Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Three Other Out of Control Crises

There are at least three other ‘equally’ uncomfortable, out of control crises that are driving parts of the world’s citizenry to want another system of global governance.

Each of these crises - taken alone - is an independent rationale for a new system of global governance. A good number of people in the world recognize that the existing institutions of governance do not know what to do to prevent human-driven climate change and ecological mismanagement from passing a number of irreversible tipping points. A wide range of peoples in Africa and in West Asia, particularly those in Muslim countries, do not see how the current UN system or any other proposed new form of global governance is able to restrain continued wars of choice in non-Western countries. And an ever wider range of peoples from all continents cannot see any way that today’s global institutions are likely to bring significant health, education, employment, and housing to them in their lifetimes. The climate tipping points, the permanent wars, and the sharp rise in long-term poverty all evoke ‘equal’ anxiety about the legitimacy and functionality of the current institutions of global governance.

In none of these spheres is the current configuration of global governance institutions, be it state-centric, corporate-centric, civil society-centric, or some existing combination of the three, able to provide the public with confidence that the right decisions are being made. Nor can anyone provide creditable assurance that there is even a willingness to try to make the right decisions.

From WEF’s economic-crisis and elite-associated starting point, the 2007/2008 crisis produced two types of structural failures: a loss of effectiveness and a drop in legitimacy. The proposals it advanced were driven by the desire to ‘fix’ these problems. By limiting itself to these two criteria, WEF was conceptually blocked from addressing the full dimensions of even the economic-driven crisis.

It was also restricted in its ability to have a coherent rationale behind some of their more provocative recommendations, particularly those that were clearly outside the economic sphere. For example, its recommendations for ocean governance were not just motivated by fixing an effectiveness problem in the Law of Sea agreement or by a perception of lack of legitimacy in ocean management. It presumably was motivated in part by a recognition of a global ecological risk and a threat to global nutrition from the loss of fish protein.

Similarly, WEF did produce a wide range of recommendations to address the appalling human health crisis in the Southern half of the planet. These proposals too were not just to enhance the work methods of WHO or to overcome a discomfort with how medical decisions are made. One gets the feeling that they did sense that there were other major crises  beside the fallout from the financial crisis – motivating WEF’s look at the forces that are tearing at the fabric of global governance. But WEF was not able to articulate this clearly, and it was apparently apprehensive to recognize explicitly the planetary boundaries-driven threats or the social inequalities threats to governance.    

The criteria one uses to propose solutions to the ‘other’ three crises of global governance, as well as the macroeconomic driven rationale for fixing global governance, are very important. As has been noted, the World Economic Forum did not select democracy, human rights, social equity, ecological health, anti-nationalism, or peace-seeking as key criteria. Their two criteria are unfortunately self-interested and too focused on preserving the current economic, social, and military alignment. From a corporate-centric Davos perspective, WEF wants to restabilize the current economic system so that it is better managed by the current elites and better appreciated by those not part of the corporate world. It missed an opportunity to have their diverse sector-specific proposals address the ‘other’ three crises head-on.


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