Global leaders accused of failing on social cohesion

By on 23/01/2015
Think-tank chief Anne-Marie Slaughter argues that global government leadership is in crisis.

Global leadership is failing to achieve social cohesion and stability, US think-tank chief Anne-Marie Slaughter told the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos this week.

Speaking during a panel discussion titled ‘Leadership in Crisis’ on 21 January, Slaughter argued that unreformed global institutions, racial tensions and social inequality are evidence that governments around the world have not succeeded in creating social cohesion. This is a concept the OECD defines as fighting exclusion and marginalisation, creating a sense of belonging and promoting upward mobility.

She said that the UN Security Council, which still grants veto powers to only five members – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, “does not foster cohesion” because it does not represent the “vast majority of the world’s population”.

She added: “I keep wondering, are we in 2045 still going to have the winners of world war two running the world with vetoes on the security council? Really? But we are incapable of reforming those institutions.”

Tackling inequality and achieving social cohesion is high on the agenda in Davos this week. The panel discussion started off by panelists stating whether they agreed with the statement that public leadership is failing to deliver social cohesion and stability, and explaining their stance.

Slaughter, president and chief executive of the New America Foundation, which focuses on US politics and prosperity in the digital age, argued that “government leadership is unquestionably failing to deliver social cohesion and much else.”

She said: “I will start with the United States because it’s a very easy case. We are grappling with a racial divide and class divide the likes of which we have not seen for decades.

“We should be having a national dialogue about race, class and justice, but we are not. We are seeing demonstrations, hearing different views through media but we are not having a national conversation.”

Infrastructure, Slaughter said, is another example of inequality in the US: “We have two transport systems – one for the wealthy who have private jets or very nice accommodations that fast-track through the long lines everybody else has to go through, and the other are trains that would honestly embarrass a developing country, trains that let the snow in, trains that are never on time and buses.

“We have two different experiences, and that’s a very important part of social cohesion. When you have something as basic as getting to work or travelling, that’s very bad.”

Slaughter also described America’s political system as “broken”, adding that “apathy is unbelievably high, congressional ratings are in single digits.

“Basically the country believes that the political system is broken and yet we are unable to fix it. So on three areas we are divided increasingly by the inability to fix our own problems.”

Mauricio Cárdenas, Colombia’s minister of finance and public credit, who was also on the panel, disagreed with Slaughter. Stating that public leadership is failing in general, he argued is “not a valid proposition, because not everywhere in the world that’s the case.”

He called for the discussion to be broadened beyond the US and Europe, citing the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, who is leading a peace process after 50 years of armed conflict, as an example of “leadership in action – not leadership in crisis”.

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Jose Manuel Barroso speaks during the Forum Debate ‘Leadership in Crisis’ at the congress centre during the Annual Meeting 2015 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 21, 2015.

Cárdenas’s view was echoed by former president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, who said: “I think it’s completely incorrect and inadequate to talk about the ‘developed world’ or ‘emerging economies’; we have great stories of success, but also great failures. I think we should avoid these kinds of simplifications.”

Barroso also said that while public services are in crisis, the real problem is more general and called for the focus to be on the constraints faced by public leaders, such as changes to the economy and attitudes towards democracy.

Former minister of trade and industry of Venezuela, Moisés Naím, agreed that public leaders face tight constraints, but blamed this on a lack of innovation in the public sector and governments. He said: “We live in a world in which we are surrounded by innovation; everything we do, whether that’s brushing our teeth, the way we shop, or the way we travel – everything has been transformed by innovation. Everything has changed. Except the way we govern ourselves. There is total stagnation.”

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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