Is National Competitiveness all it’s cracked up to be?

It was amusing, and more than a little disheartening, to see the swarm of commentators putting digit to key in recent weeks in response to the latest Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum – a list ranking the world’s nations from most economically competitive to the worst.

From the ‘Top 10 competitive economies’ to ‘the worst economies in the world’, analysis tended more towards either celebration or recrimination over a nation’s respective placement on the list. ‘Are we more competitive than last year? If not, who’s to blame and what can we do about it?’

Absent as always from the discussion was any reflection on what this race for competitiveness actually means. Why has competitiveness become the major measure of value for national performance? What happens if we follow the race to it’s conclusion? Who or what gets left behind when economic competitiveness is pursued more vigorously than, say, climate change agreement or tax regulation?

In my latest piece for the Huffington Post I seek to address some of those questions, and look towards a more cooperative alternative.


Local and Global

I was recently invited to contribute to an Australian magazine about the relationship between local and global, where I addressed the false choice between the two that can often undermine social activism.

To behave sustainably, so the three divergent interests of business, society and environment are maintained in balance, markets need governance!  Moreover, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that, to be effective, governance has to be on the same scale as the market it’s trying to govern. A global economy needs global governance. Absent that governance, it shouldn’t surprise us that the market runs riot, goes pathological, and causes all sorts of negative fall-out, much of which is increasingly felt in local communities. This isn’t some crack-pot call for world government. Rather it’s simply a call to practical global cooperation: that nations need to coordinate their policies so that they achieve global coverage and global effect.

Read the full piece on their website.

Global markets, democracy, and Overheating

I was recently invited to give a guest lecture at the University of Oslo on the role of the global market in undermining national democracy.

In it I described how the national emphasis on economic competitiveness compromises the capacity of political leaders to act on global problems or, indeed, to represent the interests of their citizens. The consequences of this destructive international competition can be felt in all spheres – from the environment to human rights, to tax regulation etc.

It is to these consequences that the work of Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen, who I was fortunate enough to meet following my lecture, is directed. A research director at the Department of Social Anthropology at UiO, Eriksen’s ‘Overheating’ project is an in-depth ethnographic study of the crises of globalisation – including environmental issues, financial and cultural sustainability.

The project, which includes work in Australia, Sierra Leone and Peru, offers some fascinating insight and tangible examples of the negative impacts of globalisation as a process on people and the environment around the world. From it, it is not hard to extrapolate how destructive international competition might have a hand in exacerbating those negative effects.

You can learn more about ‘Overheating’ here, or about Professor Eriksen’s work at his website.

Cooperating with the future

How important is democracy in securing binding cooperation for a more sustainable future? Increasingly, behavioural science is offering some fascinating insights into the reasons why we cooperate, the precedent for cooperation in human beings and, now, the relationship between democracy and cooperation for binding long-term agreements. Politicians take note…


Read the full article about the research on Nature.

Do politicians share our values?

Recently I was invited to give  a talk at the UK Values Alliance quarterly meeting, followed by a brief Q&A style debate with Richard Barrett, founder of the Barrett Values Centre.

The UK Values Alliance is a collaborative group seeking to promote values in society. They formed as a result of the UK National Values Survey, organised in October 2012 by the Barrett Values Centre. The survey demonstrated a huge gap between the personal values of UK residents and the values they see at a national level.

In my talk I sought to address some of the reasons behind that perceived gap between the values we hold, and those at the national level, using the example of our political leaders. Why do we credit ourselves with open natures, cooperative dispositions, and world-centric perspectives while blaming our politicians for being self-serving, ego-centric, and competitive?

Rather than emphasising these difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between ‘our’ values and ‘theirs’, I wanted instead to highlight the global system which constrains politicians’ capacity to govern in line with positive values and beliefs.

This system, which I have previously described as ‘destructive international competition’, is fundamental to understanding why politicians fail to govern in ways which reflect our deep-seated values, and accounts for their inability to tackle some of our most critical global problems.

Following the talk Richard Barrett and I briefly debated my review of  his excellent and highly influential work ‘Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations’. You can read the full review on the Simpol website.

To find out more about the UK Values Alliance’s vital work, including how to become a member, visit their website.

Seamus Milne on “a broken economic model”

The intervention, regulation, taxation, social ownership, redistribution and global co-operation needed to slash carbon emissions and build a sustainable economy for the future is clearly incompatible with a broken economic model based on untrammelled self-interest and the corporate free-for-all that created the crisis in the first place. Given the scale of the threat, the choice for the rest of us could not be more obvious.

From Seamus Milne at the Guardian – 

My piece for openDemocracy: The failure of international summitry

How can cooperation be designed to be in every nation’s best interests in the long and short-term? And how can we, citizens, make failure so costly that politicians have no choice but to cooperate?

These days, international summits to solve climate change and other global problems have become symbols of both hope and failure: hope that our leaders will take substantive action, but knowledge that these summits too often produce little more than hot air. Aware of the global challenges we face, we can’t understand why they don’t act. So what’s wrong with international summits? And what can we do about it?

My piece on the failure of international summitry, currently featured on the front page of openDemocracy. Read the article in full and share your comments here.