The world is changing and the future is increasingly becoming uncertain. Gone are the days when you could predict the next course of action along the dominant ideologies.
Political and social order was governed by ideology. There were visions then crafted by intellectuals. Today, we are staring at a future without intellectual leadership.
Adam Smith gave rise to capitalist ideology: A belief based on private property and the profit motive as a fundamental force of nature that is largely governed by laws of economics.
Political and social decisions were made through the lenses of capitalism. German sociologist Karl Marx came up with the communist ideology: A belief which, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “should replace private property and a profit-based economy with public ownership and communal control of at least the major means of production and the natural resources of a society.”
Each of the two ideologies metamorphosed into something close to a mixed economy type where the state has some role and the private sector plays some role too.
In effect, ideology separated from political process that in the recent past we have seen more of populism than ideologically driven political issues.
For more than 50 years, the works of economist John Maynard Keynes dominated capitalist governments.
In his attempt to deal with the 1930s recession, he advocated for greater government spending and lower taxes to stimulate demand.
By the early 1980s, Keynesian economic propositions were under intense criticism from monetarist (those who believe that an economy’s performance is determined almost entirely by changes in the money supply) economists that became closely associated with the Thatcher/Reagan political revolution.
One of the critics, Milton Friedman, described the situation under Keynesian economics as “manifestly unsound.” The economic discourse, however, did not affect the underlying ideology.
Although it can be argued that it was in 1989, after the fall of Berlin Wall, that ideology began to take a beating, it is the 2007-2008 global financial crisis that caused significant damage to ideology.
The enactment in the US of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, sometimes called the “bailout,” enabled the government to inject $700 billion into private investment as a strategy to stop what would have been a financial catastrophe.
Other issues contributing to the disruption of ideology include: immigration, terrorism, technology and unemployment. The failure to address some of these issues more openly has privately led to a more uncertain world.
In Britain, the fear of immigration saw the country’s population vote for the exit (Brexit as it was popularly referred to) from the European Union. Political opportunists learnt from Brexit and used the same tactics to propel their populist ideals. The US that gave rise to capitalist ideology became the first victim of the changing world.
Austria and Holland missed the new movement by a whisker and for the first time in France an extremist went through round one of the election. Thank God the people of France rejected her anti-globalization agenda.
It is not all lost. Columbia University recently held what they called a “Global Think-in” to launch its research project Committee on Global Thought: “Thoughts on a Changing World.” I was a participant in round one of the discussion.
The objective of the research is to examine emerging global events that “have made it clear that the world is changing: in national politics and international relations, in social values and priorities, in views of the past and hopes for the future.”
Preliminary solutions to these growing problems include: re-thinking development to include inclusive models of development, leveraging technology to create jobs for young people and other marginalized groups, and need for greater collaborations within and between countries to minimize terrorist occurrences.
Political populism would perhaps be the greatest fuel of terrorism. The earlier we dealt with it the better.
The world today needs intellectual leadership more than ever before. Societies transform when there is clear vision of the future.
For now, there isn’t any vison to take us on the right course of development. Henry Ford said, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” Let’s remedy our leadership.