Two Unstated Davos Aspirational Goals

GRI, unfortunately, projects two other aspirational goals that undermine the creditability of its proposals.

The first is its focus on maintaining control for the international elite without seriously broadening the base for global democracy. Its proposals to make the G20 the new international nation-state leadership team, to co-opt selected members of civil society as token representatives of diverse peoples of the world, and to lay out a path for these selected civil society leaders to feel as if they are correctly legitimate international governors all function to preserve the dominate economic hierarchy. The absence of recommendations about de-militarization, about overcoming global social inequalities, or about correcting the inequities based on ethnicity or gender is equally telling. This goal -- implicit in the specifics of many of the Davos proposals -- seeks to maintain the core relationships of the international elite with the rest of the world with only a slightly different configuration of Actors.

What makes this reconfiguration different is that Davos seems to have a second unarticulated aspirational goal. Its particular form of incorporation of new constituencies in global governance would result in a greater diffusion of responsibility and accountability. If executives of multinational corporations, government leaders, and leaders from civil society combine in different alignments for different ‘problems', it is hard to tell who to congratulate and who to blame if the ‘problem’ does not go way. If MNCs, nation-states, and CSOs are free to join a multi-stakeholder governance arrangement when they want to – and the other dominate players welcome them -- and they are free to walk away when they don’t like the outcome or tire of the process, it is difficult to know who is making something happen and who is blocking a reasonable outcome.

The reduction in accountability and responsibility is not just a Davos goal. It is increasingly the practice of OECD nation-states which can find, for example, no one or no set of institutions responsible or accountable for the financial crisis or for any of the ‘other’ crises. Without a clear sense of accountability, a significant numbers of citizens lose a sense of public participation in governance and become disillusioned with the legitimacy of government. In a similar manner, at the global level opt-in-opt-out governance discourages long-term institutional engagement, leaving active participation to those whose with a strong organizational base that can benefit from their volunteer engagement – i.e. international firms and the nation-state. Without a sense of engagement with the broader community, the legitimacy of globalization will remain unsettled. 

The WEF’s proposals for the next phase of global governance are then constrained by their two unarticulated goals: hierarchy preservation and diminished levels of responsibility and accountability. Therein lie many opportunities for additional research and reflections for a better architecture of the next generation of global institutions.

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

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