Knowledge-Based Challenges

Research opportunities can start from the Davos premise that global governance today consists of a corporate-centric system, not a state-centric system, and then examine the extent to which this may be a more realistic frame for understanding modern globalization and ‘political’ decision-making. It can continue with the same challenge put to GRI’s experts which, unfortunately, was for the most part abandoned. Pretend that one was starting afresh to envisage a system of global governance that is appropriate for today’s world. What would it look like? This ethical challenge, if taken up seriously, can push the imagination of the possible to a new place. If we can live in a world with continually evolving technologies, why is not possible to conceive of a world with fundamentally different ethical and ecological premises for governance. There will then remain the hard work of evaluating the myriad options that are generated through this collective imagination.

The knowledge-based challenge is equally straightforward – reverse the presumptions behind WEF’s two unarticulated aspirations. What research challenges would one face if one designed an international governance system from the bottom up, rather than from the top down? This research would look first how to empower those billions of people who do not have access to billions of dollars, conceptualizing principles of governance that inverted the traditional pyramid of social relations. One could also reverse WEF’s presumption for a more diffuse system of responsibility and accountability. A global system that puts accountability and responsibility in the forefront of governance, a premise that almost sounds quaint today, would be no small intellectual challenge. The challenge for researchers, for policy makers, and for the wider public is, that absent such significant re-assessment, the multiple crises affecting globalization are not likely to disappear. We can thank the World Economic Forum for getting this re-thinking started.  

The Readers' Guide welcomes commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above assessment.

Michael Denney

Posted: 10-05-2012 15:53

As a project, re-conceptualizing global governance, given its recent failures, reminds me of John Rawls' attempt to re-conceptualize justice in his 1971 work, A Theory of Justice. Rawls argued that re-envisioning justice required us to pretend that we were behind a "veil of ignorance" that prevented us from knowing our gender, class, race, health, etc. From this position of ignorance we would then decide how to organize society. Rawls' thinking was that from behind the veil of ignorance, people would choose to structure society in a way that minimized inequalities and maximized ethical thinking. This approach, I feel, can be applied to the global governance regime. If we could step behind a veil of ignorance and forget any knowledge of our country of origin or our inherited lifestyle, how would we choose to distribute global wealth? How would we structure our international organizations? How would we manage corporate contracts that extend across borders? I do not have the answers to these questions, but I do have a fundamental assumption that people behind the veil of ignorance would not choose to have their global governance institutions driven by profit-making enterprises. Sometimes there is too much at stake to let profit get involved.

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