By Angel Gurria
Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
In the novel “The Leopard,” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the character Tancredi Falconeri utters a well-known phrase: “For everything to remain the same, everything must change.” The Sicilian aristocracy that he represents has only one way to preserve its privileges in the face of Garibaldi’s Italian unification movement: changing things on the surface so that, in practice, everything remains the same.
Over the last few months, many voices – including the OECD – have expressed their determination to “fix” globalization in the face of the rejection movement being experienced around the world. Understandably, these calls are being received with distrust. One suspects that the “global elites” have made Tancredi’s thesis their own: make cosmetic changes to avoid the subversion of the order that benefits some so greatly.
We cannot blame those who express misgivings. For the institutions that have traditionally lobbied for the opening up of markets and the liberalization that sustains globalization, it might be tempting to “fix” things like someone who repairs an old broken-down engine: modulate the language and touch up the policies just a bit until the current wave of protectionism, isolationism and populism passes and then return to doing things as always.
But it’s clear that that’s not going to work. Quick fixes are no longer sufficient for dealing with the public’s discontent. One cannot go back to the past. For too many people there are too many things that don’t work as they should. The only course possible is not to patch up globalization, but rather to radically revise it and make it work for everyone.
Unless governments make an effort, both individually and collectively, to implement profound changes in the functioning of our economies, societies and political systems, all our efforts will only serve to fan the flames of future crises. We will see how the peace and progress provided for decades by the opening up and multilateral cooperation decline.
The main problems must be urgently dealt with: the increase in inequality in terms of incomes, wealth and opportunities; the ever greater disconnect between finances and the real economy; the growing divergences in productivity among workers, companies and regions; the concentration in the markets and the progressive checks on competition; the scanty progressiveness of our tax systems; the corruption and hijacking of politics and institutions by particular interests; the lack of transparency and participation of common citizens in decision-making; and the solidity of education and the values we transmit to future generations.
In the OECD, we have been laying the basis for a different kind of growth: inclusive, sustainable growth that fosters equality at its root. We have tried to go beyond conventional thinking and promote new approaches for the economic challenges that emphasize people’s wellbeing, beyond the GDP and the economic aggregates. But that will not be enough. A new intergenerational social contract must be designed that restores the confidence of the citizens in their institutions. To do that, States must launch policies that allow each and every one of their citizens to prosper.
Although the answers are in concrete action on the national level, no solution will be found in autarchy and protectionism. The same international dynamics that arouse feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty can provide answers to the challenges we are facing. We have the example of aging populations in the economies of the OECD, in the face of which immigration can be an ally. Or investment and transnational trade, which can mobilize resources in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. And here is the unprecedented progress that has been achieved in the fight against tax havens or climate change when the international community works in unison. Even today, transborder scientific cooperation is riding a digital and technological revolution that many fear but which also can provide a positive transformation of production, consumption, the workplace and the general functioning of our societies.
The “yes to globalization or no to globalization” dilemma was overcome a long time ago. The question we must ask ourselves today is what kind of globalization we want. There’s no reason for it to be the one we have seen up to now. We must once again put the wellbeing of people at the center of our efforts and ensure ourselves that the benefits of greater interconnection of our economies, societies, institutions and cultures are shared more equally. To do that, political globalization cannot continue to follow economic globalization. We need to perfect the rules of the game and the mechanisms of global governance to improve our coordinated actions in transborder contexts. We need international rules that ensure the equality of conditions and foster the best policies. And we need to guarantee more transparency, democracy and civil participation not only on the local level but on the global one.
We’re experiencing a vital moment in history, when the decisions we make will determine the future of humanity. In moments like this, patch-ups and partial solutions don’t work; one must deal with the root of the problems that affect our economies and societies. Only with daring, innovation and action can we create a fair and prosperous future for everyone.
Disclaimer: This article is part of an Agencia EFE service which brings opinion-makers to its readers and relies on the contributions of diverse eminent figures, and solely reflects the opinions and points of view of its author.