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A Year to Act

It has been 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and despite significant progress toward improving life expectancy and boosting incomes around the world, divisions within and between societies are deepening. Without a new paradigm for managing globalization, fragmentation and political despair will become the new normal.

OXFORD – Let us hope that 2019 is the year when the historical tide turns. In 2018, divisions within and between countries continued to deepen. And while geopolitical tensions and political tribalism have transformed international relations and national politics, new technologies are upending long-held assumptions about security, politics, and economics. Complicating matters further is the growing interdependence of our societies. We are all increasingly subject to forces beyond the control of any one country, city, or individual, not least when it comes to climate change.

What a difference three decades makes. Back in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet bloc seemed to augur a triumph for liberal democratic principles and values. The development of the World Wide Web that year promised a new age of human flourishing and global cooperation. As recently as the 2000s, flashy catchphrases like “the death of distance” and “the world is flat” abounded.

Yet far from flattening the world, globalization has made it more mountainous and uneven. More than ever, one’s postal code determines one’s perspective, lifespan, and fate. Instead of replacing national ideals with shared values, globalization has led to rapacious competition, the decline of welfare states, and the corrosion of international institutions. And though there technically are more democracies today than in 1989, many are becoming more illiberal.