CSR and Sustainability

The five changes necessary for the new political economy

Guest post by Malcolm McIntoshIn 2012, a High Level Panel reported to the UN Secretary-General that there was a need to rethink political economy to deal with a multiplicity of unprecedented, complex, connected threats in the world today.

Seven and more decades on from the end of WWII, the whole world is a better, more peaceful place than it has ever been.

It is possible, looking at the statistics ranging from infant mortality to education to peacefulness to longevity, to show that human progress has flourished and that as a race we can be proud of our achievements. We have done well despite the naysayers, doom-mongers and apocalypse merchants.

Why, then, is a radical transition necessary if all is well with our world? The answer is that the model that we now have, which has worked relatively well, will no longer work in the future.

As an intelligent race we know this, and, having foresight, we must understand that out short-lived success can only be continued if we acknowledge how we reached this place, and understand what it means to be human in this century, and acknowledge the changes that are now necessary.

There are possibly five reasons why we need a new political economy.

The first relates to sustainable development and its concomitant, globality and Earth awareness: where, for the first time we see and feel the world as one entity in our minds and hearts.

The second is concerned with the highest level of evolution – the evolution of knowledge – and in this case the evolution of the balance between what we think we know and what we feel, intuit and discuss. We have come to a critical juncture in which awe and wonder have been marginalised by science, modernity, technology, consumerism and neoliberal economics.

Third, the rise of empathy and social, perhaps global, cohesion are a natural progression from the first and second systems changes outlined here – Earth awareness and rebalancing science and awe. I call this nurturing spirit the rise of the feminisation of decision-making and governance.

It is a fundamental recognition that the rise and success of the human race is due as much to empathy, sociability, sharing, and group work as it is to competition and masculinity.

We are in the process of rebalancing the yin and the yang. The way we organise ourselves as humans on planet Earth is undergoing massive disruption just now.

Our organisations and institutions are inexorably changing – and this is the fourth systems change. Fifth, evolutionary success and human survival depends on our ability to learn and our ability to adapt through learning. The way we learn, and our approach to education, will determine our chances of survival.

These five changes are necessary and are happening anyway, even if the forces of inertia and conservatism seek to put a brake on them. Just as there is an increase in the frequency of apparently random weather extremes in the form of hurricanes, cyclones, droughts and floods so too the post-1945 social consensus is over.

The social welfare reforms, coupled with massive innovations in productivity over the last sixty years, led to the greatest redistribution of wealth and improvement in most people’s lives coming to an end. The elites no longer need so many people – the 99% – to labour in their factories, sweatshops and battlefields to deliver their wealth.

What is referred to as the Long Peace is over and just as ‘Pax Britannica’ led to ‘Pax Americana’ we are now entering a period of ‘Pax Interdependence’ – just so long as we can keep a lone political mad man with a nuclear device from blowing us all away.

Malcolm McIntosh is Founding Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise at Griffith University and was Special Adviser to the UN Global Compact. His latest book, Thinking the Twenty-First Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, is published on 1st April by Greenleaf Publishing.

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