Decoupling and Social Arrest: The Way Forward

By Helmut K. Anheier


In a number of G20 countries, the combination of increasing economic inequality and decreasing social mobility is leading to a situation of social arrest, a paralysis fed by deep structural blockages in society. Social arrest is the result of a decades-long neglect in addressing the consequences of a globalization process by decoupling economic and social policy. The wider implications of social arrest can be understood in the context of the Dahrendorf Quandary and the Rodrik Trilemma, which posit that liberal democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration become at some point incompatible. Their relationships require careful balancing through forward-looking policies aimed at managing inherent tensions. Reviewing a range of policy approaches to counteract social arrest tendencies, five key measures are proposed to recouple economic and social policies: tax reforms to reduce income inequality and wealth disparities; social mobility programs to function as “social conveyor belts;” safety shields for populations most exposed to globalization pressures, including managed migration; an enabling environment for civil society to boost self-organization and conflict management; and sustained debates and social engagements for bringing disconnected publics closer.