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The Future of International Institutions

July 25, 2018


The World Academy of Arts & Sciences organised a Colloquium with organisations including the World University Consortium, and a number of academic institutions, in Paris in early May. The topic was “The Role and Impact of International Institutions on Economic Theory and Policy”. I kicked it off with a talk on “The near future to 2030 and its potential impact on the role and impact of International Institutions on Economic Theory and Policy”. The message of this was that many international organisations are outcomes of post World War II thinking and spin out of the UN in some way. The UN is likely to become less effective over the next decade as the US pulls back financial and moral support. Other sorts of international institutions – connected to specific topics such as security, access to Arctic resources, etc – will become more effective.

The link to the web site is

Some personal reflections:

  • A number of presentations focused on the shortcomings of UN agencies and organisations, with boundaries or terms of reference less relevant than when they were set up. One example was the Food and Agriculture Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. The current status is that obesity rather than food shortages are the key concern in the future; and that while the world can provide enough food for the growth in population, there will continue to be losses and inefficiencies in distribution.
  • The need for a new economic theory was a major discussion theme – this is an ongoing open project for WAAS –– and starts from the position that the world confronts a paradox: Unparalleled global production capacity exists side by side with high and rising levels of unemployment, inequality, financial instability, social unrest and ecological degradation. Efforts to reform current economic policy and institutions are invariably opposed by both an intellectual orthodoxy and vested economic interests, drawing on the conventional wisdom of prevailing economic theory to support prevailing policies. The multidimensional challenges confronting humanity today are human-made and can be changed by a change in thought and action. Theoretical limitations and misconceptions are a primary root cause of persistent poverty, rapid and rising levels of unemployment, inequality, and calamitous environmental threats. A fundamental change in thinking is needed to support a radical change in policies.
  • One question which also recurred is the “best” way to organize for the benefit of society. While capitalism has many clear and manifest problems, a presentation from two Russian academics had a cutting analysis of characteristics of decision making and implementation by bureaucrats, raising the question in my mind – should we be talking about trying to improve systems without approaching the topic of the people involved and human motivation.

And Paris in the spring is magical!

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

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