The Challenge For Corporate Leaders
If business leaders don’t step up to shape a more positive future, they risk a backlash that will limit their ability to create value going forward.
than it is today. THE WORLD HAS NEVER BEEN MORE PROSPEROUS People around the world live longer, healthier lives than ever before. In emerging markets, billions of people have moved out of extreme poverty, and in the developed world, we enjoy better medicines, education, information, connectivity, and mobility than most of us could have imagined a quarter century ago.
These achievements have many fathers and mothers. Human inventiveness, political leadership, social activism and entrepreneurship have all contributed to what Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen described as ‘human freedom’. Carefully-crafted policies for the free exchange of goods, services, capital and labour — commonly known as globalization — and the march of technology have also played essential roles. These two forces have increased productivity, opened up markets, and created opportunities for billions of people to improve their lives.
We also live in a time of growing inequality and uncertainty. Societies are being fundamentally challenged in ways we have not seen for decades — with nationalistic rhetoric and agendas from the far right and a deep distrust of business, globalization and technology from the far left. Many worry that such a polarization of public opinion and policy making could introduce new risks and uncertainties that would deter investment — which is already far too low, judging by current interest rates — and undermine the basis for future prosperity.
Why this polarization? While there are many causes, and they vary from country to country, it reflects in large part widespread and growing dissatisfaction with entrenched economic and social inequality and greater personal uncertainty in a fastchanging global economy. It also reflects people’s mistrust of political and corporate elites, who are seen as the architects of this state of affairs.
Economic inequality within our societies is a by-product of the way we have managed the past three and a half decades of global economic integration. At the same time, technology — in particular, recent advances in robotics, machine intelligence, and distributed ledgers (The Blockchain) — could replace human