Progressive Governance Conference

Chile ’09

About the conference

Policy Network, acting as the secretariat of the Progressive Governance Network, is organising the 2009 Progressive Governance Conference in partnership with the Instituto Iguladad and the Government of Chile. Hosted by her excellency, President Michelle Bachelet, the conference will take place on 27 March 2009 in Chile.

Preceding a government summit of heads of state and government from around the world, the Progressive Governance Conference will again bring together over 200 senior policymakers, government advisers, and experts to debate the future of progressive politics in the light of current political and economic developments.

The meeting, which takes place five days before the April G20 summit in London, builds on the 2008 Progressive Governance Conference and Summit, which convened over 15 world leaders, and the heads of major international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, UNDP, and the WTO, to debate the theme of “an inclusive globalisation: promoting prosperity for all”.

Conference agenda

The main plenaries of the conference will feature sessions on progressive politics after the financial crisis; towards a responsible and sustainable globalisation; and responses to the global crisis: charting a progressive path.

Break-out sessions will be held on climate change in the global recession; social protection and labour markets in the global age; the role of the state in economic development; and science and innovation for sustainable growth.

A full agenda, including a comprehensive line-up of international attendees and high-level speakers, will be available on the Policy Network website soon.

Themes and context

The full implications of the current global financial crisis are hard to assess at the present juncture, whether in relation to our economies or with regard to wider political dynamics. However, three striking developments are already discernible. First, the crisis demonstrates the stark reality of global interdependence in the 21st century. The suggestion that global economic growth – particularly among emerging markets – had somehow been “decoupled” from the health of the American economy has been proven hollow. Instead, barely any nation has remained untouched by the crisis in the inadequately regulated global financial system.

Second, the crisis has exposed the fragility of globalisation. As sources of financing dry up, we are witnessing a dramatic fall in world trade, with drastic effects on big exporting nations such as China, Germany and Japan. No longer willing to accept large emerging market risk exposures, banks are pulling in their horns to domestic markets. Rescue packages aimed at European and US industries threaten to reverse decades of hard-won multilateral trade liberalisation. All over the world there is a perceptible increase in anti-immigrant feeling. Indeed, several observers are already talking about evidence of de-globalisation.

Third, the neo-liberal faith in laissez-faire as the dominant guiding principle for the organisation of markets has been shattered. The crisis has glaringly exposed the limits of excessive market liberalisation: left to their own devices, markets cannot be guaranteed to serve the public interest. In a similar fashion to the radical ideological shifts which took place at the end of the 1970s, we are currently witnessing the demolition of the political foundations of neo-liberalism and the irrefutable ending of its intellectual hegemony in the western hemisphere.

These developments have huge implications. First and foremost, they present progressive governments and policymakers around the world with the task of re-building an international economic and financial order at a time when the tendency is to focus on state-level solutions. Importantly, this challenge concerns developing and developed countries alike. Globalisation must remain the key framework for thinking about progressive politics; otherwise we risk undermining the progress made so far, including the creation of unprecedented levels of wealth which helped lift millions out of poverty around the world.

At the same time, as faith in unregulated markets crumbles, progressives urgently need to fill an ideological vacuum which risks being taken over by populists. Yet the “end of neo-liberal hegemony” is interpreted differently by people in different societies, depending on their prior conceptions and experiences of markets. The result is vastly different views on the needed reforms, including the viability and effects of global stimulus plans, the benefits and scope of increased financial regulation, or the measures needed to correct global economic imbalances.

In short, the challenges ahead carry a great opportunity for progressives but also a risk. On the one hand, the strength of modern social-democratic politics has always been to recognise and come to terms with new realities. On the other hand, this “progressive moment” will requires a fundamental overhaul of centre-left policies, recognising not only the urgency and severity of the current crisis, but also the complex relationship between the quest for social justice, the need for economic dynamism and sustainable development in the global age. If the centre-left fails to present a credible alternative which can actually serve the population at large, it will risk fading into political irrelevance and further aggravating the crisis.

The intellectual challenge we face therefore encompasses two dimensions: Internationally, the task will be to devise a more equitable and sustainable system for international cooperation, regulation and intervention which addresses the diverse needs of industrialised, developing and the least developed nations, as well as the emergence of a global society exposed to common risks. Domestically, it is about rethinking a modern role for the nation state in shaping a more stable economy which combines economic dynamism and growth with a more equal distribution of wealth and life-chances. Meeting this challenge will require a critical but forward-looking debate on the issues and options available for reform.

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