Lord Mark Malloch-Brown on the Unfinished Global Revolution

In advance of his upcoming book, The Unfinished Global Revolution: The Pursuit of a New International Politics, I interviewed Mark Malloch-Brown on the challenges and opportunities of globalization in the 21st century. Lord Malloch-Brown served as a Minister in Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet, where he had particular responsibility for strengthening relationships with Africa and Asia and the international system. In addition, Lord Malloch-Brown has served as Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of the United Nations under Kofi Annan and, for six years prior, as Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), where he led UN development efforts around the world. He has also served as Vice-President at the World Bank, Vice Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and Vice-Chairman of George Soros' Fund and Foundation.

An excerpt of the interview is published below, while the full transcript can be found at World Affairs Commentary.

Rahim Kanani: You argue that the central global predicament of the 21st century is that in becoming more integrated; we have also become less governed. When did this shift start taking place, and where are we today along the continuum of this Unfinished Global Revolution?

Mark Malloch-Brown: In the last 20 or so years, two great trends that are inherently in conflict with each other have been playing out. By chance, I have lived at their intersection. The first trend is the demand of people everywhere to have more say over their own lives. This has led to the astonishing people power revolutions from the Philippines and Latin America to Eastern Europe and Africa. And now most recently in Egypt. Steadily one man rule has been rolled back and politburos and generals sent packing as people have demanded democratic control over their societies and lives.

I was present at many of these revolutions, in the early days as a political adviser to insurgent candidates like Cory Aquino in the Philippines and her counterparts in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Then I saw a later round of these changes, and got in the midst of more than my fair share of them, as a senior international official and then government minister. I saw enough, as I describe in the book, to understand that most, if not all, of these democratic outpourings have fallen short of the anticipation of those who filled the streets to celebrate democracy's victory. The old order, corruption, inequality, a lack of real freedom too often has hung on despite the new democratic trappings.

But there is no doubting the depth of the yearning for control over our lives and the freedom to make our own choices within a democratic framework where we have the protection of the land for ourselves and our families. From being a minority, luxury aspiration for the few in the West democracy has become a nearly worldwide demand.

This political tidal wave of our lifetimes smashes into the rocks of the other great trend of recent decades the impact of globalization. For while it has blown change through our lives, and through its mass communications technologies even enabled many of the national democratic changes (witness the role of Facebook and Twitter in Egypt) it has also hijacked our democracy - in unanticipated ways.

What I mean is that as our lives have become integrated on a global level: from the globally sourced finance that underpins national economies to the far flung locations from where our food and consumer goods come, to where the services, from bank back offices to the staff in our hospitals originate and we live our lives with an ever greater dependence on international travel for work and pleasure. All of this has consequences for national democracy. As regulating finance, trade, public health, security and all the other dimensions of a global economy is beyond the power of individual countries -- even the most powerful. A country only controls one or two links in the chain of finance or the spread of an infectious disease.

That is the dilemma I try to expose as a democracy advocate and a champion of better management of our global affairs. I describe how my thinking evolved as I found how difficult it is to carry that powerful moment of democratic revolution from the people power of the streets to people power in the distant, global places where more and more of the decisions that shape our lives must be made. I am able to describe these inaccessible places and their workings too In these pages because my own journey took me from democratic activist to senior international official where I was privy to 6.8 and other deliberations and responsible for major management roles across the system. Indeed probably nobody has been lucky enough to enjoy such a wide range of experience across the top level of what there is re emerging system of global governance.

So this is the story of two unfinished revolutions: the imperfections and incompleteness of local and national democracy in the face of the persistence of old power groups and of poverty and marginalization; and of the long journey that we have hardly embarked on of building a global democracy - partly because it is even more complicated than one man, one vote, or one country, one vote. We have hardly begun to work out how to govern ourselves at the global level. And indeed there are jealous politicians everywhere, defending their own prerogatives in the name of national sovereignty who don't think we should even try.

Rahim Kanani: In this changing international landscape, what is the obligation of this generation to the next?

Mark Malloch-Brown: Well, this generation is probably the last globally unregulated generation. We can race through the world's finite natural resources of energy, water, commodities, forests, soils and ocean as though there was no tomorrow! We also have the freedom to move our wealth around, shopping for low regulation locations where it is not taxed and oversight is lax. Indeed, many companies employ lots of lawyers and tax accountants to game this patchwork global system where money is global but regulation local...more.

The full interview can be found at World Affairs Commentary.