“Values to Guide Economies”
Why We Need a Global Value System to Solve the Problems of Our Time
by Prof. Dennis J. Snower, Ph.D., President of the Global Economic Symposium, President of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy
We were all shocked and deeply affected when we heard about the tragic plane crash in the French Alps on March 24th and the stories of those onboard: The schoolchildren on their way home from an exchange trip in Spain, the young opera singer and her baby—just a few of the 150 people who lost their lives. Our shock became outrage when it emerged that the plane had probably been brought down deliberately by the co-pilot, who had a history of mental illness. We were similarly outraged by the Islamist-motivated terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Yet as paradoxical as it may sound, it is tragedies such as these that prove our enduring faith in the intrinsic goodness of mankind—the fundamental trust without which our society could not function. We depend on the goodwill of our fellow human beings every single day. When we get on a plane, when we travel to work, when we leave our children at preschool. In our society, we all rely on one another—usually without ever being conscious of that fact.
Of course, there are also laws that are designed to ensure our safety and security. But our society operates as well as it does—despite its various problems—less because of these laws than because of our concept of humanity.
We rely on people being mostly benevolent, not malicious. The overwhelming majority of us have a fundamental understanding of what is obviously right and what is obviously wrong.
We rely on people being mostly benevolent, not malicious. The overwhelming majority of us have a fundamental understanding of what is obviously right and what is obviously wrong. The overwhelming majority of us share common values. The outrage we feel about the deliberate destruction of that aircraft or the attack on Charlie Hebdo has nothing to do with legislation. Rather, it is a product of our collective morality, our collective values. However, what we feel as a society when those values are violated is not necessarily shared by everyone around the world.
Globally, morality is becoming increasingly fragmented.
Globally, morality is becoming increasingly fragmented. Other cultures have different views on the relative importance of certain values and apply them differently. That is why we often feel our values are being violated in the context of global problems, for example, climate change, financial crises, scarcity of resources, or terrorist threats. No single country can solve these global problems alone. We need a minimum consensus to address these issues effectively. We need a global value system, a global identity as inhabitants of our planet, to generate the will for global cooperation.
Time is short, especially since Europe, the United States, Russia, and the major emerging economies are currently not on a path that will lead to greater consensus and cooperation in terms of their societal values and standards. That makes conflicts more likely. The hostilities in eastern Ukraine and the Middle East are symptoms of this problem.
Conflicts [in Ukraine and the Middle East] are rooted in fundamental differences in values, with absolutely no understanding of the position on the other side.
These conflicts are rooted in fundamental differences in values, with absolutely no understanding of the position on the other side. Each of the warring parties regards its particular way as the only desirable option and one that is threatened by external forces. For them, war is the only possible solution.
What is called for is open and constructive dialogue.
What is called for is open and constructive dialogue. We need to put ourselves in the other party’s position, understand their viewpoint, and, above all, respect it. With this as our basis, we should be able to find a sufficiently common system of values and standards that enables us to work together and solve our global problems.
With this in mind, I hereby invite you to join the discussions at this year’s GES with “Values to Guide Economies” as the motto. Together we can find these values in more than 20 Sessions. These are just three of them:
- Monetary Policy – Lessons Learned from the Crisis and the Post-Crisis Period
- Stopping Climate Change, Ending Poverty, and Limiting Inequality: Killing Three Birds with One Stone?
- Migrants Knocking on Europe’s Doors: Towards a Coherent Response to Irregular Immigration