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From Global Crises to Global Governance

In a perspective from Turkiye, top business strategist and civic leader Yilmaz Argüden explores how global governance systems may be shaped by the world financial crisis. In looking forward, he takes lessons from the world’s oldest international institutions — organized religions.

The mortgage crisis that started in the United States has had a more drastic effect on the citizens of countries throughout the world than the fall of Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 or the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001.

Remembering that the 1929 economic crisis was a root cause of World War II, one easily understands that this current crisis deserves our attention for reasons far beyond its mere economic ramifications.

Beyond sharpening the awareness of Americans to the limitations of unilateralism, the current crisis has also shown Russians the fragility of depending on the ever-increasing prices of oil and gas to finance Russia’s new rise. It has also demonstrated to Chinese leaders the dependence of the “Chinese miracle” on continued global economic growth — as well as the level of profound integration of economies across the Atlantic.

However, the contagion effects of this economic crisis are much broader and have spread much faster than the SARS crisis that started a decade ago in China — and eventually led to the quasi-quarantine of a Canadian city, Toronto.
All of these events have a direct impact on our global governance systems. In practical terms, all of these events are clarion calls on us humans to ensure that our attitudes gain a global dimension as our daily life increasingly does so.

Imagine, for a moment, a management guru coming from a different planet to consult on how to establish a well-working governance system for the world. He/she would certainly not propose the current structure we find ourselves in.
The fact that jurisdictions for key governance issues such as elections, taxation and military organizations are still based purely on national boundaries makes it difficult to organize on a global scale.

Just as it would be almost impossible to run a factory optimally by asking the operator of each unit to run their machines optimally, the current organizational structure of the globe makes it difficult to agree on global priorities.

Obviously, the purpose of this hypothetical question is not to recommend abolition of national boundaries and establish a global government. However, in order to be able to deal with global issues in an effective manner, we need to understand the interdependencies between countries — and establish global institutions with adequate decision-making power which is shared and exercised equitably.

For example, it is difficult to justify the lack of veto power for India at the UN when France has one, regardless of which criteria is utilized: number of citizens, economic might, or being a nuclear power.

In thinking about setting up effective global governance mechanisms, one promising avenue is to learn from human institutions with longevity.
While there are differences among the main religions throughout the world, religions have generally survived for much longer periods than even the mightiest empires. One of the reasons for this is that religions focus on basic principles whose aim is the sustainability of communities.

One of the common principles of religions is caring for and helping others who are in need. Another is to have a perspective longer than one’s own lifetime.

As the world gets smaller and more interconnected, we have likewise come to understand that sustainability requires a perspective longer than individual’s life — and that others’ problems are also our own. If we fail to accept this, we will be endangering our own future.

For example, many religions ask their followers to give alms to the needy. If we take our global responsibilities seriously, we should organize our global institutions in such a way. That implies that the rich countries contribute significantly to ensure that the global institutions would have the means to deal with the problems of the poor.

In a way, national almsgiving by the developed countries may be a more effective way to ensure global sustainability than ever increasing defense budgets.

One common teaching of all major religions is that sharing with others builds more sustainable communities. Now with increasing global interdependence, we have to understand at long last that we live in a global community.

Consequently, we have to attack the global problems jointly and apply good governance principles not only to our own governments, but also to global institutions.

Global institutions will gain real legitimacy only if people have a say about shaping their own future, that is, to contribute in the global decision-making process. That is the principal thrust, and logical consequence of, the modern pursuit of modern age human rights and democracy.

If we are successful in bringing democratic principles to the solution of global issues, which entails the inclusion of all the interested parties in global decision making, we will be helping achieve a more sustainable and secure world.

Dr. Yilmaz ARGUDEN
yarguden@arge.com

( – 28.03.2009)