Cadmus

In Search of a New Paradigm for Global Development

2. Historical Precedents

History offers precedents for radical change. Usually, it occurs in the form of violent revolution in the face of intractable vested interests that resist dilution of their power. Occasionally, it has been ushered in by far-sighted leaders who recognized the urgent need for rapid social evolution to preempt the possibility of violent revolution. England sought to avoid a repetition of the bloodshed that wiped out the French aristocracy by opening up to the prospering middle class a greater share of political power and social respectability. Abraham Lincoln led a silent social revolution during the closing days of the Civil War when he delayed the armistice while exerting every power at his disposal to compel a reluctant Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Had he not done so, the return of the southern states to participate in the government might have postponed the emancipation of the blacks by half a century or more. Britain once again avoided revolution when it became the first of the imperial powers to systematically dismantle its global empire with the granting of independence to India in 1947, which was quickly followed by freedom for more than 50 other subject nations, representing about one-third of the entire human race.

After fighting two horrendous world wars, the great powers felt compelled to take unprecedented steps to found the UNO as a buttress against the prospect of an annihilating conflagration between nuclear superpowers. Since then, major conflict has been largely transferred from the battle field to the conference table. Similarly, after centuries of incessant warfare, perennially warring European powers took the first step toward founding a new European Union that has come to make war in Europe unthinkable. In an unprecedented action, Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Empire as well as the authoritarian power structure of the USSR from within, ending the Cold War and dissolving the barriers between the East and West in the process. The combination of these three evolutionary changes has been remarkable. Between 1950 and 2010, annual war casualties are estimated to have dropped from 500,000 to 30,000 annually.1 Since 1988 high intensity wars that kill at least 1000 people a year have declined by 78%.2

Another US President, Franklin Roosevelt, performed a similar deed in the wake of the US banking panic of 1932 when he pushed through a radical reform of the banking system, erecting the safeguards that protected the economy from a single banking crisis for more than seven decades. Crisis returned only when the wall of protection he erected was dismantled under pressure from aggressive banks eager to exploit the opportunities of globalization free from the restraining influence of regulation and even commonsense. It was almost unthinkable at that time to imagine that the world’s leading proponent of free enterprise should introduce radical socialist policies. Yet during the following two years, FDR pushed even further by ushering in the New Deal, a radical reformulation of public policy to promote social security in a country previously resistant to all government-sponsored welfare measures. Had he not died prematurely before the end of the war, he would have capped his revolutionary program with a new bill of economic rights, which included the right to employment.

The challenges confronting humanity today are as formidable and threatening as any or all of these earlier challenges combined. At the same time the opportunities available to humanity to meet the needs of all human beings have never been greater. Both the compulsions of eminent danger and the prospects for unprecedented progress constitute powerful incentives and enabling conditions for unparalleled actions with potentially momentous consequences.

Another US President, Franklin Roosevelt, performed a similar deed in the wake of the US banking panic of 1932 when he pushed through a radical reform of the banking system, erecting the safeguards that protected the economy from a single banking crisis for more than seven decades. Crisis returned only when the wall of protection he erected was dismantled under pressure from aggressive banks eager to exploit the opportunities of globalization free from the restraining influence of regulation and even commonsense. It was almost unthinkable at that time to imagine that the world’s leading proponent of free enterprise should introduce radical socialist policies. Yet during the following two years, FDR pushed even further by ushering in the New Deal, a radical reformulation of public policy to promote social security in a country previously resistant to all government-sponsored welfare measures. Had he not died prematurely before the end of the war, he would have capped his revolutionary program with a new bill of economic rights, which included the right to employment.

The challenges confronting humanity today are as formidable and threatening as any or all of these earlier challenges combined. At the same time the opportunities available to humanity to meet the needs of all human beings have never been greater. Both the compulsions of eminent danger and the prospects for unprecedented progress constitute powerful incentives and enabling conditions for unparalleled actions with potentially momentous consequences.

1. Kishore Mahbubani, The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the logic of one world (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013), 16.
2. Ibid, p.15.


Pages: 1 2 3