Discussion Paper
No. 2017-31 | June 12, 2017
Seán Cleary
Reconceptualising transnational governance: making global institutions fit for purpose
(Published in Global Solutions Paper)


Tensions between national democratic accountability and transnational challenges undermine trust and collective action. Asymmetry between an integrated global economy, fragmented global community, and defective global polity, causes social turbulence. Facing technological disruption, we need a new order to address inequality; transform education; and build social capital. Diplomatic exchanges will not suffice, but the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 were enabled by bottom-up deliberations. The author proposes a UN conference of states to decide how to balance environmental sustainability, economic development and human security, after consultations on national proposals between policymakers, business and civil society, on principles, underlying values and legal norms.

JEL Classification:



Cite As

[Please cite the corresponding journal article] Seán Cleary (2017). Reconceptualising transnational governance: making global institutions fit for purpose. Economics Discussion Papers, No 2017-31, Kiel Institute for the World Economy. http://www.economics-ejournal.org/economics/discussionpapers/2017-31

Comments and Questions

Anonymous - Referee report
July 03, 2017 - 12:38
- This paper starts with the observation that national democratic accountability and transnational challenges undermine trust and collective action. It gives an abstract and well-written account of major problems prevailing in today’s global architecture. It suggests that we need a normative framework to solve them. - The paper outlines an interesting research project on differences and commonalities of such norms and notes that norms are not set in stone. I think it would be worthwhile to explore in greater depth how such norms change in the international realm, and consequently, what conditions and processes may help to establish a joint normative framework to engage collectively on a global scale. - The question of agency is not clearly specified. The COP21 and SDG processes are identified as bottom-up approaches, but the policy brief mostly acknowledges the importance of state actors. What role does civil society have to play in the process of defining the global order, for instance? - The author writes that the conference will help counter fact-free populism and allow reciprocal learning. While this would be a welcome outcome of such an initiative, the Paris Climate Agreement has stirred substantial domestic contestation in many countries, with debates being limited to national, if not local audiences in a polarized domestic political climate. What are the conditions for creating such mutual learning processes and make national debates dispose of prejudice rather than fostering it? - The policy brief is rather silent on trade-offs between certain goals (e.g. economic development and environmental sustainability) and does not address the political economy behind the definition of a certain global order, especially were norms and interests of state and other actors collide. What is the concrete process of bridging normative differences? How to compensate losers from the implementation of the order that is to be agreed? - Likewise, the current global architecture is differentiated and has developed in principle over the past decades to respond to new challenges. However, it is the implementation of generally agreed goals and – at times rivalling – principles, as well as procedures to derive at common positions and mediate conflicts that has proven inefficient and problematic in the past. It would thus be interesting to hear why a new global order would need to differ from the one that is currently established in its abstract terms and principles (as the UN is largely committed to values of humanity etc), and to learn about how suggestions on such a new order would be flanked by a more efficient system that works to address common challenges in practice.

Seán Cleary - Reply to referee report
July 05, 2017 - 07:49
see attached file

Anonymous - Comments
July 04, 2017 - 08:12
This is an excellent and important paper. Its analysis of the current multivariate asymmetry between the scale and depth of the global economy, society and polity is well argued and the case it makes for urgent action to address this is compelling. The proposed solution of an International Conference to discuss the need for a new world order would be a major step forward. I therefore strongly support the publication of this paper. My three critiques are as follows:1. This paper underestimates the role and importance of the European Union. Especially since the election of President Macron and the improvement of the Eurozone economy, the EU led by Germany and France will be able to provide crucially needed global leadership.2. The paper seriously underestimates the role played by the neoliberals in constructing a compelling new narrative and a strong new power base which greatly influenced current norms in many countries. Some of this is covered in footnote 9 but readers of the paper could still be left with the impression that the last major change in politico-economic systems was just after the second world war and that changes since are mainly due to technology and globalisation. There was a clear further major shift at the end of the 1970s.This did not follow a major war but followed the construction of a new narrative and a new set of powerful institutions by the neoliberals. This was particularly true following the publication of the Powell Memorandum-one of the most successful strategic plans ever.3. If the proposed conference is to have the best chance of success, other actors besides governments will need to play a role in preparing the ground. Critically new narratives need to be developed and a powerful new movement needs to be constructed to promote these narratives. This needs to be made up of a series of interlocking networks operating at different geographical scales and involving different constituencies. These constituencies should include business, civil society, academia and think tanks, faith groups, media, new economy practitioners and the arts. I support publication even without any changes based on my critique above.

Seán Cleary - Reply to comments
July 05, 2017 - 07:53
see attached file

Anonymous - Response
July 04, 2017 - 16:36
The author displays the pragmatic optimism surely required when it comes to questions of a global governance overhaul. In the spirit of ongoing dialogue, I offer the following responses: • The opening effectively sounds the alarm as to the urgency of the endeavor, especially in terms of stabilizing the biosphere. However, I am not entirely sure that the call for a(nother) UN conference quite matches the urgency of this call to arms. Bolder action may be required, requiring creative – dare I say radical – thinking about how to not only engage, but also disrupt business as usual (including the symbolic ritualism of the UN conference) • Some climate specialists would challenge the focus on economic growth, sustainable or not, within a resource finite world. Climatologists, in particular, argue that we must apply ourselves to pursuing other routes to human wellbeing if catastrophic changes in the conditions of life on earth are to be averted. This may require much deeper transformation/regulation of the ideational structures which inform the current global economic system. The unequal distribution of global wealth/resources is both highly inefficient and unethical, as documented by Oxfam (eight people own the same wealth as half the world). • As someone who works on exactly this question, I would have appreciated some more meat on the bones of how exactly we are to improve the quality of global governance and global institutions. Similarly, the claim on page 5 regarding the ‘defective state of the global polity’. Could we have a more precise statement on diagnosing the exact contours of this defect? Once we are clear on this question, we may have a better sense of what exactly is the scope for collective agreement and progress through cooperation. In turn, the question must be posed: what do we do when the limits of cooperation are reached? • I would have been interested to see more explicit engagement with how transnational governance is to constraint the private power and authority of market actors. Given that many TNCs now display annual turnovers dwarfing the GDP of nation states, do we not need to move quickly towards ensuring that these entities are effectively subject to public regulation (including the potential for legal enforcement) where market failure undermines global public goods provision? Would the author agree that ultimately a shadow of hierarchy is necessary to ensure credible commitment to cooperation? This point is partially acknowledged in footnote 9, but otherwise rather marginal. • The FutureWorld Foundation research series and data making explicit patterns of values and norms across regions sounds fascinating. More data here in terms of the universality of underlying values as well as differences would be welcome. The claim of value relativity is a powerful one. As a human rights scholar first and foremost, I spend a lot time refuting this claim. I believe that to the extent that human rights represent deeply-felt, shared pragmatic concerns we can speak of universality, at least in terms of the core integrity of the norm. I would be keen to learn more about what this five-year project teased out in terms of value diversity across regional settings. • There are some interesting policy implications here and even potential for conditional theorizing around global governance prescriptions. For example, at page 9, the notion that "we must determine at what scales collective agreement on particular outcomes is feasible" is right. This raises the prospect of specifying scope conditions, tailoring intervention to particular problems, more attention to boundary questions (levels, sectors etc) and so on. However, it also raises the thorny question: what to do when faced with a vital public good challenge which is not amenable to collective agreement at the scale required? If we overlay power onto the triadic governance structure proposed by the author, how will the global level advance "the most urgent and systematically vital issues" in situations where its intrusion into domestic politics meets hostile domestic configurations of power? • I agree that the SDG agenda is remarkable, perhaps the most ambitious programmatic vision for global governance yet conceived. The objectives of the proposed conference I think align well with what was the animating spirit of the SDG negotiations and their substantive outcome. I would suggest we must now turn our attention more towards procedural questions of implementation, multi-level system articulation, reinforcing principled action/argumentation by public servants (international, but especially domestic), and attaching real costs to obligations of conduct to facilitate increasingly stable and well-understood obligations of outcomes.

Seán Cleary - Reply to response
July 06, 2017 - 08:29
see attached file