5. Global governance in an era of discontent

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending we lay waste our powers (Wordsworth, 1807[1])

Discontent is a phenomenon that challenges notions of scale. While a protest might be confined to one space such as a city square, participants might come from far away and be motivated by grievances with local, national and global dimensions. This final chapter investigates the causes and complexities of “global” discontent, wherein it finds echoes of the contingent and structural factors discussed earlier in the report, as well as similar institutional failings and power imbalances. It argues that international co-operation must overcome profound challenges to address the sources of discontent at local, national and international level.

The chapter starts by exploring two categories of global discontent. First, it examines how cross-border phenomena can trigger the causes of discontent identified in Chapters 2 and 3; the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic provides an obvious example. Second, it analyses protests against globalisation itself, in particular, the Seattle protests of 1999. It then explores why international co-operation has fragmented at a time of unprecedented global interconnectedness, and how the legitimacy and effectiveness of multilateralism are called into question when collective action is urgently needed to confront global threats.

The chapter then examines whether global governance institutions still possess the power to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It argues that private interests are increasingly dominant in today’s world and that countries are locked into economic models that promote the primacy of the market over the state, whether voters like it or not. A new vision of multilateralism that is both empowered and empowering is required to rebalance global power and avert catastrophe. New approaches, new mind-sets and new voices, including those that represent discontented citizens from across the world, are needed on the international stage before it is too late.

Chapter 2 describes the contingent factors behind discontent – the economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with public services and lack of voice that are often the most obvious causes of social unrest. Chapter 3 outlines the structural phenomena with which these factors interact, which relate to deep-seated sociological and cultural phenomena, as well as the political factors that are exacerbating inequality and polarisation. So far, the report has analysed these factors through the prism of the nation state, but it is impossible to avoid the fact that, in today’s interconnected world, what happens outside a country’s borders can have a profound effect on events inside those borders, to the extent that they can undermine the approaches to addressing discontent outlined in Chapter 4.

One need not look far for examples of how global events can worsen discontent. The year 2020 was apocalyptic in a sense observers from the Middle Ages might have recognised. In addition to war, famine, pestilence and death, the year witnessed a near-plague of locusts and blood-red skies brought about by inextinguishable fires. What would have been alien to those same observers, besides the speed with which these phenomena spread from country to country, is that we were in some way responsible for them and could have done more to prevent them. What those observers (and today’s insurance companies) would call Acts of God were symbolic of all-too-human failures: self-interest and short-termism have resulted in a self-imposed vulnerability and a failure to co-operate, even on matters of life and death. Moreover, this vulnerability is not evenly shared: the people and countries suffering most are often those that benefited least from global economic progress in the past three decades.

This section explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed economic, social and political vulnerabilities within countries the world over, as well as weaknesses in international co-operation. It also examines the emergence of locust swarms across East Africa and West Asia (Box 5.1). These events have caused enormous social and economic damage that relates directly to the contingent causes of discontent discussed in Chapter 2. They have also exposed deep-seated challenges to international co-operation and structural imbalances in global governance that echo Chapter 3. This section then examines how the Seattle protests of more than 20 years ago confirmed the emergence of a globalised civil society capable of challenging the adverse consequences of globalisation.

In the middle of 2021, at the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impose a terrible cost on humanity. Millions of lives have been lost amid the worst health crisis in a century, hundreds of millions of people have contracted the virus, and the pandemic has caused the largest global economic shock in living memory. It has directly aggravated many of the causes of discontent identified in this report: economic vulnerability, frustration with the quality of public services and inequalities, as well as stress and isolation, “culture wars” and political polarisation. The virus, which most likely emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan towards the end of 2019, is thus a brutal demonstration of how quickly a problem in one country can disrupt and destabilise the whole world.

To understand the causes and consequences of the pandemic, it is necessary to look beyond the virus and focus on the systemic weaknesses, structural defects and vast inequalities of the world today, which are global in nature. As Hotez explains, the COVID-19 pandemic was “five years in the making” (2021[2]). The author identifies “abrupt reversals” in progress against communicable diseases, “leading to the emergence or re-emergence of both vaccine-preventable diseases and neglected infections in multiple areas of the world”. The factors behind these reversals are not solely medical: the study explains how “war, political collapse, internal displacements, climate change, urbanisation, and shifting poverty combine in unique and interesting ways to promote widespread emergence of infectious and tropical diseases”. It also points to the rise of anti-science sentiment prior to the pandemic and the concomitant increase in vaccine hesitancy. This systemic view echoes that of the World Health Organization (WHO), which included a number of non-health-specific factors among the ten greatest threats to human health in 2019. The greatest threat was air pollution and climate change; fragile and vulnerable settings were in fourth place and vaccine hesitancy was in ninth (2019[3]).

The extent of humanity’s interconnectedness facilitated the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. Aided by the millions of international journeys made every day before travel restrictions were imposed, COVID-19 spread rapidly across international trade and travel networks. Ten days after the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) reported the first cases of atypical pneumonia to the WHO on 3 January 2020, Thailand confirmed the first case outside China. By the end of January, the disease had been identified in 18 countries, including Germany and the United States. At the end of February, it had been detected in 51 countries across six WHO regions. By the end of March, it has spread to almost every country on earth (WHO, 2020[4]). Numerous studies have found that travel restrictions in this early phase of the pandemic would have drastically constrained its spread and reduced the number of eventual fatalities world wide (Pana et al., 2021[5]; Russell et al., 2021[6]).

The health impact of COVID-19 has compounded the disadvantages faced by poor and vulnerable groups. Mortality rates from COVID-19 are highest among the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Mortality is also closely correlated with low socio-economic status and tends to be higher among minority groups (Mena et al., 2021[7]; Strang, Fürst and Schultz, 2020[8]; Sze et al., 2020[9]). COVID-19 incidence and mortality are particularly high among individuals who live in crowded accommodation in urban areas, lack access to clean water and sanitation or are malnourished (Ahmad et al., 2020[10]; Handu et al., 2020[11]; Silverio et al., 2020[12]). These disparities are compounded by economic factors: individuals who are able to work from home and are covered by a range of social protection programmes have been much less affected than those in the informal economy, who have no source of income support if they do not go out to work each day. The pandemic has thus exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities within countries and across the global population.

The pandemic has also exposed shortcomings in public health services, not only in terms of underinvestment but also lack of preparedness and lack of institutional co-ordination. Although there has been significant progress towards universal health coverage (UHC) in countries at all income levels between 2000 and 2017, low-income countries and countries affected by conflict still lag a long way behind. Moreover, catastrophic health spending – defined as large out-of-pocket spending – increased continuously between 2000 and 2015, meaning health costs were increasingly forcing people into poverty (WHO, 2019[13]). According to Lal et al., countries at different income levels that had achieved or made significant progress towards UHC have generally dealt better with the pandemic than countries with large gaps in health coverage or with health care of inadequate quality (2021[14]). However, the authors contend that the health systems of countries at all income levels were overwhelmed if these systems were not aligned to (and co-ordinated with) the objectives of global health security, which encompasses the broader goal of “protecting people and societies worldwide from infectious disease”.

In addition to its devastating effect on lives and livelihoods, the pandemic heightened political tensions in many countries. The COVID-19 outbreak was widely politicised: differences in opinion as to the appropriate government response to COVID-19 often ran along political party lines, exacerbating divisions between opposing political groups in already polarised societies (Druckman et al., 2020[15]). These differences were amplified by media coverage of the pandemic (Hart, Chinn and Soroka, 2020[16]). The guidance provided by scientists and public health officials was viewed through ideological filters, weakening their influence not only on government policy but also individual behaviour (Makridis and Rothwell, 2020[17]). This politicisation is thought to have come at a terrible cost in terms of lives needlessly lost (Abbasi, 2020[18]; Woolhandler et al., 2021[19]). In certain cases, there has also been a territorial dimension to the political tensions, when subnational governments have pursued different policies from those prescribed at a national level.

This politicisation has not been limited to national politics. As Cole and Dodds put it, international relations “have as much impact on the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic as do the characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus” (2021[20]). The authors argue that the virus has exacerbated the rivalry between China and the United States. They also stress that international competition has tended to trump international co-operation, underline the role of “health diplomacy” in shoring up alliances on the world stage and note the emergence of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) pressuring for systemic change in response to COVID-19. The pandemic has thus illustrated the fractures and fault lines in global governance. The work of the WHO in co-ordinating the international response to the pandemic has been impeded by geopolitical manoeuvring at various points. Countries have, for example, refused to grant timely and full access to sites critical for understanding the nature of the virus or withdrawn funding in the midst of the crisis amid accusations that the institution is biased (Woolhandler et al., 2021[19]).

Nobody is safe from the pandemic until everyone is safe, yet failures in collective action at all levels suggest this lesson has not been learned – a situation that bodes poorly for attempts to confront the climate crisis (Cole and Dodds, 2021[20]; Heisbourg, 2020[21]). Developing countries have largely found themselves at the back of the queue when it comes to acquiring the wherewithal needed to combat the pandemic, whether it be from medical supplies, personal protective equipment or vaccines, demonstrating a lack of solidarity and a surfeit of short-sightedness among more advanced economies (UNCTAD, 2020[22]). A number of developing countries are even in dire need of oxygen (Usher, 2021[23]).

As the WHO’s Vaccine Equity Declaration puts it, the vaccine gap between advanced and developing economies is symptomatic of “catastrophic moral failure”, the price of which “will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries” (WHO, 2021[24]). At the time of writing (the second quarter of 2021), the situation is improving, with advanced economies substantially increasing the number of vaccines they are making available to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access initiative, better known as COVAX: a public-private partnership of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO (Gavi, 2021[25]). It will nonetheless take far longer for most developing countries to achieve the levels of vaccine coverage registered in advanced economies, which is just one of the reasons why developing countries will take much longer to recover from the pandemic.

It should also be noted that unprecedented real-time international co-operation among non-state actors in the scientific community around the world has been critical in allowing the production of a number of vaccines in record time. The best-known example is the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID), a public-private partnership for sharing data and genetic and viral material among laboratories around the world. Many similar initiatives exist, offering a possible vision for the future of scientific co-operation in the production of public goods in a broad range of areas (OECD, 2021[26]).

Cross-border partnerships between scientists and pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines have been instrumental in charting a way out of the crisis, and production of vaccines has relied on highly sophisticated global supply chains. As Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin put it in March 2021: “If you take the Pfizer vaccine, 280 materials go into making the Pfizer vaccine; 86 suppliers supply those materials from 19 countries around the world” (Kenny and Michalopoulos, 2021[27]). However, national rivalries have been evident in the race to produce and distribute vaccines: so-called vaccine nationalism is driving international legal disputes and calls for controls on exports. Meanwhile, developing countries are concerned that their contribution to initiatives such as GISAID is not fully recognised by the companies developing the vaccines (Van Noorden, 2021[28]).

It is not just natural disasters that (with considerable human help) spread discontent from one corner of the world to another. Trade itself – the foundation of international relations throughout history and the defining element of globalisation – has historically been as much a source of conflict as of mutual gain. As Smith recognised, “[commerce], which ought naturally to be, among nations as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship, has become the most fertile source of discord and animosity” (1776[37]). Of course, it is not just the global movement of goods that creates rivalries between – and upheaval within – countries: movement of capital and labour also generate gains for some and losses for others. Often, these exchanges favour the powerful over the weak, both within and between countries. At the same time, the externalities generated by the enhanced economic activity that globalisation catalyses can inflict incalculable harm on the planet as a whole. This is the story told by the first chapter of this report.

Popular protests have been part of the story of latter-day globalisation since the Battle of Seattle in November 1999, when some 40 000 anti-globalisation protesters disrupted the Third Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). These protests were not a one-off: they were followed in close succession by other large-scale demonstrations, most notably those outside the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, DC in 2000 and at a G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001. Further demonstrations were held in subsequent years (Badie, 2020[38]). These protests were significant not only because they articulated global discontent towards the global economic system but also because they heralded the emergence of a global civil society dedicated to holding international institutions to account. As such, they represented a turning point in global politics: as Levi and Olson explained, “[two] of the great forces of the modern era, the continuing globalisation of capital … versus the rapid progression in democratic decision-making norms, seem to be inevitably, fundamentally in conflict” (2000[39]).

To be sure, these were not the first protests against international organisations. Such demonstrations occurred across a number of developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s, often prompted by the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF (Auvinen, 1996[40]; Wignaraja, 1993[41]). The year 2000 itself was particularly restive in this regard, with numerous protests against national governments in developing countries about their acquiescence to the demands of the IMF, many or all of which were foisted on the population without any democratic process (Woodroffe and Ellis-Jones, 2000[42]). What the protests in Seattle did differently was to convey discontent directly to these institutions – and the system they represent – rather than blame governments. Moreover, the protesters came from a wide range of movements – some 700 NGOs were represented in Seattle – and thus voiced a more comprehensive (but inevitably less coherent) list of grievances than was the case in national-level protests (Gill, 2000[43]). Akin to the protests in Chile two decades later, their target was the system rather than a single element thereof.

At first glance, a rational division of labour might be visible, whereby bottom-up protests within countries are complemented by demonstrations at an international level. However, there are problems with this approach. The first problem relates to representation: whose interests were represented in Seattle and similar protests? As with any protest movement, there were tensions between those demanding reform and those who want radical change. These tensions in turn prompt disagreements about tactics, organisation and ideology, as well as more profound differences in identity (Rowe and Carroll, 2014[44]). These tensions were complicated by a second dimension, namely the tendency for protests in advanced economies to articulate the demands of groups from the Global North.

While the protesters expressed solidarity with the developing countries whose interests were being harmed by institutions dominated by advanced economies, civil society from those countries themselves did not have a voice in the demonstrations and might have said something very different if they had. As Gopal contends with reference to the different constituents of the Seattle protesters: “[the] mainstream American groups were often pushing demands opposed by their exact counterparts in major countries in the developing world, and the radical organisations did not really acknowledge the demands of radicals in other countries” (2001[45]). Moreover, there was no evidence of communication between the two groups. “Many of the American protest organisations seemed to insist that they spoke for the 'international community', combining an insistence on the 'voice of the poor' with few distinct or dissenting voices from poor nations. As a result they in some ways replicated the very power structures they claimed to oppose.”

Disagreement within the ranks of demonstrators raised a second fundamental constraint on the capacity of such movements to effect change. Large-scale mobilisations of the kind visible in Seattle and elsewhere are certainly an effective mechanism of dissent and able to challenge the legitimacy of international institutions; the global media coverage they typically attract has the capacity to sway public opinion and inspire protests globally (Bleiker, 2002[46]). They can also be effective on specific issues (Gill, 2000[43]). However, internal divisions limit their ability to promote a coherent, alternative vision. Perhaps most significantly, it is not necessarily obvious whom they are opposing, given there is no central regulatory authority of globalisation, and the institutions that regulate various facets of the international system comprise individual nation states. The political dynamics of these demonstrations were thus uncharted and remain unclear even today.

Even the principles of the anti-globalisation struggle are problematic. Transparency and democracy are traditionally considered to be intertwined with conceptions of the nation state (Bleiker, 2002[46]). Indeed, given the current status of democracy world wide, is it a potent or worthy unifying force for a global movement? As Bohman argues, there is a “ring of truth” to concerns about a lack of democracy at a global level, but democracy is no more likely to bring about fair outcomes at an international level than it is at a national level (where it is failing badly to do so, in many places): “Since existing democracies have helped to create the current global system, they can hardly be expected to promote global justice” (2006[47]).

Recognising the limitations of the Seattle protests (and others like them) is not the same as undervaluing these movements. Rather than closing the political space, Bleiker contends that globalisation has opened up new spheres of contestation, populated by new actors, new methods and new logics (2002[46]). For Gill, it is appropriate to see the protests as “new patterns of political agency and a movement that goes well beyond the politics of identity and difference: it has gender, race, and class aspects. It is connected to issues of ecological and social reproduction, and of course, to the question of democracy … It seeks to combine diversity with new forms of collective identity and solidarity in and across civil societies” (2000[43]). In other words, these movements are likely to evolve, aided by the fact that they cannot be repressed by the forces of globalisation since, as noted, there is no central regulatory authority that can repress them. In this way, “they open up possibilities for social change that are absent within the context of the established legal and political system” (Gill, 2000[43]).

There are commonalities with the protests discussed in Chapter 2: the absence of mainstream political parties, an absence of leadership, and a broad agenda that eschews specific policy demands in favour of calls for systemic change. However, there is no central authority to which anti-globalisation protests can issue their demands. While the achievements of a protest movement in a particular country might be visible (including a new constitution or transfer of power), protests against globalisation cannot expect similarly swift results (Panitch and Albo, 2016[48]).

Inequality starts at the top: in global institutions. Addressing inequality must start by reforming them … The nations that came out on top 70 years ago have refused to contemplate the reforms needed to change power relations in international institutions. (Guterres, 2020[49])

An ever-more interconnected world requires an ever-larger number of institutions to co-ordinate these exchanges (Sassen, 1991[50]). Sure enough, there has been a proliferation of such institutions over the past 30 years. If our starting point is that the excesses, imbalances and externalities of globalisation need to be controlled, the challenge for global governance is to build control on top of co-ordination in the absence of a central regulatory authority – an international government. In a system of sovereign states such as exists today under what is known as the Westphalian system, such control is problematic. In an international system based on competition, as is the case with the global economy, it is harder still: it implies countries voluntarily ceding a portion of the material rewards that accrue to sovereign states so that others might take a greater share. In a system where sovereign states are just one set of actors, the challenge becomes infinitely more complex.

The two strands of transnational discontent discussed above cast doubt on the effectiveness and legitimacy of global governance in regulating international exchange. The intertwined catastrophes of 2020 demonstrated international failure to provide and maintain global public goods and to collaborate in combating public bads. The Seattle protest and its successors have drawn global attention to the adverse social and environmental consequences of globalisation and the role of global institutions in propagating the inequalities and indignities that globalisation has produced – a critique conveyed by the UN Secretary General himself. If the objective is to attenuate discontent – contingent and structural – by creating a fairer, more sustainable world, it seems unquestionable that changes in global governance are required.

This section explores the evolution of the principal institutions of global governance since the Second World War to assess their legitimacy and effectiveness – the extent to which they have kept up with the times both in terms of the nature of global challenges and fair representation of the international community. Where they have not, their deficiencies contribute to vulnerability and inequalities within and between countries. Effectiveness and legitimacy are intertwined: as the successful co-operation of the international scientific community on COVID-19 demonstrates, it is not possible to devise solutions to global challenges without the inputs and expertise of countries around the world.

Examining the trajectory of multilateralism since the end of the Second World War sheds light on the state of global governance today. In briefly charting this evolution, this section identifies five key phases corresponding to the major developments in the international system. Inter-state relations drive a large part of the story but, over time, a particular set of ideas has become more important. By the fifth phase, the balance of power appears to have shifted away from nation states, as is discussed in the section that follows.

This section charts the evolution of global governance from January 1942, when the 26 countries allied in the war against Nazi Germany signed the Declaration by United Nations. This became the basis for the United Nations Charter, which was signed by 51 countries in October 1945, following the end of the Second World War. Before the United Nations Charter had been signed, 45 members of the United Nations gathered in Bretton Woods in the United States for the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in July 1944 “to establish the economic foundations of peace on the bedrock of genuine international cooperation” (World Bank, 2016[51]). It was widely recognised that economic instability following the Great Depression and associated beggar-thy-neighbours policies that hit international trade in the 1930s bore significant responsibility for the descent into war in 1939. This early articulation of multilateralism, rooted as it was in global conflict, had a profound impact on its evolution, hardwiring a state-centric, security-driven approach that endures to this day. Power politics were dominant, social issues secondary.

The institutions that emerged from the Bretton Woods conference were the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which later became part of the World Bank. The IMF’s mandate was to oversee the international monetary system, stabilise exchange rates and encourage countries to eliminate exchange restrictions that hindered trade. The IBRD’s mandate was to finance the reconstruction of countries affected by the conflict and fund investment in developing countries so that they could be integrated into the global trading system. John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White, the principal architects of the Bretton Woods system, opposed the free movement of international capital, seeing it as incompatible with the free movement of goods and a barrier to nations being able to pursue demand-management policies (Ghosh and Qureshi, 2016[52]).

Despite the centrality of trade to the post-conflict economic order, a proposal for an International Trade Organisation (ITO) proposed by the Bretton Woods institutions would not materialise for another 50 years. Until the WTO was finally established, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, an interim arrangement set up in 1947, served as the de facto governance arrangement for global trade. Developing countries – in particular, Brazil, Chile, China and India – were active in the negotiations over the ITO that led to the signing of the Havana Charter in 1948, arguing that global rules governing trade must reflect the need for developing countries to protect their own nascent industries to promote their development. The Havana Charter was signed by 53 of the 56 countries that took part in negotiations but, faced with opposition from the US administration, only ratified by one (UNCTAD, 2014[53]).

Inclusivity was an important principle of the Bretton Woods institutions in the early years. As the US Treasury Department put it in 1945, “[if] these two great international institutions are to achieve the mission which the world has so hopefully entrusted to their care, it will require the wholehearted and concerted cooperation of each of the member countries and their people” (World Bank, 2016[51]). However, the practice of pegging currencies to the US dollar (which was then pegged to the value of gold) underlined the primacy of the United States until the early 1970s, as did the location of each institution within sight of each other in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, the custom whereby the head of the World Bank is an American and the head of the IMF a European has ensured this bloc elevated status since then.

The predominance of the leading economies in both institutions has been codified in a much more substantial way through the allocation of voting rights. The IMF’s quota system, for example, determines contributions based on a country’s “relative position in the world economy” (as determined by their gross domestic product [GDP], openness and economic variability) and allocates votes on IMF decisions accordingly, as well as access to allocations of special drawing rights. The IMF reviews the quota system regularly, both with respect to the volume of quotas and their distribution. In 2010, it doubled the size of the quota, its largest one-time increase. However, changes in quotas must be approved by an 85% majority, which in effect gives a veto power to the United States (which holds 16.5% of the votes at the time of writing).

While the Bretton Woods institutions remain specialised agencies of the United Nations, in reality, they operate independently from the UN system. Where the UN system operates on a one country-one vote basis (with the United Nations Security Council providing a notable exception), the IMF and World Bank have been accused of operating on a one dollar-one vote basis (Singer and Reisen, 1995[54]). Developing countries have thus found their voice in the latter organisations to be limited, even as their number grew substantially in the years following the end of the Second World War. Another salient feature of the Bretton Woods institutions is that they tend to interact at the national level with finance ministries, which further limits the voices they hear.

Between the end of the Second World War and 1971, when the United States ended the dollar’s convertibility into gold, the Bretton Woods system oversaw a period of stability for the global economy characterised by strong growth, low inflation and sustained increases in trade among advanced economies. It allowed a model of what Ruggie (1982[55]) termed “embedded liberalism” to flourish, whereby advanced economies were able to combine openness to trade with full employment and the development of welfare states, thanks in no small part to restrictions on capital flows. Inequality remained low or declined over this period in many countries.

However, this golden age did little to support developing countries, which benefited only indirectly from the strength of the advanced economies and did not receive the levels of investment they required. As Ruggie puts it, “[the] compromise of embedded liberalism has never been fully extended to the developing countries [and] may well prove to be very nearly fatal for some of the poorer developing countries” (1982[55]). Ultimately, what is nowadays perceived as a golden age of international co-operation was managed by a small group of countries, predominantly for their own benefit.

Following the end of the Second World War, colonial arrangements collapsed, and dozens of former colonies were granted independence. Between 1945 and 1955, the number of member states of the United Nations rose from 51 to 76; by 1970, there were 127. Despite their rapid growth in number, developing countries were not granted a commensurate voice on the global stage, particularly in the prevailing global economic institutions discussed above.

The challenges confronting newly independent countries were acknowledged at the United Nations. During the 1950s, the United Nations discussed setting up a Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development to provide soft loans to newly independent countries, an idea that was supported by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics but opposed by the United States. The latter’s preference was for the World Bank to manage any fund that was set up for this task. The end result of these negotiations was the establishment of the United Nations Special Fund (UNSF) in 1959 and the International Development Association (IDA, which along with the IBRD formed the World Bank) in 1960 (Manzer, 1964[56]). With the world’s leading economies inclined to support the latter country over the former, the IDA prevailed.

The United Nations’ opportunity to provide finance directly to developing countries through an arrangement in which these countries had an equal voice was lost. To compensate the United Nations for this loss, the United States supported the establishment of the World Food Programme in 1961 to provide food aid through the UN system (Singer and Reisen, 1995[54]). Meanwhile, the technical support functions of the UNSF survived to form the basis of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1966.

Meanwhile, the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe following the Second World War set in motion a new front in multilateral co-operation. The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) was established in 1948 to prepare the European Recovery Package and allocate the Marshall Aid dollars. Its logic was one of economic co-operation as well as aid: representatives of the 18 member countries participated in 20 committees to discuss reconstruction initiatives; countries each had equal voice, and decisions were unanimous. In 1961, the OEEC was transformed into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with the accession of the United States and Canada.

In a context where the United Nations was expanding rapidly as a result of decolonisation, and membership of the IMF and the World Bank was also growing (although Cold War politics meant that this did not happen quite so fast), the OECD remained a selective institution. Membership expanded by only five countries between 1961 and 1994, with the accession of Italy (in 1962), Japan (1964), Finland (1969), Australia (1971) and New Zealand (1973). This selectiveness allowed the institution to develop a shared understanding of economics and public policy and to formulate norms and standards by which member countries’ policies could be assessed. These twin discourses – interpretive and normative – were neither diluted nor disputed by developing countries, which lacked a voice in the institution for the first 30 years.

The establishment in 1960 of the Development Assistance Group within the OEEC (which became the Development Assistance Committee [DAC] in the OECD) to co-ordinate donor policies among the advanced economies compounded the exclusion of developing countries. However, a consensus within the OECD that the organisation should engage with developing countries led to the creation in 1961 of the OECD Development Centre, at which OECD and non-OECD members meet as equals to share experiences.

Two defining events of the decolonisation phase in terms of providing developing countries with a voice took place simultaneously in 1964 with the creation of the Group of 77 and the first meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva. The events leading to Geneva had been set in motion almost a decade before at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, which brought together developing countries that did not wish to pick sides between the contestants of the Cold War and which in turn laid the foundation for the establishment in 1961 of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM, which was initially dominated by countries from Africa and Asia, called for international action on trade and development at its first summit in 1961. Latin American countries added their weight to this demand, leading to the United Nations General Assembly giving its approval to UNCTAD in the same year.

The first conference was organised by the first secretary-general of UNCTAD, Raúl Prebisch from Argentina, who sought to distance the conference from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the same time as he lobbied countries world wide and on both sides of the Iron Curtain in drawing up the agenda. Four thousand delegates from 120 countries attended the first conference, at which a new institutional machinery for sustaining the conference going forward was agreed, including the establishment of a secretariat, standing committee and group-based negotiations, as well as a commitment to reconvene UNCTAD every three years.

Developing countries formalised the solidarity they displayed at the first UNCTAD with the Joint Declaration of the 77 developing countries, which became the Group of 77 (G77). The G77, which has subsequently grown to 134 members, recognised UNCTAD to be the principal mechanism by which developing countries could articulate their economic interests. While the grouping was intended as a counterweight to the OECD, it lacked its organisational framework and was thus unable to agree on a proposed alternative to the status quo; interregional unity was not always forthcoming (UNCTAD, 2014[53]). In the absence of a G-77 secretariat, the grouping depended on UNCTAD for its policy agenda; this created tensions between the grouping and UNCTAD, which had to “function in a dual capacity – part servants of all the member countries, part creators of Group of 77 policies” (UNCTAD, 2014[53]).

The 1960s and 1970s are often considered as the golden years of UNCTAD. During this period, it launched a number of agreements intended to support the interests and needs of developing countries in global trade, including around trade and competition policies. It was also a driving force behind the target for advanced economies to devote 0.7% of their GDP as official development assistance to developing economies, and it was instrumental in identifying the specific needs of the Least Developed Countries, for whom UNCTAD became the focal point in the UN system.

UNCTAD achieved less in terms of empowering developing countries on the global stage. As UNCTAD puts it, its first two decades were “responsible for creating a high anxiety and politically embarrassing challenge to the powers that be than doing them any substantial harm” (2014[53]). However, the very existence of UNCTAD influenced the conduct of other organisations, including the Bretton Woods institutions, and created a mechanism for economic interactions between the Global North and Global South.

As Walters argues, UNCTAD has been highly successful in “articulating, aggregating, and communicating political demands of least developed countries vis-à-vis advanced industrial states” (1971[57]). He contrasts UNCTAD’s value for political communication with its limited potential as a platform for negotiation, reflecting not only the resistance of advanced economies but also the challenges inherent to forging a common position from such a diversity of approaches as espoused by developing countries. As Box 5.2 argues with reference to migration, the exclusion of developing countries from the mechanisms of international co-operation is a major constraint both on their development and in finding workable global solutions.

UNCTAD argues that it was progressively “defanged” as a forum for North-South contestation in the 1980s and as a means of challenging liberalisation, a process that started with the appointment of a secretary-general from the United States and concluded with the creation of the WTO (2014[53]). However, this contestation did not disappear; rather, it was displaced to the streets of Seattle.

The period following the Second World War generated a plethora of theories about development economics. First the Marshall Plan then the decolonisation wave sparked considerable debate about how countries from the Global South could achieve living standards for their population comparable with those of advanced economies. Developing countries implemented a variety of strategies to confront what soon emerged as a highly complex challenge, which are detailed in Perspectives on Global Development 2019 (OECD, 2018[60]). Typically, these approaches had in common an active role for the state in the management of the economy based around a strategy for trade and industrialisation, although in the 1970s, there was a greater focus on alleviating mass poverty and meeting basic needs, which implied greater concern with redistributive policies and inequality.

From the late 1970s onwards, optimism that developing countries could (with support from advanced economies) engineer economic convergence with the Global North dissipated. By the end of the 1970s, many developing countries faced large balance of payments deficits, were heavily in debt and in certain cases confronted hyperinflation. At the same time, the advanced economies experienced disenchantment with their own economic models brought about by the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, oil shocks and stagflation. In both domains, the legitimacy of the government’s role in the economy was called into question; monetarism and neo-classical economics rapidly gained in popularity in advanced economies.

These trends culminated in the Washington Consensus, a policy paradigm embraced with equal enthusiasm by the political establishment of the United States and the Bretton Woods institutions based in the country’s capital (Kuczynski and Williamson, 2003[61]). The underlying principle of the Washington Consensus was the primacy of the market over the state: liberalising trade and capital flows was seen as the most effective means of encouraging economic growth, while state intervention in the economy fostered inefficiency and corruption. As the OECD puts it, “[government] was often regarded as more of a problem than a solution for economic and social progress, and state-led development came to an end” (2018[60]).

Debt crises in developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union provided multiple opportunities for the World Bank and the IMF to enforce the Washington Consensus, which became central to structural adjustment policies that accompanied loans from these institutions. In the interests of macroeconomic stability, countries were instructed to reduce fiscal deficits (by eliminating subsidies, curbing social spending and increasing their tax base); liberalise trade, financial and capital accounts; privatise public assets, and secure property rights. The elimination of poverty was considered possible only if macro- and micro-level imbalances were corrected. Strong public institutions were recognised as important, but only insofar as they established conditions appropriate for the functioning of markets (Saad-Filho, 2010[62]).

The spread of the Washington Consensus demonstrated the power of the United States both in the global economy and in the institutions with greatest influence over the fate of developing economies. The diversity of experiences and complexity of challenges that had emerged from developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s was reduced to a narrow set of policy prescriptions that circumscribed states’ ability to promote policies that were embedded within their own societies or consistent with the state-building projects of newly independent countries (Lopes, 2012[63]). By this logic, failure to catch up was the fault of developing countries rather than a consequence of structural factors in the global economy or a result of their history. Ever-more expansive and intrusive conditionalities attached to external loans shrunk developing countries’ domestic policy options.

UN organisations attempted to counter the emphasis on market-based solutions. The UNDP launched the Human Development Report in 1990, which placed people at the centre of development, while UNICEF demonstrated that the poorest in developing countries were often hardest hit by structural adjustment programmes (1987[64]). Taking note of reversals in many child-related development outcomes during the 1980s, UNICEF called for “Adjustment with a Human Face”.

The differing experiences of developing countries during the two decades that the Washington Consensus was dominant exposed its shortcomings. While Africa and Latin America both experienced lost decades in the 1980s, Asia’s emerging economies experienced rapid growth and structural change while ignoring prescriptions against the state’s involvement in the economy. Asia also demonstrated the risks of volatility and contagion developing countries faced in liberalising their markets when a financial crisis struck multiple economies in the region simultaneously in 1997. The insistence that the countries affected must keep their markets open while significantly increasing interest rates generated divisions within the World Bank and between the World Bank and the IMF (Saad-Filho, 2010[62]; Stiglitz, 2002[65]).

The thinking of multilateral institutions (in particular, the World Bank) evolved in the post-Washington Consensus period towards a greater focus on the importance of social safety nets and the need for prudential capital account regulations, not to mention working more closely with countries to ensure ownership of policies. A more holistic approach to development emerged, ushered in by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which prioritised poverty alleviation and other basic needs in developing countries. It was accepted that measuring a country’s development requires looking beyond GDP. The SDGs expanded the focus even further, not only by significantly increasing the objectives but also by directing them at all countries, regardless of income level.

By the end of the 1990s, the Bretton Woods institutions had demonstrated their power and ideological loyalties, which had led them far from their original mandate. The voice, agency and even sovereignty of countries in the Global South were disregarded. While the most extreme interpretations of the Washington Consensus were moderated from the 1990s onwards, market-led economic growth remained a cornerstone of development thinking. In ideational terms, neoclassical frameworks have incorporated pro-poor growth theories and real-world success stories through the inclusive growth paradigm without challenging the primacy of the markets or recognising the external or historical factors on which a country’s development might depend.

Since the turn of the 21st century, the sustained rise of Asia’s economies, in particular China, has challenged the primacy of the advanced economies, as well as the alliances and institutions through which this primacy is articulated and the ideological foundations of the Washington Consensus. This fundamental change to the global economic geography has opened up new models, new opportunities and new institutions for development around which the Global South can co-operate beyond the influence of the Global North. Indeed, such are the gaps that are appearing between advanced and developing countries that the latter are having to choose where their loyalties and interests lie.

While non-OECD economies in general have increased their share of global GDP during the 2000s, the growth in India’s and China’s contribution is particularly dramatic, as discussed in Chapter 1. A total of 83 countries were converging in the 2000s, meaning that they had a GDP per capita growth rate of more than twice that of the overall high-income OECD GDP growth rate (OECD, 2010[66]). The global economy’s centre of gravity moving towards the east and south – from OECD members to emerging economies – has become known as “shifting wealth”. Asia’s rise coincided with a sharp reduction in global poverty and the growth of middle classes globally noted in Chapter 1, driven in particular by India and China.

This shifting of the global economic geography has given strong impetus to South-South co-operation. By 2010, developing countries accounted for around 42% of global merchandise trade, with South-South flows making up about half of that total. In contrast to a drop in North-North trade and stagnation in South-North trade, South-South trade remained dynamic even after the global financial crisis. China accounts for almost half of South-South exports (OECD, 2018[60]). There has also been an increase in South-South financial flows, principally directed through three channels: increased remittances; growing corporate equity participation via mergers and acquisitions, as well as greenfield foreign direct investment by emerging multinational companies (particularly through Special Economic Zones); and an extension of bilateral and multilateral bank credit supply, notably by China.

South-South co-operation is driving new trends in development assistance. Emerging donors such as Brazil, China, the Gulf States, India, Malaysia, Russia and Thailand are providing increasingly significant volumes of development assistance, although only a small proportion meets the criteria for Official Development Assistance specified by the DAC. New modalities of development assistance have also emerged, which combine financial support with knowledge sharing, capacity building and new tools of engagement, reflecting the fact that developing countries cannot escape the traps described in this report with money alone. Financing is a catalyst and development assistance a multifaceted facilitator for countries to implement their own development strategies (OECD/CAF/ECLAC/EU, 2019[67]).

In the 2000s, China became a global leader in official bank credit for infrastructure funding, which mostly benefited Africa, and it established several bilateral and multilateral funds around the world, in addition to two policy banks, the China Development Bank and the Export Import Bank of China. In 2015, the Global South sent out its most direct challenge to the power of the North with the establishment of two multilateral financial institutions: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank by the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Thanks to their high capitalisation and lending capacity, as well as their specific focus on infrastructure, these institutions have the potential to be a game changer in global development (OECD, 2018[60]).

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), initiated in 2013, is a physical manifestation of China’s global emergence and the country’s importance for developing countries. In economic terms, the BRI intends to promote connectivity and economic co-operation across large parts of Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe by vastly improving infrastructure across these regions: the capital needs for fully implementing the BRI have been estimated to reach USD 8 trillion (United States dollar). The initiative aims to reach more than 60% of the world population in 87 countries and cover over 50% of global trade by the time it is completed in 2049. Concerns have been expressed about the debt implications for the countries involved in the BRI (Bandiera and Tsiropoulos, 2020[68]), as well as the initiative’s environmental impact (Ascensão et al., 2018[69]).

The shifting wealth period coincided with continued acceleration of liberalisation and globalisation. While some developing economies, notably in Asia, benefited significantly from global interconnectedness, many did not. As Primi and Toselli explain with reference to industrial production globally, “the success story of developing economies in the last decades remains anchored to the rise of China and, to some extent, to a few other South East Asian economies. Success stories from Africa and Latin America exist, but remain isolated” (2020[70]). Looking ahead, the authors recognise that Industry 4.0 is a potential game changer for developing countries, with “new technologies … opening opportunities for developing countries to address development gaps at a speed and with a pervasiveness not imaginable before”. However, they warn that “[growing] marginalisation could be around the corner”, because some developing countries are presently unable to take advantage of the possibilities offered by these new technologies. “Gaps in internet speed, quality, and safety, as well as in skills and technological capabilities could seriously hinder the capacity to participate in the digital globally interconnected production systems of the future”, they argue, adding that these same gaps could also exacerbate within-country inequalities in developing countries.

The countries whose global power has risen most this century have often pursued economic policies and systems of governance that are fundamentally different in certain ways to those of advanced economies. The idea that development necessarily involves a transition to a Western-style economy is challenged as never before: developing countries have distinct models they can follow and, in each case, can access institutions that will support them. If this decoupling becomes a rivalry between two systems (and there are growing indications that it will), then developing countries might be obliged to choose between them rather than take advantage of the current extent of global interconnectedness to operate partially in both. A new division, akin to that which separated countries during the Cold War, might appear, based not on ideology but on differing and incompatible models of governance and economic policy.

As international transactions multiplied and interconnectedness intensified during the shifting wealth era, myriad new agreements and institutions were established on a bilateral, regional and global basis. New non-state actors entered the global development space, in particular philanthropic organisations. The growing complexity of global interconnectedness and the multiplication of actors have led to a fragmentation of the multilateral system, which was compounded by emerging international rivalries. However, the growing interconnectedness (not only economic but also social), as well as emerging threats, meant that global rules and standards remained essential, even without a single, universally accepted institutional architecture for their enforcement (Dervis, 2019[71]).

Global trade governance is a case in point. The so-called Doha round of WTO negotiations, which were partly intended to promote the interests of developing countries, has made little progress since 2001. Moreover, the WTO’s capacity to resolve trade disputes has been severely weakened by political disagreements over the Appellate Body, which is empowered to provide the final word on such disputes in instances where countries were unable to reach agreement based on the findings of a legal panel. Since 2017, the Body has been rendered inquorate by a failure to approve nominees for fixed-term positions on the panel. As Grozoubinski puts it, “In the midst of a pandemic and escalating global protectionism, the WTO's paralysed dispute settlement system, largely immobilised negotiations, and chronically underutilised monitoring and compliance function, are groaning under the weight of trade tensions, unilateralism, and neglect” (2020[72]).

Nonetheless, the shifting wealth period produced three landmarks in international co-operation: in 2015-16, countries gave their support to the SDGs, the Paris Climate Accords and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. These far-reaching agreements represent a universal commitment to a fairer and more sustainable world that places all countries on equal footing. However, these agreements present challenges of their own to developing countries. The SDGs will require a massive financial commitment from developing countries – even more so following the setbacks imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic (Benedek et al., 2021[73]; OECD, 2020[74]). Meanwhile, developing countries will need to align their development strategies (and in particular, their industrial policies) to the Paris Climate Accords. Countries whose economy is based in part on fossil fuels confront considerable uncertainty around the nature and timing of international commitments to reducing carbon emissions (Box 5.3).

The COVID-19 pandemic is widely expected to serve as another inflection point in the history of international co-operation. Given the pandemic is ongoing as this report is written, it is too early to tell how this era will be characterised. For the time being, however, “the crisis era” seems appropriate.

This is an era of crisis in two senses. First, there are the various crises the world confronts, including not only the pandemic and associated social and economic crises but also the unfolding environmental catastrophe and the large-scale humanitarian crises unfolding in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and elsewhere. On top of these, there are the crises of inequality and democracy and, of course, the crisis of discontent.

At the same time, there is a crisis in international co-operation. The growing rivalry between China and the United States is being touted by some as a new cold war (McFaul, 2020[82]). International co-operation is fracturing, even in well-established regional blocs or security arrangements. The support for economic openness is giving way to protectionist instincts. Developing countries still find themselves last in line, despite their growing importance.

These two sets of crises are clearly interlinked and, as such, mutually reinforcing. They also flow directly from events of the previous four eras sketched out here. The SDGs and the Paris Climate Accords have the potential to chart a new approach to international co-operation and to address the most profound threats. However, they cannot do so without a clearer understanding of what underpins the crisis era – phenomena that can be traced to the primacy of private interests in national and international affairs, as discussed in the next section.

No son los sistemas sino sus excesos los que deshumanizan la historia. (García Márquez, 1989[83])

The transition from the shifting wealth era to the crisis era prompts two questions. First, how did we move so quickly from the high point of the SDGs and Paris Climate Accords to the discord of the crisis era? Second, why was it that the United States, which had historically exercised such influence on the institutions and evolution of the international system, would withdraw from international co-operation on the basis that it undermines the country’s interests? Both questions require global governance to be examined from an alternative perspective to that of traditional geopolitics. This section examines who exercises control in the world of latter-day globalisation, a world in which it is commonly claimed that “nobody is in charge” (Steger, 2008[84]).

As a first step, it is necessary to look beyond nation states as the principal unit of analysis, important though they are to the story of the crisis era (Box 5.4). This involves recognising the shortcomings of the Westphalian system, which is based on sovereign states. As Strange argues, the symbiotic relationship between state and market development under the Westphalian system created three systemic failures that cannot be resolved politically: the failure “to manage and control the financial system … to act for the protection of the environment [and] to preserve a socio-economic balance between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak” (1999[85]). “The Westfailure system”, she concludes, “is thus failing Capitalism, the Planet and global (and national) civil society.”

It is difficult to dispute the three weak spots she identifies, which are at the heart of the crisis era. Central to her view of international relations is power, specifically what constitutes power in the international system and who possesses it (Strange, 1991[86]). This entails examining the role of transnational corporations as lead actors on the world stage. “Major enterprises have outgrown national markets, national laws and national financial markets and have begun to produce for a global market according to a global corporate strategy … [They] cannot help exercising a major influence on the nature of the international political economy.” At every point, Strange asked the question “cui bono?”: who benefits from the international system? The answer is very rarely developing countries, which she argued were compelled to open up to transnational enterprises (partly as a result of structural adjustment programmes) despite the negative consequences for their own development (Strange, 1994[87]).

Strange’s thinking prompted a broader exploration of the non-state actors with influence on the international system, such as NGOs and social movements. A broader definition of global governance emerged, as articulated by Avant, Finnemore and Sell: “[global] governors are authorities who exercise power across borders for purposes of affecting policy. Governors thus create issues, set agendas, establish and implement rules or programs, and evaluate and/or adjudicate outcomes” (2010[88]). This perspective yields a clearer understanding of the unprecedented international power wielded by private actors.

The Washington Consensus increased the power of the private sector. Policy prescriptions around liberalisation and privatisation – new markets and small states – opened the door for businesses across developing countries, as mentioned earlier. Yet the same logic as was behind the Washington Consensus was also transforming advanced economies. At this point, it is impossible not to mention the term “neoliberal economics”, despite the contestation around the term: this is “neoliberalism” in the tradition of Hayek (1944[89]), a contemporary of Polanyi’s whose view of the relationship between state and market was radically opposed. This section follows the definition set out by Brenner, Peck and Theodore of neoliberalism as “market-disciplinary regulatory restructuring”, which plays out in different ways depending on the historical context and which takes effect gradually rather than overnight (2010[90]).

The literature linking neoliberalism to discontent is vast and includes the placards held aloft at protests globally. The present analysis focuses on two aspects of neoliberalism. First, its endless logic of creating new markets and new spaces for wealth creation has become increasingly intertwined with globalisation. Even in countries such as China and Viet Nam, which have adopted a development model that retains a strong role for the state, neoliberal spaces have been established. In the case of Viet Nam, this is the foreign investment sector, which exists at a remove from the national economy; China’s Special Economic Zones have a similar logic (OECD, 2021[91]; OECD, 2020[92]). As Ong explains, neoliberalism has been used experimentally across emerging Asia, where governments “carve up their own territory so they can better engage and compete in global markets”, selectively applying neoliberal governance mechanisms to certain regions and certain people (2006[93]).

The second aspect is the reinforcing logic of neoliberalism. Brenner recognises that neoliberal models are unevenly applied in various contexts; the ensuing friction with existing models often leads to crisis (1999[94]). What is notable is that the logic of neoliberalism tends to win out: as the austerity that followed the global financial crisis demonstrated, the solution to a crisis created in part by neoliberalism tends to include more neoliberalism. This reflects a challenge to the Polanyian thesis of a double movement: Polanyi assumed that popular resistance to the relentless incursion of the market into social life, with its commodification of labour and nature, would cause governments to adopt countervailing policies. These seem in short supply. The Thatcherian mantra “there is no alternative” is complemented by a second dictum: “there is no going back”.

There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said ‘no’. But somehow we missed it. (Stoppard, 1994[100])

The apparent inevitability and irreversibility of neoliberalism jars with democratic principles. If neoliberalism is such a cause of social disruption (and environmental destruction), why cannot countries simply say “no”? Put another way, how does neoliberalism become locked in across countries, from the very poorest to the very wealthiest? To answer this requires looking at the operating system for today’s globalised and digitalised economy: underpinning the billions or even trillions of daily cross-border transactions, worth billions or even trillions of US dollars, there must be an architecture, otherwise the global economy would collapse very quickly. Where there is an operating system, there is by definition design and control, otherwise known as a protocol (Galloway, 2004[101]).

A protocol may be thought of in terms of code, commands and communication. In the global economic system, these can be considered as analogous to the legal basis of each transaction, the broader legislative framework within which these operate and the networks that transmit knowledge and ensure compliance. All three elements are increasingly influenced by private actors, attesting to – and reinforcing – their growing prominence in the international system. This protocol is an inextricable part of the global economic growth story of the past three decades; it has also hardwired inequality and disregard for the environment into daily life. Division, discontent and disaster follow.

To begin with the legal aspect, or the “code” of the international system, Bethlehem contends that the world faces challenges today “which in many respects, and certainly in scale, go beyond Westphalian conceptions of society and Westphalian conceptions of international law” (2014[102]). Drawing attention to the legal architecture for cross-border exchanges that are essential parts of daily life, such as sending an email, he continues,

[the] Law of Nations, in terms of volume and importance, certainly as measured in economic terms, is increasingly being pressed into the service of private actors, to facilitate their engagements and transactions. The states may still be the legislators, but they are now only seldom the intended and ultimate subjects of this globalized, and globalizing, law as it trickles down and forms into rivers of legal principles that flow round the rocks of territorial sovereignty and national boundaries and independence that only momentarily cause a diversion in the directionality and quantum of the private engagements that the law is ultimately designed to serve.

This argument is echoed by Pistor, who argues that lawyers have become increasingly influential in modern capitalism, where “global capital exists and thrives without a global state or a global law” (2019[103]).

International law, in the public sense of the term, is struggling to keep up with the pace of change in a globalised and digitalised world. This situation renders even the most powerful of states ever-less able to exercise control over the functioning of the global economy. As Bethlehem puts it,

[while] international law has developed flexible rules and practices of interpretation, it has neither an effective approach to legal revision and reform nor a well-developed concept of desuetude [disuse]. The result is that increasingly aged treaties and other crystallized rules of international law are left to carry the burden of addressing conduct, and of shaping an international system, that may bear little relation to the conduct and system for which the rules were originally crafted. (2014[102])

Gill contends that global governance in the Westphalian sense has given way to a “New Constitutionalism”, which “relies upon the market, especially the capital market to discipline economic agents” and to lock in neoliberal policies (1998[104]). This discipline is based on three pillars: confidence, credibility and an “appropriate business climate”. In a context where foreign capital is increasingly important to a country’s economic prospects and increasingly mobile, new constitutionalism achieves a separation of the economic from the political within states: policy is (to a significant extent) imposed exogenously, drastically narrowing the space for democratic processes to determine a country’s direction. While market primacy and protection of private interests are locked in, popular-democratic and parliamentary forces are locked out of crucial economic, social and ecological decisions (Gill, 2000[43]).

Gill points to three sets of processes at work in new constitutionalism (1998[104]). The first is reconfiguring the state “to make governments operate as facilitators of, and also operate within the context of, market values and market discipline” (1998[104]). This includes an emphasis on being transparent to global financial institutions, meaning states are required “to prove their credibility, and thus make the power of capital more precise and effective” (1998[104]). Consistency and predictability of policy are also privileged: governments must make long-term commitments to market-friendly policies.

Some of the most influential oversight institutions are private, for example international debt ratings agencies. These institutions, particularly the three most powerful, play an outsized role in determining a country’s capacity to borrow yet they operate with little transparency, scant accountability and minimal regulation, and they confront major conflicts of interest (Li, 2021[105]). With many developing countries on the brink of a pandemic-induced sovereign debt crisis, these agencies have an ever-more important role; as argued by UNCTAD, the case for a public ratings agency is compelling (2020[106]).

The second is the construction of markets and simultaneous strengthening of private property rights. This entails the “imposition of internal and external constitutional controls on public institutions: partly to prevent national interference with the property rights and entry and exit options of holders of mobile capital with regard to particular political jurisdictions” (Gill, 1998[104]). Last, new constitutionalism requires pre-emptive incorporation of the Polanyian double movement in recognition that societies will push back against the impositions described above and the dislocations that result. This third pillar, he argues, is evident in international advocacy around “targeting real material concessions” to the poorest people and engaging with civil society (particularly NGOs and business associations) to ensure pro-market policies gain credibility with middle classes.

The third aspect of the protocol relates to how it is communicated. Best practice guides and communities of practice produced and maintained by international organisations allow diffusion of the policies of new constitutionalism, but they are far from alone: any of the “new global governors” plugged into international networks are able to communicate the fundamental principles of new constitutionalism. As Peck and Theodore discuss, global networks are able to diffuse new policy ideas with great speed (2015[107]) through what Brenner, Peck and Theodore describe as “new inter-jurisdictional circuits for the promotion, legitimation, and delivery of neoliberal policy templates, mediated through an increasingly influential cadre of experts and ‘technopols’” (2010[108]). While contending that these templates can be applied anywhere and at any scale, the authors emphasise that policies do not look the same in all places, acknowledging that they vary according to the specific institutional landscape with which they interact.

At the same time, strategies for locking in this economic model combine to create a global-level discourse or narrative around new constitutionalism that portrays it to be the only rational approach to economic life and demonstrates that there really is no alternative. The policies and institutions – national and international – of the post-war consensus are anathema. As Brenner, Peck and Theodore argue, there has been “a direct inversion of historically entrenched national/global relations. The “global” is no longer seen as a derivative product of nationally steered institutionalizations. Instead, globally constituted forces and interests, institutionalized in the form of various multilateral apparatuses, impose strict market discipline on national states, regardless of their structural position in the world order” (2010[90]).

The protocol of latter-day globalisation explains how, even in the world’s leading economies and even amid a period of sustained growth, large numbers of people became increasingly dissatisfied with the economy. It also shows how countries in Africa and Latin America were especially vulnerable to the prescriptions of new constitutionalism due to their debt crises of the 1980s and 1990s, which (it was claimed) had demonstrated the folly of national developmentalism and imposed regulatory policies on them as part of structural adjustment programmes. At a more fundamental level, the increasing weakness of the Westphalian system (and the states on which it is based), the exclusion of economic policy from the terrain of domestic politics and the ideational hegemony of new constitutionalism are severely narrowing the potential for resistance and alternatives, no matter how urgently these are needed. For states, the consequence is sovereignty without autonomy; for voters, it implies freedom without choice. There is no voice, no exit, and loyalty is rapidly diminishing.

This recalls and extends the discussion of the closure of political and policy space in Chapter 4. In a globalised world run according to the precepts of new constitutionalism, the policy space, institutions and individuals to the right of the red line might be thought of as breaking away from those on the left-hand side: a fracture replaces the red line. The most important policies, which are invariably aligned to the wishes of the politically and economically influential, adhere to an internationally approved framework rather than a political settlement reached within a society. The winners in these fractured societies arguably have more in common materially and culturally with the winners from other countries than they do with those within their own society. Of course, the same is true for those on the left-hand side of the line, who increasingly find themselves in solidarity with the disadvantaged in other countries. The globalised world may be borderless, but social frontiers of inequality are ever-more significant in the international arena.

Gill sees the protests in Seattle as exemplifying the most (perhaps the only) viable way out of this stranglehold. In his words, they are a response to the challenge of “how to imagine and to theorise the new forms of collective political identity and agency that might lead to the creation of new, ethical, and democratic political institutions and forms of practice” (2000[43]). They represent “a movement that goes well beyond the politics of identity and difference: it has gender, race, and class aspects. It is connected to issues of ecological and social reproduction, and of course, to the question of democracy.” Indeed, the strength of these movements might derive in part from their diversity, which reflects the interconnected and systematic nature of the challenges they confront (2000[43]).

Steger sees in these movements evidence of a “global imaginary” – a growing tendency for individuals around the world to consider themselves less as part of a national community and more as part of a global community (2008[84]). According to the author, this global imaginary, which is intrinsically linked to globalisation, has evolved from being a largely economic outlook built on market liberalisation in the 1990s to a more socially conscious vision. This articulation fosters not only an awareness of global injustice but also a solidarity among individuals in difficult countries, as demonstrated by the rapid spread of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Steger sees an ideological challenge in the emerging global imaginary as. Portraying the ideologies of the 20th century as inextricable from the nation state (and national imaginaries), he questions their continuing relevance as nation states weaken amid “unprecedented challenges to their authority from both subnational and supranational collectivities” (2008[84]). This idea of emerging and fading ideologies based on global and national imaginaries, respectively, raises the possibility of what Sassen terms a tipping point – a moment when the logic for conceptualising and organising the national and international changes, as occurred (for instance) with the Bretton Woods system and the post-war consensus (2006[109]). The dichotomy might also shed light on the complexities of today’s political context.

On the one hand, there might be considerable overlap in the agendas of the globalists and nationalists (narrowly defined here according to Steger’s vision). Both constituencies are likely to agree strongly on the need for greater protection from the vagaries of economic globalisation, including through stronger rights for workers. On the other, they are likely to disagree about which institutions are best suited to address these questions and might argue about issues such as the environment. At a deeper level, their different imaginaries are likely to reflect different values and cultures; they might also have different temporal perspectives – one nostalgic, the other focused on the future. It is unclear to what extent national politics can mediate between these different perspectives; at present, they tend to be cast against each other despite their strong common interests, thereby fracturing an important opposition to market supremacy and a potent coalition for change.

Rodrik identifies an inescapable trilemma between economic hyperglobalisation, national sovereignty and democracy according to which only two of the three are possible at any one time (2011[110]). The evidence presented in this chapter suggests that the situation is starker still: hyperglobalisation seems to be incompatible with either democracy or sovereignty in the way these terms were understood 30 years ago. In both cases, this severely undermines humanity’s capacity for collective action to address the sources of discontent. This section examines how a multilateralism that is at once empowered and empowering can chart a route out of this impasse based on new institutional configurations, new alliances and new ways of thinking and working.

The global power of the private sector is reflected in the growing reliance upon market-based mechanisms to address global challenges. Efforts to protect the environment are a good example. The United Nations Environment Programme argues that private-sector involvement will be essential if the world is to achieve the fourfold increase in investment in nature-based solutions by 2050 required to meet its climate change, biodiversity and land degradation targets (2021[111]). It is also hoped that investors will sanction companies that lack a credible strategy for reducing emissions and support those capable of designing the technology needed to remove carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere, although Pistor argues neither outcome can be taken for granted (2021[112]). Batini et al. calculate the large fiscal multipliers generated by adopting green technology in arguing for clean energy and biodiversity conservation to form part of stimulus measures for a post-COVID-19 recovery (2021[113]). The campaign to protect biodiversity is increasingly putting a price on natural capital to promote its inclusion in national accounts, thereby ensuring it is properly valued (Banerjee, Cicowiez and Vargas, 2020[114]; Chami et al., 2020[115]).

This logic was evident in the debt-for-nature swap agreed by the Seychelles in 2017, whereby the government established large marine reserves for climate resilience, fishery management, biodiversity conservation and ecotourism in exchange for official debt worth USD 27 million (Fuller et al., 2018[116]). Given humanity’s urgent need to protect biodiversity globally – and the cost this implies for developing countries – this approach offers a possible basis for debt negotiations with developing countries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (Ainio, 2020[117]; Steele and Patel, 2020[118]; UNDP, 2017[119]).

The private sector also has a key role in helping countries to achieve the SDGs. The OECD recognises the importance of foreign direct investment (FDI) in helping countries to meet the SDGs as well as the potential for FDI to have adverse social or environmental consequences (2019[120]). It also acknowledges that capital markets can serve as a catalyst for achieving the step change in financing required to achieve the SDGs. The OECD calculates that aligning just 1.1% of total financial assets held by banks, institutional investors and asset managers globally would be enough to fill the financing for sustainable development gap, noting that a significant and growing proportion of these assets is already dedicated to environmental, social and governance objectives (2020[74]).

Philanthropic organisations are increasingly important in the financing for sustainable development landscape: in 2018, they spent USD 7.8 billion on activities that count as development assistance, equivalent to 5% of total official development assistance recorded by the DAC that year (OECD, 2020[121]). Foundations are not only acting unilaterally but also, in some cases, are combining with other organisations, such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, established as a public-private partnership by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.

While operating within the logic of the market, international organisations are nonetheless playing their role in promoting public interests and inclusion. For example, the OECD (2019[122]) and the IMF (2019[123]) are leading efforts to promote carbon pricing and energy taxation to ensure that polluters pay an appropriate price for the harm they cause to the environment. This work serves as the basis for an equitable transition in countries at all income levels, with the OECD specifically recognising the complexities that developing countries confront during the transition to cleaner energy sources (2021[124]). The OECD also explains how sovereign wealth funds, whose asset portfolio is weighted heavily towards non-renewable natural resources, can become key players in the low-carbon transition (2020[125]).

The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative of the OECD and G20 operates possesses a different logic vis-à-vis the private sector. It represents a direct challenge to the aggressive tax planning that is a by-product of the liberalisation of global capital flows. For a long time, international tax co-operation focused on ensuring that individuals or entities with economic activities or assets in more than one country were not taxed twice; nowadays, the challenge is to make sure that they are taxed at all. Estimated to cost countries up to USD 240 billion annually in foregone revenue, BEPS disproportionately affects developing countries, which are more reliant on corporate income tax than OECD countries (OECD, 2013[126]).

At present, over 139 countries and jurisdictions co-operate through the Inclusive Framework on BEPS to tackle tax avoidance, improve the coherence of international tax rules and ensure a more transparent tax environment. As part of this, the framework is working to modernise international tax standards to address the digital economy, where many companies are now able to develop significant market share in a country without the physical presence on which taxing rights traditionally rely. This is a challenge with significant ramifications, affecting many of the largest and most influential firms in the world and seeking to reform the legal framework for an increasing portion of the global economy (OECD, 2020[127]). The agreement by the Group of Seven nations in June 2021 to support the creation of a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15% might turn out to be a watershed for international tax cooperation (Thomas and Lawder, 2021[128]).

The OECD’s work on BEPS, which goes far beyond the organisation’s 38 member countries, is indicative of how Bethlehem sees the role of international organisations evolving (2014[102]). He draws a distinction between New York and Geneva. In the former, he sees the institutions that represent the old international order – the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. In them, he sees a system “rooted in states; in sovereignty and equality; in notions of domestic jurisdiction and non-intervention; in boundaries; in majority votes and vetoes; in hard power, soft power, and smart power, but power nonetheless; in geographic blocs, persuasion, and regional influence rooted in the principles of the Westphalian system and engaged in power.”

In Geneva, by which he means the UN specialised agencies and similar institutions based there and elsewhere, he sees organisations that “are at the sharp end of the world of the future – focused on cyber, on food security, on pandemic health scares, on the interconnectedness of the global trade and financial system … Big Power politics is less frequently in evidence. Cooperation across boundaries, and despite them, is the modus operandi. These two worlds intersect, of course, but their vantage points and visions are very different.”

For Bethlehem, this Geneva must be at the heart of the project to make international law capable of confronting the challenges of today. “If international law is not to become a drag on the international system, it will need to come up with ways that better allow the efficient and effective revision and reform of the law to meet changing circumstances. In some form or other, this is increasingly likely to require a delegation of law-making authority from states to international organizations, with all of the political grit that this is likely to entail” (2014[102]). However, this cannot occur if international organisations are not perceived as legitimate ex ante: they must be “better enabled, more accountable, and less politicized. Issues on the reform agenda range from representation to decision-making to accountability to bureaucratic management and oversight”.

This call for a fundamental rethinking of the institutional architecture of international relations echoes Mitrany, who outlined a functionalist view of the world whereby the role of states was complemented by the involvement of an international network of economic and social institutions (1943[129]). Mitrany perceived the state as being too strong in certain aspects (warfare and propaganda, for example) and too weak in others (such as social welfare provision) (Rosenboim, 2013[130]). Only by combining the strengths of the public and private sectors across these activities could a peaceful world and effective international co-operation be achieved.

Meanwhile, Glennie makes the case for global public finance as part of a complete rethink of aid, which entails (inter alia) leaving behind the notion that development finance as something that flows from Global North to Global South in favour of a system whereby all countries pay in and every country gets something out (2020[131]). This is a way not only to achieve the dramatic increase in development financing required to achieve the SDGs but also represents a change in philosophy and power relations at the heart of the aid system. It puts countries on more equal footing and promotes ownership of development projects, which is essential for their success (Mold and Zimmerman, 2008[132]).

Certain new and emerging technologies are also asking profound questions of societies and the international community, and of regulation in particular. As the OECD points out, the long-term societal and economic implications for populations, health systems, business and society of current developments in artificial intelligence research cannot be predicted with any certainty, even if it is possible to subject this work to rigid classification, performance standards, estimates of economic gains and losses, and export controls (2018[133]). Similar challenges arise in the field of neurotechnology, where embedded devices and brain-computer interfaces are subject to existing safety and efficacy regimes, but these regimes may not address long-term ethical questions about human agency and privacy. The report underlines the importance of addressing these ethical questions at the same time as focusing on the more market-oriented issues. Policy makers should be actively involved in defining the very visions and missions driving innovation; how this can be elevated to an international level represents a critical question.

Badie argues for a much larger rethink of global institutions. Recognising the diminishing power of states on the one hand and the growing but incoherent and ambiguous social interconnectedness among citizens around the world on the other, he stresses the need for new institutions whereby the two sectors can meet (2020[38]). To give meaning to these institutions, sovereign states must be prepared to cede some power, which will be difficult in a context where populist forces are demanding stronger states. Although states and social movements are increasingly being pushed to interact, there is no evidence as yet of a formal partnership emerging; political systems are not allowing this to happen, outpaced as they are by the world and incapable as they are of mediating across civil society.

Badie’s vision is one of “social multilateralism”, whereby states engage with civil society in the most plural and diverse sense of the term on a national and international scale. This moves past multilateralism in the traditional sense, towards (perhaps even beyond) the polylateralism of Wiseman (2010[134]), whose importance is increasingly recognised today (Gressani, 2020[135]). The alternative is a hybrid world, wherein the state retains a superficial role while inter-sociality determines the dynamics, culture and day-to-day running of international relations. If this is the case, the gulf between the two will continue to widen; the diverse and complex forces of inter-sociality will become ever-more unpredictable, and states will be ever-less able to control the consequences. In this context, co-operation on global security – whose weakness has already been exposed by COVID-19 – would become increasingly difficult (Badie, 2020[38]). Perhaps the best hope is that the cost of global insecurity, and the growing threats to state control they generate, might inspire a change in attitudes – the new logic alluded to by Sassen (2006[109]).

While the partnerships and institutions envisaged here might seem far away, it is worth remembering that the world is currently bound together by an agreement with these new alliances at its heart. Underpinning the SDGs is a philosophy of universality and inclusion across and within every country, predicated on a decent quality of life in the broadest sense of the term. This can only be achieved through both a massive increase in the provision of public goods globally and the preservation and production of global public goods. Both elements rely on new partnerships and an active citizenry. As such, the SDGs provide a blueprint for the future beyond 2030. The economic underpinnings of this universalism must be very different from those of the world today; as Bowles and Carlin argue, an explicit ethical foundation is long overdue, despite all the complexities inherent to this project (2021[136]).

The innovations and institutional reconfigurations described in this section recall the experimentalism of Chapter 4. Confronted by systemic challenges of daunting scale, complexity and unpredictability, global governance arrangements should facilitate adaptability, innovation and knowledge-sharing, as well as alliances between public and private actors. These arrangements should be integrated within a multi-level system of governance that spans the local, national and international scales. reflecting modern-day forms of human sociality (Snower, 2019[137]). Platforms are needed that hear voices previously excluded from deliberations in multilateral organisations, including those of the social movements that are increasingly speaking for discontent, disaffected and disenfranchised populations.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Shakespeare, 1980 [1603][138])

Perhaps the hardest aspect of the challenges humankind confronts is that they require completely new ways of thinking. As discussed in the previous section, ideas are no less important than institutions in establishing and enforcing a particular system. Just because phenomena such as inequality and climate change are obvious does not mean that people possess the mindset, culture, imagination or will to address them. As Marx ambiguously puts it, “[mankind] inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve” (1977 [1859][139]). Put another way, “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about” (Wallace, 2009[140]).

Cox provides an important point of departure for addressing the challenges of today. He argues against problem solving, which “takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action. The general aim of problem-solving is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing effectively with particular sources of trouble” (1981[141]). This approach violates the guidance of Dewey, who recognised that the best solution to the problems of democracy was more democracy – but only if in a different form (1988[142]). In the same spirit, problems of international co-operation will only be fixed by more co-operation if it looks different from what came before. The futility of trying to fix the international system as it stands is well diagnosed by Hale, Held and Young, who explain the gridlock in international co-operation across a range of critical issues (2013[143]).

Cox contrasts problem solving with critical theory, which “stands apart from the prevailing order of the world and asks how that order came about” (1981[141]). Critical theory is ill suited to providing specific policy recommendations and risks being relegated to an academic occupation, but it is better equipped to understand the broad underpinnings of change. Indeed, Cox contends that problem solving is appropriate for times of stability (such as the Cold War), while critical theory is more useful for understanding periods of change and uncertainty. One might add “contexts of structural inequality” to this list: critical thinking is essential for inclusiveness on a national scale, where minority groups exercise little influence on the public discourse, and on an international scale, where developing countries have been dominated and marginalised by institutions that still exercise power today. It is important that even – or perhaps especially – the most powerful groups consider their position in these terms.

As long as knowledge is unequally distributed or reflects structural power, it is inevitably politicised and its usefulness as a common starting point for discussion and compromise is limited. In his work on the profound influence that epistemic communities – what he terms a “knowledge elite” – bring to bear on the institutions of international co-operation, Haas explains the importance of consensual knowledge in a context where “reality is socially constructed” (1992[144]). Broadening these communities to encompass a range of realities, especially from developing countries, is the best and only way of bringing countries together in common action and empowering international institutions. Not only does this render international co-operation more legitimate but also, by bringing to bear a wide array of knowledge on highly complex situations, more effective. As this chapter emphasises, it is critical that the voices of developing countries are heard in framing and identifying solutions for global challenges (Box 5.5).

Whatever proposals emerge from the many ongoing discussions about how to confront global challenges, Hirschmann explains that they will inevitably confront resistance (1991[152]). People with an interest in (or culture of) preserving the status quo are prone to oppose any reform proposal on the grounds that it will have unintended consequences, it is futile or that it will jeopardise gains already achieved. By the same stroke, he recognises that progressive rhetoric is equally likely to employ devices that are inimical to compromise. These arguments are often merely the opposite of conservative positions: oftentimes, saying “something must be done” is no more intellectually robust than saying “there is nothing we can do”.

Unger views this intellectual deadlock as testament to a lack of imagination. In arguing for the need to focus on the “adjacent possible” he states,

[if] I propose something distant, you may say: interesting, but Utopian. If I propose something close, you may answer: feasible but trivial. In contemporary efforts to think and talk programmatically, all proposals are made to seem either Utopian or trivial. We have lost confidence in our ability to imagine structural change in society, and fall back upon a surrogate standard: a proposal is realistic if it approaches what already exists. It is easy to be a realist if you accept everything. (1998[153])

For Unger, there is nothing inevitable about the challenges we face, no natural laws predetermining our fate or prescribing the traps, paradoxes and dilemmas (or trilemmas) we encounter: “[the] organisation of society is made and imagined rather than just naturally there”. He sees the principal role of social sciences as being to understand how these can be changed without the need for a crisis to force structural change.

Unger’s perspective is a reminder that discontent is as much about the future as it is the present (OECD, 2021[154]). Individuals need to imagine a better world in the times ahead. The socially constructed realities of Haas need to channel the imaginaries that societies create, both as a means of alleviating discontent and of fostering a shared vision that can bind communities (Anderson, 1991[155]). For Castoriadis, meanwhile, the role of the imagination is more fundamental still, not least as a means of imposing human dominion over market forces (1987[156]); the imagination is the unifying force behind societies’ continual emergence.

Inseparable from this project are the stories and narratives by which citizens and societies make sense of their lives and understand each other. Hirsch and Lopes, for example, explain how “Africa is frequently framed in a narrative that reduces or minimises its significance and achievements”, and that the emergence of more effective development strategies will rely on “a fairer historical and geographic perspective” (2020[157]).

As this chapter explains, discontent is a global phenomenon. Many of the factors behind discontent are global; so too are the protests they inspire. Just as these factors are systemic, so protesters are increasingly directing their ire at the systems that govern daily life. The chapter also demonstrates the erosion of humanity’s capacity for collective action, without which it is impossible to confront the existential threats of the 21st century, principal among them the climate crisis.

It will take more than discontent to overcome the challenges humanity faces. New economic and political models, new ways of organising society (local, national and global) are needed; so too is a fundamental change in mankind’s relationship with the natural environment. None of this will be possible without new ideas and new institutions to foster co-operation world wide. However, discontent – and the collective articulations thereof – has the capacity to make the world aware of the scale of the crises we face and to mobilise a commensurate response. The voices of the discontented must be heard, one way or another.

Viewed in this way, within the discontent of today is a force that has the capacity to generate a better future; it is to be heard and harnessed rather than extinguished. Recalling the importance of experimentalism, it is perhaps apt to conclude with the words of Thomas Edison, who contended that “discontent is the first necessity of progress” (1948[158]).


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