Rebuilding the world post-COVID-19
In his closing address, Dennis J. Snower, President of the Global Solutions Initiative, highlights three key insights from over 800 contributions to the Digital Global Solutions Summit 2020: the need for value-driven policymaking, economies that protect the natural world and support for multilateralism.
Economic value needs to be brought into harmony with our values.
The heroes of the pandemic are people, who surprisingly, have not been held in particularly high regard in our economies and societies – nurses, carers of the elderly, delivery personnel and immigrant agricultural workers. These can be people on low salaries in precarious jobs, whose most important service lies in the civility and kindness for which they are not paid.
It is necessary to find new and better ways of according social esteem, political voice and economic reward to people who should be valued, not just in times of current need, but always.
This awareness gives new urgency to calls for reforming capitalism, measuring economic performance beyond GDP, and measuring business performance by stakeholder value rather than shareholder value.
Human beings are not merely creatures that seek to maximize their consumption as efficiently as possible. Human beings seek to lead meaningful lives and these are lives lived in accordance with our values. To do so, humans need to be empowered not only to pursue immediate self-interest, but to learn and adapt, to shape our environment sustainably, to give and receive care and respect in our social communities. These are all value-driven activities.
The time has come to say farewell to the view that economics is “value-free,” concerned merely with the means whereby resources are allocated and distributed; business activity is value-free, concerned merely with the maximization of shareholder value; economic growth is accepted as a value-free measure of economic performance; and policy making is concerned primarily with value-free economic efficiency, making contact with values only by influencing the distribution of income and wealth.
A sense of purpose in policy making and business, as well as measures of economic and business performance, must be value-driven.
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There needs to be new appreciation of our responsibility towards the natural world.
The pandemic shows clearly how humans have displaced, captured and misused ever more wildlife, the pathogens in these animals can lead to zoonotic infections. Worldwide zoonoses give rise to an estimated 1 billion cases of human illness and millions of human deaths annually.
In many ways, nature has benefitted from the current worldwide recession: clean air and clear waterways around major cities. However, the pandemic makes clear humanity’s ever-present capacity for natural destruction under the current economic and political regimes, as deforestation, wildlife poaching and illegal mining has increased in Latin America, Asia and Africa. At the same time, COVID-19 emphasized that despite all the cities that have built, humans remain embedded in the natural world.
These observations strengthen the impetus to fight climate change, reform land use, protect oceans, and preserve biodiversity. Economic performance should be measured not just in terms of the goods and services that we produce and consume, but also in terms of how these production and consumption activities affect the life-sustaining powers of our ecosystems. Along the same lines, business performance measures must take account of natural capital and ecosystem services.
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There needs to be a new appreciation of our vital need for multistakeholder and multilateral cooperation.
Despite the many differences in outlooks and convictions among the people of the world, a new and better future can only be shaped together. In this age of the Anthropocene, all people are finally being called collectively to account. Humans being have become so plentiful and so powerful that our activities dominate the health of our planet. We are coming face to face with our responsibilities.
Our actions have consequences that extend far beyond our immediate goals, in both time and space. We are interdependent economically and environmentally, and thus also politically and socially, beyond anything we could possibly have imagined even a generation ago. We are encountering a common vulnerability that has arisen because we have thus far failed to recognize the terrible implications of acting independently in pursuit of short-sighted goals.
We are beginning to appreciate the interdependence of our needs, despite all our national, religious and cultural differences. The interconnected vulnerabilities of our health systems show us that we are not sustainably well when others are ill. The interdependence of our food systems indicates we cannot be sustainably full when others starve. The looming refugee crises are beginning to reveal to us that we cannot be sustainably free when others are in chains.
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More Global Tables are available online.
The Global Solutions Summit, with its recommendations and visions, is meant to provide support for the G20 and beyond in envisioning a new world, where we share a common awareness of global goals, common respect for local differences and the recoupling of economic prosperity with social and environmental prosperity.
DENNIS J. SNOWER is President of the Global Solutions Initiative and Professor at the Hertie School.
About the Global Solutions Summit
The Global Solutions Summit – The World Policy Forum – is hosted by the Global Solutions Initiative, a global collaborative enterprise that proposes policy responses to major global problems, addressed by the G20, the G7 and other global governance fora. The policy recommendations and strategic visions are generated through a disciplined research program by leading research organizations, elaborated in policy dialogues between researchers, policymakers, business leaders and civil society representatives. Most recently, the Global Solutions Initiative proposed an alternative to measuring prosperity through GDP, the Recoupling Dashboard. The Global Solutions Summit 2021 will take place in Berlin, Germany on May 27th and 28th.