Is More Enough?

The economist and commentator Moises Naim has hit on something quite succinct. There’s nothing more appealing to someone with a branding background than a simple category system that explains something complex, especially if it has three principles and even better if they all begin with the same letter. He summarises globalisation in three simple words:

More, Mobility, Mentality

The term Globalisation has become a big bogeyman - nebulous and no longer useful - as it becomes all-encompassing; describing every political, social and economic process in the world.

What is it? Increased interdependency of economy, spurred by the pace of technological change? Perhaps, but putting the jargon aside for a minute, there can be no doubt that the 21st century will be characterised by greater growth. Growth in urbanisation, creating a growth in demand for resources, fuelling population growth. More old people and more young people, more mobility and access to technology all enabling a growth in the risk of terror and health threats.

For Naim though there is also an identifiable trend of decline: a steep decline in the possibility of the exertion of power. For nation states, corporations and traditional institutions such as the Church, the decline in authority, legitimacy and the ability to exert ‘agency’ seems all too apparent, as summed up in the title of his book ‘The End of Power’.

Is More Enough?

Naim captures these processes perfectly when he outlines that we are living through an age of More, Mentality and Mobility. It makes perfect instinctual sense - without needing to consult the weighty factual backdrop, this mnemonic accurately captures a subjective experience with which we can all identify: that the scale of world events and trends are increasingly difficult to process.

More people, more countries, more stuff, more problems. This world of ‘more’ is fuelled by the mobility of capital, people and trade, but on top of that, the technological revolution has unleashed a change in mentality. All around the world, people are increasingly aware of what is possible for their own personal and social development. They too come to expect more stuff and greater mobility.

The challenge for Naim is that these processes have led to a state of inaction, in which traditional political actors increasingly lose agency. The proliferation of players and power bases leads to multiple stalemates. Seen this way, we are locked in to outdated political structures originally created for a bi-polar world. Our new multi-polar world is much more difficult to manage.

This is where I start to part company with Naim. His analysis is strong but it also displays the classic ‘shrug’ attitude of the pluralist analysis towards managing economic and political outcomes so often present in contemporary discussions of globalisation.

The structures which create this ‘world as an amorphous mass’ are more than capable of being shaped towards long-term beneficial outcomes. In all of these analytical frameworks we seem to forget the power of political agency and how throughout history, faced with an intractable problem, humanity has always developed means of overcoming and moving forward. Often this agency is driven by political outsiders, like Gandhi or Mandela, by wider social forces such as demographic changes, or a breakdown in political systems of order such as the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War.

Ian Goldin of the Oxford Martin Centre offers greater insight here when he discusses the power of ‘the coalition of the willing’. In Divided Nations he discusses the breakdown of the current system of global governance and demonstrates clearly that in a world of proliferating political actors not every cast member is required to make a difference or progress beyond political deadlock. A ‘coalition of the willing’ can have more impact than global concordats and multilateral joint treaties when energies are focussed on singular shared challenges such as climate change or terror and health threats.

For all the evidence that there is a dissipation of power, Goldin shows that power can still be exercised when the right groups come together behind the right mechanisms.

In this context, cities have an important role to play as actors on this global stage. As demonstrated by initiatives such as C40 in which 40 cities address their collective responsibility to combat climate change by sharing best practice in procurement, emissions reduction, transport and urban planning.

In the end the technological boom which has created better access to more information and good data, can also lead to better mobility of ideas and ultimately a change in mentality making us all more aware of possible solutions. Naim doesn’t aim to provide solutions in his analysis but he might just have identified the trends which enable the art of the possible.

Posted by David Adam on 22 Jun 2015


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