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Donald Trump is not the problem - Part V

4 October 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?

We can maintain the course we are on—do nothing much different, continue to ride the current, with a few adjustments—which may lead to devastation, and possibly annihilation, whether from a climate that has had enough of us or a world war that will be the last. Or else we can wake up and address a situation that is no longer tenable. There are signs of that too.

In one significant sense, the prevailing trend today resembles that of Germany in 1933, when a third of the electorate, angered by the treaty that ended World War I, sought their revenge by voting for the Nazi party. Fascism, and World War II followed. Many people today, angered by the imbalance that marginalizes them, have also been seeking their revenge by voting for tyrants.

Five centuries earlier, also in what is now Germany, many people were angry too, with the established ecclesiastic, political, and economic powers, but they did something quite different: engaged in a ground-up reformation that rearranged power in their world. Today, many people have similar feelings about the greediness and lack of compassion of the established powers, and have been expressing a readiness to act for constructive change. Give them a compelling way forward and watch them go.

The States of the World Today   Democracy is now deteriorating at an alarming rate, resulting in a growing number of illiberal democracies (such as in Hungary and the Philippines), that are sliding in the direction of the many established autocratic regimes. This leaves a few countries clinging to a flawed model of liberal democracy (notably the UK and US) and some that do maintain a semblance of balanced democracy (such as Germany, Canada, the Nordic states, and several other small countries). Meanwhile, the same old superpowers continue with their antics, one undemocratic (China), another illiberal (Russia), the third headed that way under the leadership of a loose cannon (US).

The real danger is the slide toward autocracy, because, at the rate it is going, this planet could soon end up with global fascism. The recent experience of Venezuela, in the lead, so to speak, shows how easily tyranny can sweep aside constitutional protections—as if we needed more evidence of this. And it makes no difference if the autocracy is called communism, capitalism, or populism (whether Muslim, anti-Muslim, Jewish, anti-Semitic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or secular). Dogma is dogma, and demagogues are demagogues. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Fearing decency, the autocrats of the world unite. Angela Merkel was denounced for caring about refugees, while Saudi Arabia punished Canada for a single tweet about its arrest of two journalists. They united in the 1930s too, although eventually America came to the rescue. Imagine World War II without this and you may be seeing World War III.

Reformation from the Ground Up   What if we come to our collective senses? Early in the Sixteenth Century, with so many people angered at the corruption of their church, the Reformation followed after a monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the door of a church in a town called Wittenberg. This sparked a movement from the ground up, eventually engaging certain established officials, that spread fast, far, and wide—thanks to a new communications technology of the time, the printing press. Does this sound familiar? With our new social media, and so many people now prepared to act, another reformation—meaning massive but largely nonviolent change in social behavior—could well be coming.

Does this sound utopian? Maybe, but the current reality is hardy utopian.  A reformation on such a scale may be unprecedented, but the problems we face are unprecedented.

Let me offer another example, indicative of how quickly a people can reframe and shift behavior from the ground up. I refer to what is known here in Quebec as The Quiet Revolution, although it was really a quiet reformation. By 1960, many of the women of Quebec had had it with a dominating church in cahoots with autocratic politics. The death of a long-entrenched Premier was the spark that set off the change. Just about every Quebecoise I know from that time has many siblings; their mothers driven by the clergy to procreate non-stop. Just about none has more than a child or two. One wrote to me recently about this “effervescent period”: “The Church that consumed my youth fell apart like a house of cards.” Other places in the world have experienced similar shifts, but perhaps none so profoundly as Quebec. At that point, there were no marches, no protests, no election of other autocrats, just a sweeping shift in mindset that profoundly changed the society. Quebec became, and with lapses remains, probably the most progressive place in North America.

Answering the Irene Question   Irene is a finance manager in Canada, who has worked in the private and plural sectors. She read a draft of my book Rebalancing Society and responded with: “I’d like to do something. I just don’t know where to start.” You cannot imagine how often I have been asked the Irene question ever since!

Add up all the Irenes and Ivans of the world, and we have the makings of a massive global movement for constructive reformation. We just need to coalesce our energies around some shared sense of direction—some compelling narrative that suggests a way forward. The idea of a reformation to rebalance society could be that: to attain a dynamic equilibrium across the public, private, and plural sectors of society.

What can we do in our own lives? What can we do in our communities and associations? What can our enterprises do, small and large, entrepreneurial and corporate, national and international? What can our governments do, at the municipal, national, and global levels? And what can all of us and all of this do together? In other words, the levels of change can be Personal, Plural, Private, Public, and Planet, shown in the table below in terms of Reframing our Beliefs, Reforming our Wrongs, and Renewing our Rights (in both senses of the term).

Find your place in the table: the possibilities are endless. I have my own collection, all over the table. For example, at the top left, I have “ditch the economic dogma”2 (personal level reframing); in the middle, “fix or abandon the stock market” (private level reforming) and “grow the social economy” (plural level renewing); and on the bottom right, “create a Peace Council to replace the (in)Security Council of the United Nations” (planet level renewing).

A Pathway to Reformation    In an earlier blog, I wrote about the puzzling puzzle of rebalancing society. Unlike a pat puzzle (such as a jigsaw one):

  1. The pieces have to be discovered, or created.
  2. Each appears obscure, like a fragment.
  3. They need to connect, although never neatly.
  4. With no box in sight, the picture has to be constructed from these fragments and connections.

The table above can help to identify many of these fragments. But how to fit them together to create the compelling image? Perhaps an answer can lie in what I am currently working on, labelled a Pathway to Reformation, in four phases.

A. Reformation begins in a long-simmering place, about to combust spontaneously. The women of Quebec, like the Eastern Europeans under communism, were all ready to go. Now, perhaps as never before, a great many people are ready to go, all around the globe. 

B.  A spark ignites, in the form of an event (the death of a politician), or the action of a group (opening up the Berlin Wall), a community or even a major part of a society (the women of Quebec).

C. This spreads, in the form of a massive but non-violent shift in social behavior, as a groundswell of social initiatives to reframe and renew. These days, with the help of the social media, it can spread from community to community to go global, becoming a worldwide social movement.

D. Reforms mostly follow, in institutions—governments in the public sector, businesses in the private sector, associations in the plural sector. Most institutions need to be overwhelmed by social forces before they will accept major reforms.

Is such a reformation possible? With the decline of democracy, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the warming of the planet, it had better be possible. This world will simply not fix itself. People who care about it will have to do that. There is wealth in the world as never before, enough for decent living far and wide—so long as we can relinquish our superfluous entitlements. Some of us might just discover what decent living is all about.

For the sake of survival, we need to shift the initiative from our private interests to our common interest. Like the women of Quebec, we shall have to get our collective act together—to reframe our thinking so that we can reform our wrongs and renew our rights. Hence, ask not what your leadership has been doing to you. Ask what you can be doing for our communityship—not as conservatives or liberals, from the left or the right, but as decent folk who care about our planet and our progeny.

What’s your choice??

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Apparently first said in the Danish parliament in the 1930s.

that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part IV

5 September 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

Fixing Private Sector Capitalism?  The popular solution in the United States is to fix capitalism. Proposals abound for what can be called adjectival capitalism: Progressive Capitalism, Breakthrough Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, and best of all, Democratic Capitalism (capitalism being the noun, democracy the adjective). Methinks that capitalism doth propose too much. How in the world did this word capitalism, essentially about the funding of private enterprises, become the be all and end all of human existence? (Ask an economist.)

Capitalism certainly needs fixing, not least in its stock markets, with their relentless drive for MORE—more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming, the consequences be damned. There are better ways to grow healthy enterprises, for example with patient, responsible capital. Likewise, while we need as much corporate social responsibility (CSR) as we can get, can anyone seriously believe that more CSR could compensate for all the CSI (irresponsibility) we now see around us? Moreover, will private sector interests voluntarily cede the immense power that they have amassed? 

It is societies that need fixing, and fixing capitalism will no more do that than would fixing communism have fixed the broken regimes of Eastern Europe. Capitalism will have to be put in its place, namely the marketplace, out of the public space.

Public Sector Government to the Rescue?  Then there are those who expect government to fix the problem—it is, after all, the paramount authority in democratic society. But look what’s been happening to that authority, and to democracy itself. What can the many governments already coopted by private interests really do? Furthermore, government is hardly the most nuanced institution for a problem that requires nuanced solutions, nor is it especially venturesome for a problem that requires bold action. Whether they come from the left or the right, widely elected governments are drawn toward the center, so as not to upset any major interests.

If not the private or public sectors, then what? The answer will have to begin with an appreciation that there are three fundamental sectors in society, not two.

The Plural Sector for Balance   Just as a stool cannot balance itself on one leg, so a society cannot balance itself on one sector, be that capitalism in the private sector any more than communism in the public sector. And trying to do so on the two more moderate legs of social liberalism on the left and traditional conservatism on the right has driven many countries to swing back and forth between them, fruitlessly, while private interests advance unchecked. A third leg is required for balance.

I call it the plural sector (rather that “civil society”) because it requires a label to be seen as taking its place alongside the sectors called public and private. A society can stand tall when it is supported by the solid legs of respected governments in the public sector, responsible businesses in the private sector, and robust communities in the plural sector.

What is this plural sector? It is all those associations that are neither public nor private—owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some are owned by their members, as in cooperatives; others are owned by no-one, such as NGOs, clubs, foundations, charities, religious orders, and not-for-profit hospitals, many of these community-based. Alexis de Tocqueville referred to them as associations in his 1830s volumes on Democracy in America, and recognized the key role they were playing in sustaining the new democracy.

We too are the plural sector, each of us and all of us, in our social lives. Many of us work in the private sector and most of us vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. (How many of its associations figured in your life last week—say, shopping in a co-op, working out at the Y, attending a “private” university, maybe even marching in a protest?)

Thus, the plural sector is huge, far larger than most people recognize. (In the U.S., for example, there are more cooperative memberships than people.) Yet it is obscure, long lost in the great battles over left versus right, public controls versus private interests. This will have to change if we are to get out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. Here, then, is the fundamental point: if we are to stop our descent into self-destruction, the sector that should be called plural will have to take its place alongside the ones called public and private.

Starting in the Plural Sector    With so much dysfunction in the other two sectors, rebalancing will have to begin in the plural sector. We shall have to assert our concerns in our communities, and connect them into an international movement for reformation. The new globalization begins here, in the plural sector—socially and politically as well as economically.

Bear in mind that local community is where major social change—namely reformation—has often begun, whether the collapse of a wall in Berlin, a bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, or a list of 95 theses nailed to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The established institutions of society—governments, businesses, even some associations—usually need  to be pushed into reform of this kind. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt told a group of activists: “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”  Many a business CEO, facing the constraints of the financial world, could well be telling the activists of today the same thing.

The time for such action is right, now. Perhaps never before have so many people around the world been prepared to vote with their feet and their wallets as well as their ballots. This energy just has to be channeled constructively, toward tangible changes across all three sectors, rather than just being used to lash out in frustration.

Each of the Sectors and all of the Sectors   The plural sector, as noted, has to take the lead, but with clout. Recent protests have brought massive numbers of people into streets around the world, yet the problems continue to intensify. Effective protest requires targeted action: for example, not just occupying Wall Street, but challenging objectionable activities taking place behind its closed doors. In Paraguay, recently, women fed up with the acquittal of a corrupt politician pelted his house with eggs. He resigned. The potential of caring people—especially women and youth—has hardly been tapped.

The associations of the plural sector can also be a potent force for rebalancing, especially working together. Now more than ever, we need full recognition of de Tocqueville’s point about the role that these associations can play in sustaining democracy. This sector may indeed be plural—it includes the National Rifle Association, and so on. But for every NRA, the sector encompasses NGOs concerned with the consequences of imbalance. Amnesty International deals with the problems of social justice, Greenpeace with threats to the environment, Doctors Without Borders with the injures of war.  Beyond each of these specific causes, however, lies their common cause, namely to correct the imbalance that helps to create these problems. What if an alliance of prominent NGOs championed a mobilizing manifesto for balance? As David Brooks put it in a New York Times comment, “…people in the exhausted majority have no narrative…no coherent philosophic worldview to organize their thinking and compel action” (17 October 2018). 

In the private sector, corporations can likewise be addressing the causes of social and environmental problems, beyond relieving their conditions. For example, recycling is good, but reducing waste is better. And best of all would be CSR to promote balance in society, in place of corporate activities that exacerbate the imbalance. But for serious consideration of this, publicly-traded corporations will have to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the stock markets---that short-term obsession with MORE. A utopian thought? Maybe. But businesspeople need only look to Venezuela to appreciate what they have to lose when imbalance runs its full course.

Turning to the public sector, to deal with income disparities, governments will have to liberate themselves from the monied interests of society, domestic and global. This can start with a frontal attack on the legal bribery of political donations.

Some countries, notably in Scandinavia, function well because they have retained their balance. Others, especially some of the most “advanced”, need to recover it before they too cede their democracy to narrow populism. And internationally, few countries can stand up to the divide-and-rule tactics of economic globalization. But acting together, however, they could—as the European Union has demonstrated in confronting companies such as Google. Moreover, acting together, smaller democratic countries need to challenge the assumption that three superpowers must vie with each other for global superiority. Enough of this dangerous nonsense. Is some sort of balanced global governance possible? It had better be so long as nuclear holocaust is possible.

Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. The gangs would take over, carving up the place for themselves, or else battling until they destroy each other, and perhaps the city as well. This is the state of our global village today. Imagine, instead, if an assembly of balanced democracies took on the common cause of global sanity. Who knows, maybe one day this could metamorphose into a Peace Council, to replace the Security Council of the United Nations, whose five permanent members account for about three-quarters of the world’s exports of arms. This is an insecurity council.

Does this idea sound impossible? Only in the context of the lunacy that we take for granted. Such a council in waiting could certainly be possible, indeed may be exactly what we shall need when a real catastrophe is imminent. And please understand that with the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world ruled increasingly by loose-cannon thugs, this is a question of when, not if. Thus, we need solutions that seem impossible until they become obvious.

Above all there must be a consolidation of effort across all the sectors. We have heard much about PPPs—public-private-partnerships. We need to hear more about PPPPs—again with the plural sector taking its rightful place alongside the other two. Our downward spiral will continue as long as the sectors work at cross-purposes, with the powerful private sector lobbying a weakened public sector that accedes to it or else colludes with it, while both sectors ignore the plural sector, which, in turn, lash out at the excesses of both.

An ascending spiral of renewal can combine what each of the sectors can contribute for balance. Grounded engagement in the plural sector can prompt orchestrated planning in the public sector to encourage autonomous venturing in the private sector. We need to act personally and plurally, privately and publicly.

Each of us and All of us    All of the above is not about whoever “ought to be doing something about this.”  It is about each of us and all of us, who need to create a groundswell for a world of decency. We vote knowing that our one ballot hardly counts but that all our ballots together do. We shall have to adopt the same attitude as we vote in other ways, for the sake of balance: socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.

Next Post:  PART V. YOU CHOOSE: GROUNDED REFORMATION OR GLOBAL DEVASTATION?

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part III

16 August 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

Economic Globalization Unconstrained   The imbalance in favor of the “monied corporations” that concerned Thomas Jefferson has gone global, replacing American hegemony. This is an economic form of globalization that amalgamates the power of multinational corporations, free of any countervailing power. There is no substantial global government to speak of; indeed, the most powerful international agencies, all of them ardently economic—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD—are cheerleaders for this globalization.

In effect, an unholy alliance of economic dogma with private greed has been overwhelming our collective needs and common interests, thereby destabilizing much of the globe. United this alliance stands, so that divided, many nations yield (excepting the three superpowers, which are able to cheerlead for their own multinationals). On the “level playing field” of our global village, the New York Giants take on some high school team from Timbuktu, with the WTO as the referee. All this in the name of “liberal democracy”.

How Liberal Democracy has become an Oxymoron   Good luck trying to sort out the different meanings of the word “liberal”. My Oxford dictionary lists “favoring individual liberty and limited government involvement in economic affairs” alongside “favoring…a significant role for the state in matters of economics and social justice” together with “open-minded, not prejudiced.” Why not have it all: open markets, open societies. open minds? Many eminent liberals and conservatives alike, on both side of the Atlantic (even though Europeans tend to use the word in the first sense, Americans in the second), do believe that we can have it all, under the label “liberal democracy”.

This worked, more or less, when democracy was overcoming the rule of monarchs, aristocrats, and autocrats. But with the rise of the great imbalance, in favor of private sector interests, the term liberal democracy has become an oxymoron, as the wealthy nations that most subscribe to it have become less democratic and less socially liberal.

How has this happened? Quite simply, in fact. (1) Economic globalization, facing no countervailing power, has been able to play many governments off against each other, especially to have taxes cut on wealth and profits. (2) Denied these traditional sources of income, the governments have reduced services, especially for the disadvantaged, and raised regressive taxes, namely on the sale of goods and services. (3)  And this has further squeezed the very people marginalized by this globalization, namely those who have endured cuts in their wages, benefits, and protections. There is an economic tide all right, but rather than raising all boats, the buoyant yachts have been swamping the anchored dinghies.

Those people still enamored with liberal democracy—usually its prime beneficiaries—don’t get this, or at least don’t care to get it, even though many of the less educated people who have been suffering the consequences do. They sense that free enterprises in free markets have become antithetical to their own freedoms. But not knowing what to do about it, they have been lashing out in the place most open to them, the ballot box. After all, you can con all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot con many of the people most of the time.

The effect of this has become all too evident, with strongmen (so far, no women) elected in countries such as Venezuela, Hungary, Nicaragua, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and the United States, not to mention the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Donald Trump has become a model of sorts, having empowered the bullies of the world, in the high offices as well as on the high streets.

Anything but the establishment, say many of these voters, who certainly know what they are against. So vote they do, far left or far right—who can tell the difference anyway?  (Was the Brexit majority left or right?)  Unfortunately for them, populist leaders often become tyrants, turning against the very democracy that put them into office. (The prime minister of Hungary proudly calls his country an “illiberal democracy”. At least he has the adjective right.) Some wreck their economies in the process, with Venezuela leading the pack. How many others will follow? And if you think that only the marginalized suffer, check out the fortunes of the privileged in Venezuela.

France recently appeared to go another way. Its electorate rejected the far right and the far left, to get the established center—liberal democracy. Then, with an increase in diesel fuel taxes—the regressive straw on that camel’s back—came massive protests in the streets. When up to 77% of the people support a protests, you know that something is up. Or at least down, namely liberal democracy. Where to go next?

 

Next Post  Part IV:  Regaining Balance

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.