GEM18

Cambridge, MA – Harvard University's Center for International Development (CID) hosted its tenth annual Global Empowerment Meeting on April 17-18, 2018. This year, the gathering of business leaders, policymakers, development practitioners and academics explored some of the catalyzing forces that shape the way societies promote cooperation, define policy priorities and tap into global knowhow.

Drawing on fields ranging from evolutionary biology to psychology and development economics, the discussions aimed to disentangle the formation of societal identities and a sense of us, and how these forces shape policymaking. We also ventured into the tensions between diversity and social cohesion, and the challenges of migration policymaking.

Day 1

THE SENSE OF US AND AN AGENDA FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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Ricardo Hausmann

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The concept of homo economicus (the idea that human beings make rational decisions) has recently been challenged by psychology, as research shows that humans make systematic mistakes in decision making. Ricardo Hausmann sets the stage for the event by questioning: given that we are not rational, how do we sustain cooperation amongst large heterogeneous groups? How do we shape a group identity? And how do we bridge the gap between “us” and “them”? As knowhow transfer has proven to be key to foster economic growth these questions take a crucial role in the development debate – and set the stage for the discussions to come.

THE MORAL SENTIMENT OF US

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Joseph Henrich and Jonathan Haidt

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Joseph Henrich describes the evolution of cooperation and the “sense of us.” He tells the story of group formation, of how norms emerged spontaneously from social interaction to be then transformed into “package of norms,” or institutions. He argues that the path to modern formal institutions involved undercutting the tools of small-scale cooperation and that instincts shape our psychology even centuries after they have dissolved.

Jonathan Haidt argues that, as some societies became more prosperous, immigration to these places increased, marking the separation between “us” and “them.” Today, migration spurs a debate between nationalists and globalists and it challenges us to find a balance in order to maintain stable liberal democracies.

Day 2

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF "US" – HOW DOES IDENTITY SHAPE POLITICS AND POLICIES?

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Nathan Nunn and Yascha Mounk

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Nathan Nunn discusses the importance of understanding historical and cultural context in order to create effective policy. He notes that there are important differences in cultural traits across societies, which are historically determined through an evolutionary process and should be considered when creating and implementing public policy.

Yascha Mounk explains the three driving forces behind the rise of populism throughout the world in the last 20 years: stagnant economic prospects, negative effects of immigration on national cultures, and the rise of social media. He discusses these forces in greater depth and ends his talk by proposing solutions to these driving forces that could mitigate the threat of rising populism.

E PLURIBUS UNUM: HOW TO OVERCOME THE TENSION BETWEEN DIVERSITY AND SOCIAL COHESION TO MAKE THE MOST OF "US"

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Robert Livingston and Neli Demireva 

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Merlin Schaeffer discusses ethnic diversity, (re)segregation and social cohesion and the issues surrounding these topics, including: in-group formation and out-group biases, and coordination problems that arise from cultural differences. He provides examples of segregation in cities, specifically comparing New York City, US to Cologne, Germany.

Neli Demireva defines the term “social cohesion” and points to an attributional hotpot as a major challenge to solving the problem of social cohesion. She explains why there can be escalated tensions in certain communities vs. others, and offers a handful of solutions to improve social cohesion in contentious areas.

Robert Livingston notes that perceptions of diversity or similarity are entirely context-dependent and that there will always be an “out-group.” He describes the causes of tension between diversity and unity and argues that in order to integrate the paradox between the two, there must be a high commitment to inclusion.

ENLIGHTENMENT NOW

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Steven Pinker

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Steven Pinker focuses on the ideals of enlightenment, which include reason, science, humanism, and progress. Although people may deny that society has progressed since the Enlightenment, he provides examples to show that we have in fact made progress over the years. Pinker provides data showing that the world has never been more democratic than it has been in the past decade as life expectancy has increased; child mortality has been brought down; and rate of undernourishment has been in steady decline.

WHO SHOULD GET TO BE A PART OF "US": THE CHALLENGES OF MIGRATION POLICYMAKING

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Lant Pritchett, Ljubica Nedelkoska and Nirmalan Wigneswaran

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Ljubica Nedelkoska explains that countries grow by diversifying their productive knowhow and flows of investment, foreigners and diaspora need the right kind of immigration policy. She uses CID’s project in Sri Lanka as an example of the opportunities and challenges of adapting migration policy to promote economic growth.

Nirmalan Wigneswaran discusses three prominent challenges of migration policymaking in Sri Lanka, which include the presence of Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka and whether they are considered a part of “us” or “them”?; the Tamil diaspora – getting “them” back to “us”; and employment visas and immigration reform – how do they visit “us”? He ties these challenges together to demonstrate the role that migration has played in the story of Sri Lanka.

Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado reflects on the economic progress Panama has made throughout its history, noting that they have been able to take the knowledge brought by foreign workers to train their citizens and thus diversify their economic prospects. She also notes that Panama’s migration policy can still be improved to further promote diversification in the workforce.

THE TYRANNICAL TEMPTATION: ARE FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY IN PERIL?

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Steven Levitsky, Michael Petrou and Dani Rodrik

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Steven Levitsky notes that although there is a consensus in the world that democracies are dying, the number of democracies has remained stable across time. He explains that they are dying in a different way, as the breakdowns in democracies are more subtle - they begin at the ballot box; democracies die constitutionally. Levitsky argues that constitutions have to be reinforced by democratic norms and institutions to ensure that they do not breakdown over time with the rise of populism and political polarization.

Dani Rodrik explains that liberal democracy does not arise naturally, but the preexistence of liberal norms makes the transition to liberal democracy more robust. He believes that a key reason why polarization has taken place and populism has taken ground is related to the failure of both the extreme left and right to respond to the demands of the majority. Rodrik takes an economist’s perspective on the issue of falling liberal democracies and proposes that economic populism can save liberal democracies from political populism and polarization.

THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: HOW OUR INTUITIVE SENSE OF US AND THEM MAKES US VULNERABLE TO TYRANNY

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Timothy Snyder

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Timothy Snyder points out that who is "us" and who is "them" is very flexible and institutions are subject to change over time. He argues that while liberal political theory begins from the assumption that we live in a three-dimensional space, there has been a shift to a two-dimensional world that is characterized by spending time on the internet. Snyder describes this experience as changing the way in which people engage with the world and thus altering the definitions of “us” and "them" dramatically.