Saturday, October 10, 2009

From a "global market" to a "global society" - 2

This article is the edited version of my long response to Nihan's From a "Global Market" to a "Global Society".

Constructivism argues that actors' understanding of the pay-offs may change without an actual shift in material interests. In crisis situations actors may be open to new ideas, as they realize that what they have always believed in does not work. A crisis provides the "policy window" for a charismatic actor ("an institutional entrepreneur") to come up with new ideas and persuade the other actors. As they interact and negotiate ("social learning" within the existing institutional framework,) actors change their minds about the pay-offs associated with each option.

A change in values could be what is meant by a change in pay-offs. The important point is having greater awareness about the non-immediate consequances of our actions. Once we are aware, we feel more responsible. Realizing the far-away consequences of our individual actions, inactions and transactions is key to an evolution from a “global market” to a “global society”. There are people who can no longer bring themselves to drive SUVs, or throw a glass bottle away without recycling it, because they are not able to act despite their knowledge. People should think about security and development issues in the same way, as well as the cross-border regulations and supervision of financial markets. Western societies are no longer isolated from the poverty and violence in "remote" corners of the world. Injustice breeds insecurity. Not only politicians, but “thought leaders” from all fields have a duty to tell these hard truths without commercializing or sensationalizing the subject.

It is time for leaders to evaluate their assumptions about their constituents. Are we knights, or are we knaves? Knaves are self-interested, they serve others only when that will serve their own material interests. Knights, on the other hand, put the interests of those they serve above their own. They serve others even when they gain no material reward, or they actually face a cost doing so (Le Grand, 2003).

The resulting organizational structure will be reinforcing the assumptions that gave rise to it. When a leader thinks that his constituents are knaves, he mistrusts them and treats them like naughty children. He tries to keep information hidden because he is afraid that he will be punished for telling the truth. He establishes a structure that is based on close monitoring, strong incentives and harsh penalties, even if they are not always enforced. The constituents will perceive this system as a controlling form of external intervention, which leaves no room for intrinsic motivation, inquiry and innovation.

What if we are more knights than knaves?

The questions that need to be asked to bring about the transition from a "global market" to a "global society" can be very exciting and inspiring. They give people’s lives a meaning beyond day-to-day survival characterised by tedious office jobs, family lives and consumerism. They give each person a stake in improving the humanity’s well-being, bringing about change. This is what today’s left-wing politics should embrace. People would be far more receptive to this than we (and politicians) think. Only one leader fully grasps this: Obama.

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