Global Trends 2020

Can governments ever tell a compelling story?

Some of the key clashes of values in global trends concern globalisation and the role of the state. While on average most citizens see globalisation as a benefit to both their country and themselves, there are vast variations in attitudes around the world.

We often feel deeply divided: many say that, in their country, there is increasing friction between people who don’t share the same values, although they are united by dissatisfaction with their government and elites.

Around the world we see the tone of societal debates hardening. Populist sentiment remains high in the majority of European countries, and 2019 saw a global wave of populist revolution, with people from Hong Kong to Chile, France to Lebanon, gathering on the streets to voice their dissent. These public demands for state action are not limited to economic measures such as inequality or stagnation but also over greater democracy, immigration, or more action to tackle climate change.

It is worth remembering that dissatisfaction with governments and a feeling of fragmentation are not new. These feelings aren’t getting worse, which may be some comfort to those leading our societies. What we are dealing with is an innate human talent for ‘rosy retrospection’, meaning that everything looks better in the rear-view mirror,61 combined of course, with our current widespread pessimism about the future – which we have explored in our trend, the enduring appeal of nostalgia.

In established markets, where citizens are beset by pessimism for their future, governments have attempted to accommodate popular demands for cultural and economic protection from the impact of globalisation on migration and trade. It is a political tightrope – previous approaches by leaders before the 2008 crash are now tarnished in the eyes of many young people as the unconditional acceptance of the free market and neoliberalism.

Whereas at the start of the century, liberal capitalism seemed the only game in town, now values of climate emergency, regulate big tech and wealth redistribution all appear in our analysis of the top ten shared global values. This reflects the growing demand for a more protective and assertive state in many countries. Questions about why, when and – most importantly – how the state should act, are back at the centre of public debate.

At a time in history where many things are genuinely getting better, the challenge for political and business leaders is to tell a compelling story to challenge the default public narrative of everything getting worse.

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