks”, he says.
Although this trend ranks fourth in the global survey, it is the second most worrying concern for Europeans and Asians. Tension between the EU and Russia over the conflict in the Ukraine, rearmament in China and its skirmishes with Japan for control of sea areas, and the worsening situation in the Middle East are all examples that may have worrying consequences on global balance. “On the side of potential globalisation (and indeed ‘de-globalisation’), the advance of nationalisms and increasing discredit of multilateralism, the most important lesson to be learnt from 2014 is that we cannot afford to remain impassive,” concludes Espen Barth.
The Edelman barometer detects a disturbing lack of credibility towards institutions, both public and private, their leaders and their processes. Such distrust is spreading, especially amongst the young, and threatens the survival of institutions that are responsible for managing democracy. The rise of populism in Europe is the expression of social disappointment with how the parliamentary system functions, with lengthy discussions and precious few solutions.
It is clear that a gap is opening between citizens and their elected representatives, write Jorge Soto, founder of Data4 and member of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government. The bearer of those words points out that governments are left out of conversations that citizens begin to spin on the Internet and social networks. “Our governments are elected, dissolved, re-elected only to pursue short-term objectives, when the cycles that renew and build credibility with voters call for long-term investment,” says Soto.
However, the solution is not an online democracy structured like a social network where everyone discusses their views at the same time, because that would lead to anarchy. Representative democracy needs to modernise and involve citizens more actively in decision-making processes. As Jorge Soto sees it: “rather than seeing themselves as mere problem solvers, governments should position themselves as bodies that articulate the issues facing society and create the proper environment for the private sector and academics to find solutions by providing information, policy and financial support.”
Solving pollution calls for a technological and intellectual revolution, the latter perhaps being the most difficult. In addition to the challenges posed by climate change, we now face the harmful pollution plaguing large cities, which responsible for one in eight deaths. In his chapter, Zou Ji, deputy director general of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and Internacional Cooperation, investigates an alternative path to economic growth that preserves resources and limits CO2 emissions. “The developing world has learned much from Europe and North America about trade models, infrastructure and technology; however, the Planet’s carbon capacity does not allow us to continue down that path,” writes this Chinese analyst.
Developed countries have three ways of helping emerging economies to reduce their emissions of carbon and substances harmful to human health: encourage a flow of financing to the developing world, provide solid arguments to fund policy change, and to co-operate in Innovation of low CO2 technologies. According to Ji, it is crucial to approach the matter with such solutions from the very beginning, “because once high carbon generators are installed, it is very difficult to replace them.” The potential of corrective measures is very high but the window of opportunity is very small time-wise.
Directly related to climate change, the solution to severe weather situations is more one of prevention than reaction. A good example of that is the ability of scientists to assess the effects of global warming, anticipate its consequences and predict the impact of severe weather events.
Adil Najam, dean of the The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at the University of Boston, highlights a lack of leadership in addressing the issue. This author proposes strengthening the resilience of countries and business companies before the natural disaster strikes. “That means investing in long-term developments, the cost of which may be high and the rate of change slow, but the long-term consequences are awesome for national economies, businesses and certainly for the poorest segments of the population, who are the most vulnerable and the ones to pay a higher price should such measures fail.”
When disaster strikes, society’s charitable solidarity is admirable but it does not solve the problem, it only helps to mitigate the devastating consequences.
Maybe what seems to be a contradiction in an increasingly global world is precisely a sociological response to that phenomenon. Nationalism is on the up and up, not just in the sense of demands for independence and appealing for a new state, but also through countries’ own protectionist policies.
Selfishness broods in the depths of human nature and even induces an ethical code of its own, unique, sometimes exclusive (xenophobia, for example), which tends to justify its defence on the basis of moral and, naturally, highly emotional principles. “Can we show how residents of different cultures, traditions and identities work together in a more open and inclusive environment than in a limited multinational state?” questions former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in this chapter. Scotland was on the verge of responding negatively to that question, but ultimately a majority chose “to do what we have always done best: think big, not small.”
Due to a combination of problems, such as rapid population growth, restricted water supplies and high levels of poverty, countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nigeria are set to harshly affected by this trend.
Matt Damon, co-founder of Water.org, believes that “despite the obstacles we face, there is room for optimism”. The actor partners with Gary White, managing director of Water.org, as authors of this section on the effects that water shortage produces on millions of people. In their analysis, they state that the water crisis has two components: one refers to the resource itself; the other to access. “Even when the resource is abundant, there are millions of people who lack access”, they say. They believe that governments should play a central role by financing long-term investment, either directly or through private companies under public service contracts.
No one should doubt that the Spanish public health system is one of the country’s greatest assets. Sometimes that belief is more solidly upheld outside the country than inside, perhaps because we Spanish are poor propagandists of our own accomplishments. Healthcare is a challenge for all nations, not only for the least developed countries. In fact, 85% of participants in the study by the Pew Research Centre state it is a problem in their country of residence.
Amid an open debate on the privatisation of health care, at least of its management, it is curious to see how citizens turn to the government when a serious health scare occurs and expect the government to address and resolve the crisis. That is what recently occurred with cases of Ebola in the United States and Spain. In this regard, the authors consider that the challenge is not addressed by building more hospitals but by investing in a wide range of activities, including the promotion of a healthier culture, as well as combating tobacco, alcohol and obesity, now the leading cause of death in some of the world’s most developed countries.
The World Bank attributes half of the growth differential between developed and developing policies to weak public health and low life expectancy in the latter countries. It is clear that healthcare is one of the most significant and strategic policies of any government. It is impossible to make progress when disease threatens the base of the pyramid that feeds the middle class.
Francis Collins, director of National Institutes of Health, points out: “Fortunately, technology makes it easier to prevent, detect and treat disease”. From his point of view, thanks to the development of electronic logging, distance treatment and the ability to share data on-line “we have a variety of solutions available, even in low-income situations”.
This analysis of global trends concludes with one more concern, not yet incorporated into the Global Agenda, but which is already knocking on its doors: the increase in immigration rejection rates. “Racism, xenophobia, intolerance and ‘Islamophobia’ are on the increase,” says José Manuel Durao Barroso, President of the European Commission until mid-2014. The Portuguese politician stresses that “anti-immigration sentiment can only be diluted by strong leadership”.
It will take a great deal of leadership and many leaders to face the ten plus one challenges listed by the Global Agenda – new leadership with ethical rather than financial roots.