Members and guests recently enjoyed discussions in Melbourne and in Sydney with two of the most influential Australians on the international stage, addressing the Foundation’s continuing theme: Getting a Grip on a Nation and a World in Flux. The two gatherings followed recent calls from our membership for a positive and managed global shift towards more ‘cooperative globalisation’.
News Corp CEO Robert Thomson met with members and guests over breakfast in Melbourne on 19 August, hosted by Foundation Patron, Mr Fergus Ryan. Reserve Bank of Australia Governor, Mr Glenn Stevens, met over a boardroom lunch in Sydney on 23 August, hosted by the Vice Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, Professor Greg Craven. ACU has recently joined the Foundation as a Key Partner and was warmly welcomed in this capacity by Foundation Chairman, Mr Jock Murray.
Both events were conducted according to the Chatham House rule.
Scepticism about the influence of open markets is prevalent across the Western world, at least, on both the left and right of politics. Business and finance, which should be a leader, is now often seen as a villain.
Economies are ‘ok’ but not as good as people expect. Recovery is slow, hesitant, faltering. The last decade was abnormal – uniquely prosperous, stable but with fragile foundations. Monetary policy may have reached the point of exhaustion. At the same time, many nations are also close to their fiscal limits. It is hard to see how it ends well. Standard tools have been deployed to their limit, yet what are the new tools that may need to be invented and deployed?
There is real danger of a retreat from globalisation, which would be damaging and dangerous – hundreds of millions of people have been given access to markets and have improved their living standards as a result. This would constitute a tragedy of epochal proportions if ‘turned off’.
Political processes (in much of the Western world, at least) have changed. There is no longer a broad consensus, within and between nations. Inequality is, in some instances, at record levels and community trust is weak. At the same time, much debate about economics is superficial, characterised by ‘faux outrage’ about so-called ‘unfairness’.
Yet, if economic circumstances worsen, then very tough discussions and decisions will have to follow.
Large, underlying issues fail to be adequately addressed. What are we going to do for work, in the near future? Will we live more modular existences, rather than being occupied and remunerated for usual and enduring employment? Emotional intelligence is a vital skill, alongside more technical capabilities. How will this be encouraged?
At the same time, the role of traditional media as an interlocutor between those who govern and the governed is under threat, with content creation and knowledge gathering suffering at the hands of new media aggregators and distributors of information. How are issues being seriously communicated and considered?
Official inter-governmental fora are now less effective, almost to the point of irrelevance. How will agreement otherwise be reached, if not led by governments?
The need to encourage new forms of interaction, not limited to or necessarily led by governments, was emphasised, as was the need to fully embrace newly emerged and emerging nations in this re-design.
In framing the issue of how would China move, or be allowed to move, to a status equal with that of the United States, one view was that ‘China will define itself partly by how others see it.’ On the other hand, China’s international actions in lesser developed nations were producing forms of resentment.
We need a form of dialect and dialogue, language that works and that ‘meets the moment’. How do we address multiple and complex issues such as digitisation, secularisation, the era of post-mass materialism, and the rise of nationalism and hostility?
The centrality of values was common to both discussions, as was the need to re-introduce ethics and restraint.
The notion of encouraging honest dialogue, at the Foundation’s annual Rome Roundtable, which enables the intersection of multiple perspectives – of community, business, faiths, governments – was warmly welcomed and encouraged.
Our Foundation intention, of being a genuine market-place of ideas, of searching for common language, around fuzzy concepts such as ‘moving from the liquid to the social economy’, was seen as ‘hopeful and virtuous, as distinct from those who distribute latent dissatisfaction’.
The importance was emphasised, of remaining grounded in seeking to encourage multiple ‘bottom-up’ solutions, not only in imposing ‘top-down’ outcomes in a world awash in a tsunami of often conflicting ideas.