As I alluded to in my recent post about the ‘new Bretton Woods moment’, there’s a lot of talk about using the global pandemic as an opportunity to ‘build back better’.
The World Economic Forum, the IMF, the United Nations, government leaders and other international organizations all spoke out about the need to ‘build back better’ from the coronavirus-caused recession. This implies reshaping the way that big businesses and the global economy operates through areas like human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.
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Big picture: Every influential organization and leader around the world (besides Trump) is telling us to Build Back Better. What are we trying to fix?
A little context: History shows how major global resets can fail poorer nations. Bretton Woods perpetuated inequality behind the veil of humanitarian activism. If the status quo changes the status quo, did the status quo really change?
Some talking points:
- Governments caused the COVID debacle, not the people. Yet, the people face the consequences.
- Governments (and international organizations), perpetrators of the broken system, want to fix it.
- Suggestions from big orgs are abstract and ambiguous, rather than tangible like term limits.
Bottom line: As we watch world leaders discuss recovery options, let’s prioritize tangible change rather than utopian fantasies.
Dig deeper → 2 min
A History of Inequality
History tells us that a ‘global reset’ may not fix much. Bretton Woods favored wealthy nations and exacerbated inequality as much as it alleviated poverty. Reagan’s War on Drugs propagated increased drug abuse. Bush’s War on Terror propagated more acts of terror.
The Bretton Woods conference aimed at peace and prosperity, but solved neither for developing nations. The Nixon shock in 1971 created the modern fiat currency system. It’s a system where societies back currencies based on faith in the legitimacy of governments rather than real assets like gold. As a result, unreliable governments suffered. The Nixon shock restructured wealthy nations while the rest of the world became dependent on stable currencies like the US dollar, Euro, Chinese yuan or Japanese yen.
If we are going to reshape global communities in a way that serve the 99% rather than the 1%, we need to allow more seats at the table. We need to avoid another elitist reallocation of assets, from gold to government, or fossil fuels to renewables. I’m wary of radical change… not because we don’t need it, but because the actors who steer the ship of progress don’t have as much to lose as we do.
What exactly are we fixing with ‘build back better’?
Is it global inequality, racial justice, workers’ rights, environmental protection laws, public health… all the above?
I don’t know if another round-table meeting doused in lofty goals will suddenly turn Chad into a beacon of peace overnight. What we need is global leaders that aren’t compromised by corporate lobbyists. We need term limits in America and beyond so political leaders don’t focus their precious time and effort on reelection campaigns rather than real impact. Conversely, political leaders don’t become complacent with decades of power – looking at you Germany, Israel, Russia, Japan, China…
These are tangible issues that can be fixed. Abstract ambition can be veiled behind a control of power. If the status quo dictates how the status quo is changed, did it really change? New sectors, same faces. Put pressure on the system, don’t let the system re-identify itself with humanitarian causes and then sit back and say, “they have the people’s best interests at heart”.
If the global elite really served our interests, they aren’t doing a very good job. Inequality is at peak levels. 100 million people are now at risk of deep poverty. That didn’t happen because the global economy was inherently flawed, it happened because the world shut down its production to fight a flu.
I’m not here to debate the efficacy of the lockdown orders. Check out the Great Barrington Declaration to hear a non-conventional take on the pandemic response from qualified experts. Beyond the lockdowns, it is important to treat international debates on global economic recovery as they are. We’re trying to fix something using the tools that broke it in the first place.