Truth, Errors, and Lies: Politics and Economics in a Volatile World

The following is an event summary from a program held by the Program on America and the Global Economy at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The video archive can be found here.

On Tuesday, February 1st Grzegorz Kolodko led a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center to celebrate the release of his book Truth, Errors, and Lies: Politics and Economics in a Volatile World. The discussion was hosted by the Program on America and the Global EconomyJohn Milewski, managing editor and host of the Wilson Center’s radio and television show Dialogue, moderated the discussion.

Kolodko, a Polish native, was an architect of Poland’s post-Soviet economic reforms as finance minister in four separate Polish governments.  Truth, Errors, and Lies presents a uniquely broad look at the forces acting on the global economy, transcending the “myopia” of “GDP economics and politics,” which the author argued is insufficient to explain the multitude of factors weighing on economic trends.

Kolodko set out to answer the questions of “why the world is as it is,” and believed a variety of factors have contributed to the explanation of such a complex idea.  At the heart of the book is a desire to “restructure the train of thought” that has traditionally focused on the volume of production as an absolute indicator of positive progress.  The book proposes looking at broader standards for development, using factors such as leisure time and retirement age to create a more accurate index for quality of life.  The author’s own calculation includes GDP as only a small fraction of “progress,” and the book’s effort to explain global economic trends with more than production reflects his position that societal factors play a large part in the rate and sustainability of growth.

One of the trends the book addresses is the “irreversible” move towards globalization.  In the book Kolodko portrays the prevalent “extrapolation theories” of most current economic and social science scholarship as inadequate to explain present conditions.  Because extrapolated theories assume the “continuation of prior processes,” they neglect to recognize the wide variety of modern issues that simply relying on precedent fails to take into account.   Kolodko cited the recent financial crisis as an example: markets were not the only determining factor in the collapse, and Truths, Errors, and Lies similarly points to more than just economics as a driving factor.

Kolodko predicted the emergence of 12 great issues of the future (GIFs) in his book; issues including the depletion of non-renewable resources, mass migration, and the drive for equality between countries.  These “inevitable” challenges conform to his stance that globalization is irreversible.  He argued that the world needs a new approach to global governance commensurate with the problems posed by the new world order.  Kolodko defined government as “being able to defuse conflicts with policy,” and argued for a global body that can acknowledge the different social values that accompany different economies.  “This is the future of cohabitation,” Kolodko proclaimed, and appropriate policies will require “complexity, heterodoxy, and an interdisciplinary approach” to satisfy all parties involved.  Using the cultural differences between China and the United States as an example where differences could impede international relationships, Kolodko suggested establishing a permanent Sino-US commission to settle disputes between the two powers.

According to the Truth, Errors, and Lies, the balance of power is shifting further toward multipolarity, and Kolodko predicts neither a hegemonic world power nor the “contemporary utopias” of a laissez-faire democracy or a communist state.  Rather, Kolodko advocated a “sustained and enforced regional integration” that will encourage cooperation and contribute to the health of the global economy.  The interconnectedness created by trade and migration demand cooperative policy-making, and the author suggested that multilateralism will be crucial to healthy growth moving forward.

Kolodko reiterated that “asking why is actually a question about the future,” and his explanations crossed disciplines in order to distinguish the cause and effect of modern challenges.   Truth, Errors and Lies does not presume that global challenges are facile or avoidable, but offers a “hectic, eclectic” approach to analyzing future problems without relying solely on economics.   Kolodko argued that economic progress is not the only important goal and cites Bhutan as a developing country with a very happy population.  With an emphasis on the multitude of non-market factors that affect contemporary challenges, Truth Errors and Lies points to a multipolar world with diverse problems and suggests regional cooperation and improved global governance to overcome these challenges.

Posted by: John Coit

Kent Hughes: PAGE Director

Photo Credit: David Hawxhurst/Woodrow Wilson Center


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