The World in 2017: A Wake-up Call for the Global Elite

Most commentaries on Trump election and Brexit verdict continue to focus primarily on the severity of the economic and political impact on virtually every region of the world. Analysts look upon the outcome largely as a geo-political blow to rational international dialogue and as an economic shock with unpredictable results. There has been an almost unanimous disbelief that the unthinkable has happened. As to why it happened, the consensus prognosis is that the people who voted for Trump and for Brexit were either misinformed, or under-informed or ignorant.

It is not often acknowledged that these outcomes are possibly another confirmation that for far too long, we have been living in a world that has been ruled by “governments of the elite, by the elite and for the elite”, even in the so-called democracies. The escalating government debts and the persistently high unemployment levels all over the world, have led to continuing poverty and unrelenting inequality. The shocking indifference of the governments in power to these perpetual tragedies has caused a deep level of dissatisfaction with the governments in most nations. Brexit and the Trump election in USA are some of the stark manifestations of these frustrations.

It would be interesting to see if the constitutional referendum in Italy and elections in Austria in December would also follow similar path. These will be followed by equally significant elections in the Netherlands in March, France in May, and Germany in September.

These events are strong pointers that many countries in the West are likely to follow populist policies, such as limiting globalization, reducing outsourcing, and restricting immigration, all leading to increased protectionism. It is debatable whether these policies will actually help the forgotten masses in those countries. But that is another debate.

We in India are presently concerned with whether we are well placed to face these global challenges, by following our own, unique trajectories of growth. Sadly, the confidence that was tangibly perceptible about the near-term future of India till recently, has been somewhat clouded by the likely impact of demonetization. Overnight, the focus on growth has been transformed, to focus on recovery at macro-level, and survival at micro-level.

Many observers feel that India has succeeded in scoring a self-goal, because the recovery from demonetization could be a long, arduous process. It is an unknown terrain, and it is still being assessed as to how long this process would take.

Every day brings more reports of the misery and plight of the vast majority of Indian citizens who have become unconscious victims of a ploy to cleanse the country from rampant corruption. This could well be a situation where the collateral damage of a well-intentioned move could many times outweigh even the best gains from the main objective.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen believes that demonetization undermines the entire economy of trust. The government promises in the promissory note that whenever the bearer wants, government will ensure that the bearer receives the amount mentioned, and to break such a promise does not bode well for the trust in government.

The onus is entirely and squarely with the central government to ensure that this ‘trust’ is restored. Adequate corrective measures need to be taken to make sure that the implementation of this policy does not lead to mass frustrations and disgruntlements. Since this is an irreversible decision, every citizen of India has a phenomenal stake in the success of this move.

It would be prudent for the ruling elite to accept, howsoever grudgingly, that we are now passing through an era where the poor in India would no longer accept poverty and joblessness as destiny. They are already witnessing a colossal new phenomenon of daylight corruption in converting old money to new money. It is happening round the clock, and yet those engaged in the process, as always, are going unpunished. If they find in the coming months that nothing has changed and everything continues as before, they will be angry, really angry. The travails they suffered will have been in vain.

The sacrifices they are making in coping with the unwarranted problems thrust upon them is a clarion call to wake up the ruling elites from their political complacency and remind them unambiguously that while their prosperity has not been impacted much, their less-fortunate co-citizens could perhaps face harsher times in the next few months. Unless of course, the government gets its act together, to revive the index of trust all over again, with transparent transparency.

A vast majority of the people in India today are increasingly discovering a common bond that transcends boundaries and affiliations of all kinds. This thread of bonding will encompass all sections of societies, except the elite. They will be united by shared gloom and despair.

Every crisis is an opportunity. The good news is that the present situation offers a new window of opportunity where responsible, conscientious leadership can radically transform the nation and relieve it of some of the perennial problems. The political leaders in all parties need to accept the new ground realities. The need of the moment is to re-align our priorities with those of the forgotten masses of India.  A simple way would be to start measuring our progress by the GDP growth of the bottom 80% of the population. Changing course is admittedly difficult, but there is no alternative. If we do not, we may be overwhelmed by even more serious, uncontrollable transformational forces, quite akin to what is happening elsewhere in the world.

About the Author:

Ravi Chaudhry is the Chairman of CeNext Consulting Group, Strategy Consultant to government and global corporations, mentor to CEOs and Corporate Boards on Governance, Innovation and ‘Re-inventing Strategy to Cope with Future’. His book, Quest for Exceptional Leadership: Mirage to Reality – 2nd Edition  has been globally acclaimed as “the best book on leadership in years and a rare combination of sound business thinking and accessible philosophy.” A Fellow of World Business Academy, USA, and recipient of Ambassador of Knowledge Award, he is often referred to as a leadership guru. Earlier, he was the Chairman/CEO of four companies in Tata Group, India.