The Common Good

A Call for a New Social Covenant

Date: January 24, 2013

In the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a massive breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies and their governments. In our own country, we can point to years of data painting a bleak picture of the confidence Americans have in any of our traditional institutions.

Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, mutual benefits, social values and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial systems and the resulting economic crisis not only have caused instability, insecurity and human pain; they have also generated a growing disbelief and fundamental distrust in the way things operate and how decisions are made. 

This week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we are looking to the future and asking, "What now?" At a Saturday session -- "The Moral Economy: From Social Contract to Social Covenant" -- a document will kick off a year-long global conversation about a new "social covenant" between citizens, governments and businesses.

This is really "a call" for worldwide discussion about what values are needed to address the many difficult challenges and choices the world is now facing. Inequality, austerity, retrenchment, constraints, mal-distribution, growing conflicts over resources and extreme poverty all raise questions about our values.