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Homesick Politics

Faced with political and economic uncertainty, policymakers have increasingly succumbed to the allure of nostalgia, promising a return to a supposedly simpler and more predictable world. But attempting to recreate yesterday's order is a surefire way to miss the challenges – and miss out on the opportunities – of today.

MADRID – World order – or the lack thereof – is a hot topic these days. Our fixation with the future of global structures and systems is evident everywhere – in the news and at conferences, on bestseller lists, even in popular television shows.

People are anxious. The world seems to be undergoing fundamental change: new actors are emerging on the world stage, previously sacrosanct rules of international behavior are being openly defied, and a new wave of technological progress is disrupting entire industries and economic sectors. In our quest for structure and predictability – a natural impulse in times of rapid change – we are desperate for hints about how the world, and our role in it, will develop.

It is of course vital in such situations that we identify the best, or at least the most feasible, way forward; predictability provides a foundation for cost-benefit analysis and strategic thinking. The problem arises when our yearning for certainty overwhelms rational thinking, taking our ideas and actions in an unproductive – or even dangerous – direction.

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