My New Book – The End Of Authority: How A Loss Of Legitimacy And Broken Trust Are Endangering Our Future

1442220317Consider the state of the world today: in Washington, the Democratic and Republican parties finally agreed on a deal to raise the debt ceiling after Tea Party Republicans held the country hostage over their wild goose chase to defund ObamaCare, forcing a 16-day partial government shutdown, rattling markets and bringing our political dysfunction to center stage. And we are now facing a prolonged battle over modifications to the Affordable Care Act, coming from both sides of the floor.

In Italy, the government is teetering and the threat of credit downgrade continues to loom. The international community is anxiously waiting to see if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will turn over all of his chemical weapons to United Nations inspectors as promised. The UN is working to end a 20-month rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And North Korea appears ready to test-launch a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach Seattle.

These events are surely distinct, yet each represents a common thread that is pervading the world: institutions aren’t working.

Across the globe, citizens no longer trust their governments to solve the enormous problems facing them. They no longer have confidence in the institutions of their societies to manage and lead effectively. A profound cynicism and anger prevails, at a time in history when nations desperately need public unity and morale. We are facing a crisis of authority stemming from the failure of institutions, especially of government but also of business, to provide effective leadership.

They have failed to produce equitable, stable economies untainted by crony capitalism and financial speculation. Too many countries lack reliable, fair administrations of justice and stable systems of governance. Election fraud is pervasive, especially in Russia—and even many Americans doubt the validity of their elections.

At the heart of these failures is broken trust—with constituents, with the law, and with the essential compact between government and citizen, wherein the citizen cedes some autonomy in exchange for principled leadership in the national interest. Having broken this trust repeatedly in nations across the globe, governments especially, but also other institutions—particularly business and media—have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public. And without legitimacy, there can be no authority.

But there are solutions to these tremendous challenges. In my new book, I lay out a three-pronged strategy to addressing these crises:

1. Reform and improve international institutional leadership—whether the UN, the European Union, or the World Bank; we simply must make international institutions more effective, whether in mediating violent disputes or enforcing fair trade and currency practices. Where this effort requires new institutions, this, too, should be pursued;

2. Strengthen nation-state governance; we may live in a global economy and, increasingly, a global mass culture, but the nation-state, changed as its role may be, is not going away; people of vastly different cultures demand governments that speak to their needs and aspirations, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for this task;

3. Direct specific reform and relief efforts, wherever possible, as locally as possible, in order to ensure that the benefits of these policies reach the people for whom they’re intended; in an age of technological wizardry, micro-targeting of resources, if done well, can deliver results efficiently and effectively.

There are more specific reforms, which I discuss in the book, but the overarching point is that whether they help or not, we have to recognize that we live in a world where our institutions are failing to address the challenges they were designed to address.

I want to underscore that, from the individual to the state to multilateral institutions, roles are changing and new roles are evolving. Within all the uncertainty and seeming chaos of change, there is opportunity as well. We need to seize it if we’re going to alleviate a crisis that threatens to undermine our global order. I remain hopeful that we will address our most pressing challenges in a way that, ten years from now, will give people greater confidence than they have today.

My new book, The End Of Authority: How A Loss Of Legitimacy And Broken Trust Are Endangering Our Future, is available here: