Political Time Machine: Where to Go?

At the SPIEF-2018, the Valdai Club will hold a special session, titled “Turning Back the Clock: Political Rivalry vs Economic Interaction.” The title suggests that it will be about how the current political mores are hurting prosperity, the unconditional common goal of humanity. But at the same time it is well known that any development is a consequence of contradictions and conflicts. Where will the current contradictions lead us to?

One of the greatest problems of mankind is addiction to self-destruction. History is a series of survivals and salvations in an endless chain of wars, conflicts and violence. At the same time it is the reckless conflicts between peoples, their propensity for aggression that led to the incredible prosperity of the modern world. Moreover, the most destructive weapon – the nuclear bomb – proved to be an element of deterrence and, therefore, of progress.

Partly due to this circumstance the modern conflicts acquired a peculiar form, which many describe as a kind of a cold war, that is struggle where the direct use of force is limited. But methods typical for the Cold War period are broadly used: economic sanctions, threats, pressure. Sometimes these measures are quite comparable in terms of their destructive power to the direct use of force, since they can hamper the development not only of certain regions and countries, but of the whole world. 

The fact is that the development of modern economy and technology has led to an unprecedented interdependence in the world, and very few processes can develop in isolation. Not only countries, but entire economic branches are interconnected. For example, digital communications generated the notion of “digital economy,” which became really global. Now it is difficult to imagine a “non-digital economy.” The power of modern technologies is so great that humanity can use them for its own development. Such power, for example, the ability of people to change the climate, consciously and unconsciously, requires appropriate rational governance on the planetary scale. Development of communications gave rise to a raging ocean of chaotic, often inaccurate, and even simply fake information, where entire social layers are being lost. 

But instead of the creative and conscientious efforts of the world elites to overcome the incredibly serious challenges of our times, we see growing intolerance and impulsiveness, which often exacerbate the already difficult situations. The latest example is the Iran nuclear deal, which the US can undermine with incredible consequences. It seems that we are watching a modern American TV series like Madam Secretary. 

The problem is that we probably do not understand the nature of what is happening. Yes, on the surface we see the movements of politicians, their statements, their decisions, but the question is: What are their motives? Their countries’ economic interests? Ideological considerations? Madness? After all, this is possible. We use many concepts, not understanding well what they mean. For example, the notorious “cold war.” There is no precise definition. Or “property,” although economists will condemn me. Or “globalization.” It is funny, but we use these concepts very successfully, and sometimes it seems that we understand each other. 

In many ways, the current political rivalry is explained by the fact that the world elites have lost the general narrative. With all the technological power of modern civilization, we have obviously lost goals of the global development. The modern world does not have big political projects, uniting at least a significant part of humanity. We do not view the world as a single big topic, as a global human plan. On the contrary, we view the world as a set of fractional problems, like local conflicts, defects of existence. These particularities – in the Middle East, in Africa or in Latin America – overlap, which is quite clear. But such “clearness” does not help overcome the fragmentation of the world. 

Even the economic development requires some planning. The invisible hand of the market has long been entangled in the numerous pockets of the present world, trying to find there at least fragments of recipes for sustainable development ... or something else. 

However, the current conflicts can play a positive role, because progress only comes from contradictions. So the current difficulties need to be discussed, creating an imagined future, the route toward which will be determined during the discussions. There is no way other than intellectual comprehension of existing problems. 

Of course, one cannot make everything good with conversations alone, but each of them is important. We hope the discussion at the Valdai Club session will be important, too.