A recent survey by the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils rated government lower than either business or media in its ability to respond to global challenges.
On one level, this is understandable, given the many challenges that governments face and the lack of long-term solutions to many problems that demand one. However, on another level, the attempt to rate government alongside business and the media is fundamentally misguided: No sector operates at the scale of responsibility, accountability and expectation that governments do.
Business decides for itself where to invest and grow. Media indulge themselves in a fast-moving news cycle. Government enjoys neither luxury. It cannot simply pack up and move on when it faces a loss or is bored with a story. Governments must stay put — and must often clean up the messes left behind by those who do not. On a good day, it may even get to make improvements.
The problem for governments, more often than not, is that in attempting to respond to and reconcile often conflicting individual, family and national needs, their ability to deliver results efficiently and effectively has declined. As a result, trust in government has plummeted.
Just before the forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda in Abu Dhabi last month, I spent a week in India. Most of the people with whom I spoke complained endlessly about government shortcomings. Government at both the federal and state levels was invariably regarded as slow, indecisive, corrupt, unimaginative and shortsighted — in general, worthless.
It is easy for business to want government to get out of the way, and for the media to point fingers and sensationalize events without much depth of analysis — or even, sometimes, grasp of reality.
True, India may not be the best advertisement for democracy in some respects, given how hard it often seems there to make long-term decisions and implement them without being buffeted — and frequently derailed — by volatile public opinion and hard-nosed vested interests.
However, the alternative — rule not by law but by dictatorship — is a far nastier prospect. And there are not many problems in India’s governance that state funding of politics could not solve. After all, when serving a vast democracy requires non-stop electioneering, and politicians are thus dependent on financial donations, governance is bound to go awry.
Governments’ ability to respond to global challenges is a more general problem. Globalization — the breaking down of national boundaries and the integration of economies — has resulted in burgeoning demands on governments at the same time that their ability to provide answers has been reduced. In other words, demand for government is exceeding supply.
Globalization has made many people feel more insecure and in need of government support to cope with the pressures on their livelihoods and quality of life. However, most of the policy responses needed to meet people’s demand for greater security are beyond the scope and reach of national governments, especially when these governments are trying to cope on their own.
That is why, long ago, European countries saw the sense in pooling their weight and reach through the EU. Imperfect as the EU is, it still represents the best response to globalization yet seen among any extended group of countries. Governments working together are better than governments working separately — or, worse, against one another.
We live in an increasingly multipolar world, in which major emerging economies and their populous societies are transforming the international landscape. However, at the same time, multilateral frameworks are in decline, undermining the ability to bring sense and coherence to this world.
Consider the international trading system and its centerpiece, the WTO. Since the demise of the Doha Round, the organization’s standing as a multilateral negotiating forum has declined sharply, salvaged in part by the recent agreement in Bali.
It will be essential, after Bali, to reflect seriously on the next phase for the WTO and its role in the international trading system. The major international financial institutions — the IMF, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the regional development banks — are having to work hard to make themselves fit for the twenty-first century. The authority of the UN has frayed.
Until we reverse the trend of declining multilateralism, governments’ ability to respond to global challenges will not improve. Business can moan and the media can carp, but the answer to many of the world’s great problems is more — or at least better — government, not less. A better supply of government meeting the flow of demands.
Ronald Reagan famously insisted that, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Today we know better: If government is not part of the solution, our problems will only get bigger.
Peter Mandelson, a former EU commissioner for trade and former British government minister, is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Since COVID-19 broke out in Taiwan, there has been a fair amount of news regarding discrimination and “witch hunts” against medical personnel, people under self-quarantine and other targets, such as the students of a school where an infection was discovered. Quarantine breakers are almost certainly on the loose and it is only natural for people to be vigilant. One in Chiayi was found by accident at a traffic stop because his helmet was not fastened. However, those who follow the rules by quarantining themselves should be encouraged to keep up the good work in a difficult situation, instead of being
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator-at-large Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷) has said that there is a huge difference between Chinese military aircraft circling Taiwan along the edges of its airspace and invading Taiwan’s airspace. He also said that whether it is US or Chinese aircraft flying along or encircling Taiwan’s airspace, there is no legal basis to say that such actions imply a clear provocation of Taiwan, and asked the Ministry of National Defense not to mislead the public. People who hear this might think that it is not a very Taiwanese thing to say. US military activity in the vicinity of Taiwan
As the nation welcomes home Taiwanese who had been stranded in China’s Hubei Province — arguably one of the most dangerous places on Earth since the novel coronavirus outbreak began in its capital, Wuhan, late last year — problems surrounding the “quasi-charter flights” that brought them back have been largely overlooked. The media used the term to describe the two flights dispatched by Taiwan’s state-run China Airlines because they do not count as charter flights. Taiwanese wanting to board those flights had to travel — most likely by train — more than 1,000km from Hubei to Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Burger King Taiwan on Wednesday last week posted an update on Facebook advertising a new “Wuhan pneumonia” (武漢肺炎) home delivery meal, catering to customers hankering for a Whopper, but who wished to avoid visiting one of its outlets. “Wuhan pneumonia” is the term commonly used in Taiwan to describe COVID-19. Beijing has been waging an extensive propaganda campaign against the use of the words “Wuhan” or “China” in reference to the novel coronavirus, calling it racist and discriminatory. Meanwhile, Chinese officials have claimed that the coronavirus might have originated in the US. The intention is obvious: to distract attention from the Chinese Communist