Senior Fellow Barry Carin joined CIGI in its infancy (2004) and has been influential in shaping many of the major projects that CIGI has undertaken and contributed to the success of the organization on the international stage. After 14 years at CIGI, Barry is stepping down and has penned the following “valedictory” address encompassing his dossier of CIGI accomplishments, his own top-10 lists of key publications, videos, quotations and trends, and outlining the work that remains to be done in the global governance arena.  


I joined CIGI in 2004, and have witnessed its growth from the germ of an idea to Canada’s go-to institution on global governance. Now that I am retiring from CIGI, it seems appropriate to share my insights from my long association with the think tank.  In particular, several signal achievements stand out.

Beginning three years before its first meeting in 2008 in Pittsburgh, CIGI pioneered and popularized the concept of the Group of Twenty (G20) replacing the Group of Seven (G7). For several years, CIGI co-chaired a consortium of think tanks to explore the question of whether a well-prepared meeting of leaders from 20 countries could resolve international governance issues that the G7 could not.

Then, after the G20 was established, in February 2009, CIGI helped organize the predecessor of what would later become the Think20 by leading a prestigious group of international researchers in meeting with the UK’s then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his team, who were preparing the second G20 Leaders’ Summit. The result of that encounter was the acceptance of the consortium’s hitherto unconventional advice for a coordinated G20 stimulus package. CIGI, with its partners, led similar missions to France and Korea before their G20 presidencies. In 2012, in Mexico, the consortium organized the first official Think20 event and initiated the precedent for privileged dialogue between the Think20 and the ministers and officials of the upcoming G20 presidency. 

In 2013, CIGI recognized the opportunity of influencing process, formulating the post-2015 goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Being first in the field, CIGI led a partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Korea Development Institute, with a consortium of think tanks from China, India, Brazil and South Africa. This group arranged unique access to United Nations delegates, the Inter-Agency team and UN Development Programme staff that were preparing the post-MDG successor goals. We were successful in gaining acceptance of the unorthodox idea that the post-2015 MDGs should apply universally, and not just be prescriptive for developing countries.

Over the last decade, CIGI’s recognized expertise has grown to include international governance issues in several sectors, including the internet, trade, international finance, energy, the environment and climate change, the Arctic and intellectual property law.

Even as CIGI continues to work on global issues, it is clear that many challenging problems remain. There is a lot that my generation has left undone. This article discusses those yet unsolved international governance puzzles as well as being a salute to what I’ve learned (and what’s left as a something to ponder). This farewell essay is organized as a buffet of sorts: incisive cartoons, top-10 lists of apropos quotes, classic online videos, human failings that confound rational policy, trends that are changing the status quo, in addition to reminders of rival hypotheses and clever arguments to oppose change. Consider these lists — dotted with humour — as an appetizer in this medley of content, with the collection of 10 influential papers and six worthy puzzles for think tanks as the heavy main course.

Despite the perils of forecasting, it is important to base recommendations on future conditions rather than the past. I hope that this smorgasbord helps think tanks to look ahead to the that future, full of possibility for what they can contribute.

Ten Best Videos

The 10 best video list captures a broad range of films, from The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen to Taxing Carbon for a Greener Economy to Forecasting in the Past, Present, and Future.

  1. Hans Rosling: The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen
  2. Dan Ariely: We’re All Predictably Irrational
  3. Richard Wiseman: The Amazing Color Changing Card Trick
  4. Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons: Selective attention test
  5. Albert A. Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy
  6. CIGI: Taxing Carbon for a Greener Economy
  7. Esther Duflo: Social Experiments to Fight Poverty
  8. Dr. Quantum: The Double Slit Experiment
  9. Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders
  10. David Orrell: Forecasting in the Past, Present, and Future

Ten Incisive Quotations

Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is fond of explaining that the G20 (which was originally established at the finance ministers level) only has 19 member countries because finance ministers cannot count. In the same spirit, this list of “10” incisive quotations includes nine of my favourite observations.  

  1. On government expenditures:
    “Government is like a baby: an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”
    — Ronald Reagan, former US President
  2. On the audience for public affairs’ communications:
    “The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it.”
    — Confucius

  3. On the limits of honesty and transparency:
    “Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?” 
    — Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

  4. On drafting government proposals:
    “To give and not to give: to be weak while appearing to be strong: to be obscure while appearing to be forthright: to be inconsistent while appearing to be infinitely reasonable. The hallmarks of a successful Memorandum to Cabinet.” 
    — Douglas G. Hartle, former Deputy Secretary, Planning Branch, Treasury Board Secretariat

  5. On forecasting:
    “Economists have allowed themselves to walk into a trap where we say we can forecast, but no serious economist thinks we can. You don't expect dentists to be able to forecast how many teeth you'll have when you're 80. You expect them to give good advice and fix problems.” 
    — Tim Harford, British economist and journalist

  6. On inequality:
    “While rising tides may lift all boats, those without boats [or whose boat has a hole in the hull] are left to sink or swim.” 
    — David Rothkopf, visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs

  7. On globalism’s threat to democracy
    “It disenfranchises the vast majority and empowers a technocratic elite. It’s a telling paradox that the most ardent supporters of a 'borderless world' live in gated communities and channel their children toward a narrow set of elite educational institutions with stiff admissions standards that do the work of 'border control.' The airport executive lounges are not open and inclusive.”
    — R. R.  Reno, Editor of First Things

  8. On the G20:
    “What you now have as a result of the G20, with all of its imperfections, is a situation where a wider group of people, developed and developing, are regularly meeting and having a dialogue. Now, we won’t always get the results right and there’s a bit of criticism about where the G20 is going, but I’ll tell you what, it sure as hell beats the G7.”
    — Wayne Swan, Australian Treasurer

  9. On climate change
    “The bottom line is that we do not accept climate change because we wish to avoid the anxiety it generates and the deep changes it requires. In this regard, it is not unlike any other major threat. However, because it carries none of the clear markers that would normally lead our brains to overrule our short-term interests, we actively conspire with each other, and mobilize our own biases to keep it perpetually in the background.”
    — George Marshall, Author of Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

Ten Human Failings That Undermine Reason

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."
— Yogi Berra, baseball player, manager and coach 

  1. Anosognosia
    Anosognosia refers to unawareness or denial of a neurological deficit, when someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or they can’t perceive their condition accurately. Policy makers suffer from this condition when they ignore the “Theory of the Second Best." The theory holds that near-optimal conditions will not necessarily produce near-optimal outcomes. Assuming that two or more requirements for achieving the optimal economic outcome cannot be satisfied, then a concerted attempt to satisfy other requirements that can be met is not necessarily the second-best option, and may not be beneficial. Imagine a car with only five percent lining left on both front brakes. Replacing the brake on only one wheel will lead to even poorer performance. In economic policy, the implication is that if marginal costs do not equal prices in two or more markets, it may make things worse by setting the price equal to the marginal cost in one of the out-of-equilibrium markets.
  2. George Carlin’s Observations on Americans
    We must convince a population with wide variations in capacity to understand and assess information. George Carlin, American stand-up comedian, actor, author and social critic summarized this in two famed quotations: “The IQ and the life expectancy of the average American recently passed each other going in opposite directions” and “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” 

  3. Self-serving Bias Assessing Fairness
    A prevalent phenomenon is the conflation of what is fair with what benefits oneself. Estimation of the value of the alternatives to negotiated settlements in self-serving ways can rule out any chance of settlement by eliminating the set of agreements that both sides prefer to their reservation values. Disputants “interpret the other party's aggressive bargaining not as an attempt to get what they perceive as fair, but as a cynical and exploitative attempt to gain an unfair strategic advantage.” Bargainers care not only about what the other party offers, but also about the other party’s motives. People are strongly averse to settling even slightly below the point they view as fair, caring so much about fairness that they are often willing to sacrifice economic well-being to enforce it. “Behavioral economists have shown that a sizable percentage of people are willing to pay real money to punish people who are taking from a common pot but not contributing to it. Just to ensure that shirkers get what they deserve, we are prepared to make ourselves poorer.”

  4. Confirmation Bias
    People are generally pigheaded. Most people suffer from the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. We develop an irrational loyalty to our beliefs, and work hard to find evidence that supports those opinions and to discredit, discount or avoid information that does not. An interesting phenomenon is the misperception of income inequality pictured below.


    U.S. Wealth Distribution: Perception vs Reality
    Data sources: Michael I. Norton, Dan Ariely


  5. Dunning Kruger Effect
    Relatively unskilled individuals suffer from an illusion — they assess their ability to be much higher than is accurate. In other words, unskilled people lack the skill to rate their own level of competence.

    Unskilled people rate themselves higher than more competent people rate themselves (Goode 2000). Conversely, highly skilled individuals suffer from an external misperception — they underestimate their relative competence. Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and Nobel Laureate, observed that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”1 The policy analyst must work with political masters and must accurately take their measure. To quote Russell again, “great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature has made them.”

  6. People Are Irrational 
    We don’t know our preferences well enough to make rational choices. Dan Ariely, author and professor of psychology, has demonstrated that people are “predictably irrational.” In making decisions, they systematically repeat certain mistakes again and again. Examples are the “decoy effect,” black pearls, human reaction to the words "free" and "zero," the “endowment effect,” the effect of expectations, consent based on default options,  and the power of placebos. People do not act based on expected probability — the same person buys insurance and lottery tickets. The British cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees argues that we are in denial about catastrophic risks with low probability. His observation is apparently inconsistent with Kahneman and Tversky’s Prospect Theory — that people generally do not look at the value of probability uniformly between zero percent and 100 percent. People are overly concerned with the outcome of low probability, while medium to high probability is under-weighted. But not yet, it appears, with respect to concern for the catastrophic tail effects of global warming.

  7. Disregard of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem
    Too many options are provided. Kenneth Arrow’s theorem holds that when voters have three or more distinct alternatives, no ranked voting electoral system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide ranking while also meeting a specified set of criteria: unrestricted domain, non-dictatorship, Pareto efficiency and independence of irrelevant alternatives.

  8. Short Attention Spans
    Logical argumentation will fail to convince if the authors ignore the seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s advice. He apologized for writing a long letter because he did not have time to write a short one.

  9. Propensity to Duck Difficult Choices
    David G. Victor has written “When society confronts really hard problems there are strong pressures on policy makers to avoid making costly decisions. The result is symbolic policy – that is policy ventures that look serious but have no real impact.”

  10. Propensity to Measure the Wrong Things
    It is always easier to measure irrelevant inputs and outputs rather than relevant outcomes (for example, school enrollment — bums in seats — rather than learning outcomes).

Ten Trends Changing the Status Quo

There is no doubt that the world is transforming rapidly with the explosive rate of population growth, rising levels of national debt, human migration on a large scale, climate change and technology. 

  1. Population
    The global population is growing at an unsustainable rate. Zero population growth will happen, whether we like it or not. In 1986, the world’s population was five billion, growing at 1.7 percent per year. In 1999, the population was six billion, adding 88 million people, growing at 1.3 percent per year. If 1.3 percent persisted for 780 years, the arithmetic of exponential growth is that the world’s population would reach a density of one person per square meter on the dry land surface of the earth.
    Source: The New Yorker
    Source: The New Yorker. Used here with permission.

    The growth rate is currently down to 1.13 percent per year, adding 83 million people this year to the current world population of 7.6 billion. If this positive growth rate continues, challenges in terms of resource depletion and dignified employment may lead to unfortunate results.
  2. Debt
    Imagine the consequences of rising interest rate on three trends – unfunded pension obligations, household and corporate debt, and government debt-to-GDP ratios. The debt-to-GDP ratio is growing, as is household and corporate debt. (See )  Discussions of debt generally focus on government borrowings and household debt, but ignore unfunded liabilities. A 2016 Citibank report indicated that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries face US$78 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities (150 percent of total GDP), above and beyond their national debts. Pension liabilities are growing faster than GDP in most countries. The arithmetic is that these obligations simply cannot be paid without significant tax increases or a decrease in benefits (see the Economist compilation of data at

    Debt owed by households, non-financial corporations, and governments
    Sources: Haver Analytics; national sources; McKinsey Global Institute analysis. Used here with permission of McKinsey Global.

    The Canadian picture is not pretty. Unlike government debt, private debt is much higher than average for major economies. Of course, the picture is incomplete without reference to the growth in asset values. But the undeniable fact is that impending increases in interest rates from their historically low levels will have very painful consequences for borrowers of all stripes. The international macro-economic question is whether growing debt will suffocate growth to the extent that new arrangements will have to be devised for sovereign debt resolution.

  3. Climate Change
    Climate change is a classic example of the “tragedy of the commons.” The burning of fossil fuel has increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is significant evidence that the global temperature is rising. But there are many who doubt the conclusions; there is wide disagreement about the appropriate policy responses. Trends are uncertain given the unknown future of world population, growth in the per capita demand for energy resources, the availability and costs of different power technologies, the emissions of various technologies and the carbon uptake from the oceans and forests. 

    There are other uncertainties regarding temperature increase due to higher carbon emissions and the impacts of temperature increase on ecosystem productivity, the sea level, extreme weather events, as well as the impact on future economic activity of carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems. But the emerging consensus is that shrinking ice cover, ocean acidification and potential feedback effects, combined with the inexorable rise of emissions, will result in very costly consequences.

  4. Inequality
    “In most OECD countries, the gap between rich and poor is at its highest level in 30 years. Today, the richest 10 per cent of the population in the OECD area earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 per cent; in the 1980s this ratio stood at 7:1 and has been rising continuously ever since.” Federico Cingano, economist at the Bank of Italy.

    How is the world's wealth shared amongst its population?
    Source: World Economic Forum. Used here with permission.

    The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality posted an informative report titled 20 Facts About U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know. It provides an analysis of many dimensions to enable a comprehensive analysis, including trends in wage ratios of different income percentiles (see the graph below), comparing the wage of a 90th percentile earner to one in the 50th percentile, compared in turn to an earner in the 10th percentile. The Stanford report reminds us that a sophisticated analysis should examine trends in variables such as CEO pay, homelessness and the education wage premium comparing growth in median weekly earnings of college graduates relative to high school dropouts. To complete the picture, analysis should account for gender and racial gaps, discouraged workers and wealth inequality, among other dimensions.

    Wage Ratio
    Source: Economic Policy Institute. Used here with permission.
  5. Migration
    Migration to Europe is mainly driven by poverty, conflicts and wars in the Middle East and Africa. In the Pacific, people may be displaced by 2050 due to rising sea levels. Natural disasters will displace tens of millions of people. By 2050, adding in “slow impact” effects of climate change such as drought, the United Nations estimates that climate change refugees could number 250 million. The issue in dealing with such mass migration is the gaping legal and institutional holes. The UN Refugee Convention does not include people fleeing climate change or natural disasters. A refugee is defined by the United Nations as a person who “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” The lack of effective international machinery will be complicated by trends in nationalistic tendencies due to inequality and underemployment.

  6. Disruptive technology
    McKinsey Global Institute examined trends in 12 “disruptive” technologies that “have the potential to dramatically change the status quo [by 2025]…or change comparative advantage for nations…Energy storage technology could change how, where, and when we use energy. Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery could fuel economic growth and shift value across energy markets and regions.” (See slides{21F95813-D665-4176-80BD-3823144E3FE2}&pid={A1D4B928-3A7B-4073-AFFA-6AD78525CDB1}.)

    The technologies included mobile internet, automation of knowledge work, the internet of things (networks of low-cost sensors and actuators for data collection, monitoring, decision making and process optimization), cloud technology, autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles, 3D, advanced materials, energy storage and renewable energy. Three of the technological prospects appear to have the potential to impact the context with implications for global governance:

    • Advanced robotics: increasingly capable robots with enhanced senses, dexterity, and intelligence used to automate tasks or augment humans.
    • Next-generation genomics: fast, low-cost gene sequencing, advanced big data analytics, and synthetic biology (“writing” DNA).
    • Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery: exploration and recovery techniques that make extraction of unconventional oil and gas economical. 

    Advanced robotics could lead to issues in conventions regarding military action. Next-generation genomics may require innovations in the regulation of trade of food and medicines. Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery could lead to further significant power shifts. 

    Next-generation nuclear (fission), fusion power, carbon sequestration, advanced water purification and quantum computing did not make McKinsey’s final list.  These technologies were excluded due to the technological immaturity and time frame required for scaling up. Next-generation nuclear and fusion power could ultimately resolve climate change and provide “energy for all.” Carbon sequestration could allow the continued exploitation of cheap coal power and mitigate the GHG problem. Advanced water purification could resolve water scarcity issues.

  7. Geopolitical Power Shifts
    Along with population and shares of global GNP, there are many variables that reveal a shift in relative geo-political power. The issue is that this power shift is not reflected in the decision-making and voting structures of the major global rule-making institutions. The question is whether the constitutions and by-laws can be amended to reflect the growth of China, India, Brazil and the other emerging economies. If existing institutions cannot be reformed, will they become irrelevant and be displaced by new institutions and arrangements?

  8. Economic Interconnectedness
    The globalization process has been characterized by a process of integration of capital and goods markets. This leads to issues such as investor protection, regulation of various steps in the supply chain dealing with competition, intellectual property, services, procurement, and special and differential treatment for developing countries. The question in the era of Trump’s “America First” policy is whether the multilateral trading system and the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement system can evolve to prevent a crazy quilt of bilateral trade agreements leading to a jigsaw puzzle of trade and investment rules. There will be increasing pressure for effective international agreements to allow sufficient cooperation to diminish fiscal damage due to tax evasion. Widening income disparities, persistent structural unemployment and diminishing confidence in economic policies lead to political instability. This is bad news for the evolution of effective global governance mechanisms.

  9. Resource Scarcity
    The combination of population growth and economic growth will lead to increased demands for energy, food and water, and other resources. One billion people — almost the population of India — do not have access to electricity, more than two billion have to rely on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes (see Over 500 million people in Sub Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, forcing them to spend significant amounts of their income on costly and unhealthy forms of energy, like diesel to run factory generators or smoky and scarce wood for indoor fires and cooking. Climate change, environmental destruction, population growth, political instability, economic inequality and increasing food prices will increase food insecurity. The number of people living in areas affected by severe water stress is expected to increase to almost four billion people by 2030 (see . Optimists presume that by exploiting potential efficiencies, with technological innovation, and appropriate policies, we can safeguard environmental quality, ensure universal access to modern energy services and provide safe water and food security. Pessimists fear that the “invisible hand” and our silo approach to the nexus of climate change, energy, food security and water policies, will not resolve the pressures.

  10. Civil Activism
    A growing number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are engaged with the full spectrum of issues both internally and internationally. A 2010 United Nations estimate suggested there were around 40,000 international NGOs. Non-profit organizations are staffed by the equivalent of 48 million full-time equivalent workers. NGOs and civil activists will continue to demand an increasing role in agenda setting, international law-making and governance, Track II diplomacy and the implementation and monitoring of global agreements. Digital technology is facilitating the organization of civil opposition. Increasing degrees of activism will complicate the creation of new structures and processes in global governance.2

Ten Pitfalls in Presenting Hypotheses Based on Interpretation

A peculiar story about a flea from Shuyler Huck and Howard Sandler’s 1979 book, Rival Hypotheses: Alternative Interpretations of Data Based Conclusions, offers a perfect depiction how hypotheses often come to be:

“After carefully conditioning a flea to jump out of a box on an appropriate auditory signal, the ‘experimenter’ removed the first pair of legs to see what effect this had. Observing the flea was still able to perform its task, the second pair of legs was removed. Once again noting there was no difference in performance, the researcher removed the last pair of legs and found that the jumping behaviour no longer occurred on the auditory signal. Thus, the investigator concluded that ‘When all of the legs of a flea have been removed, it will no longer be able to hear.’”3

There are many challenges facing researchers attempting to draw conclusions from data and statistical series. 

  1. Correlation versus Causation
    A growing number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are engaged with the full spectrum of issues both internally and internationally. A 2010 United Nations estimate suggested there were around 40,000 international NGOs. Non-profit organizations are staffed by the equivalent of 48 million full-time equivalent workers. NGOs and civil activists will continue to demand an increasing role in agenda setting, international law-making and governance, Track II diplomacy and the implementation and monitoring of global agreements. Digital technology is facilitating the organization of civil opposition. Increasing degrees of activism will complicate the creation of new structures and processes in global governance.

    Divorce rate in Maine correlates with Per capita consumption of margarine
    Source: Used here with permission.


  2. Misleading Ratios
    It is important to be sensitive to the perils of evidence presented in the form of ratios. We must recall that that ratios or percentages (with a numerator and a denominator) collapse two distinct numbers into one and can thereby mask significant information. For example, medical authorities can legitimately claim that the incidence of a disease has decreased over a period of years, while civil activists can claim that clinics have been overrun by  increased patients. Both can be right if the population has increased — the numerator has increased, but the denominator has increased even more.

  3. Historical Events
    If measurements are taken before and after exposure to an experimental treatment, change in the data collected may be attributable to an event that took place between the pre-test and post-test measurements outside the confines of the experiment.

  4. Cross-sectional versus Longitudinal Studies
    To identify trends that are a result of aging, both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs have limited validity. In a cross-sectional study, differential lengths of exposure to environmental conditions rather than age differences may have led to sub-group differences. When measuring a group of subjects as they age, changes over time might well be tied to non-maturational influences unique to that one group’s lifespan.

  5. Mortality
    Attrition in a one-group pre-test-post-test design, or different drop-out rates in a multi-group design can lead to misleading conclusions.

  6. The Hawthorne Effect
    Individuals can modify an aspect of their behaviour due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of any independent variables. Some people work harder and perform better when participating in an experiment simply because they are aware they are being observed.

  7. Self-Report
    Data validity may be questionable if subjects in a study decide to perform at less than their maximum level or withhold their true opinions.

  8. Sampling Bias
    The sample may have been drawn in a way that subjects may be unrepresentative of the population from which they were drawn.

  9. Selection
    In experiments with a control group, individuals may not have been assigned randomly; outcomes could be confounded with differences in initial status. 

  10. Testing  
    According to Huck and Sandler, who cited this list’s opening story, “when a group is tested twice, the individuals usually earn higher scores (if the measuring instrument has right and wrong answers) or more “normal” scores…This phenomenon has been shown to exist even though the examinees have been given no feedback between testings, even if no opportunity exists to study or experience historical events or to change, and even when the second test is a parallel form of the first one.”4

How to Oppose Policy Proposals

There are two classic reference sources when looking for arguments to resist an initiative: F.M. Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academia and Jonathan Lynn and Anton Jay’s British political satire Yes, Minister.

F.M. Cornford’s 1908 masterpiece, Microcosmographia Academica is an ageless source of excuses for opposing any new idea. He proposes several strategies:

  • “The principle of the wedge:” “Do not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future – expectations you will not be able to satisfy.”
  • “The principle of the dangerous precedent:” “You should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”
  • “The principle of unripe time:” “People should not do at the present moment what they think right at that moment, because the moment at which they think it right has not yet arrived.”
  • “The principle of washing linen:” “The machinery for effecting the proposed objects already exists”… “it is far better that all reform should come from within.” 

Yes Minister, which aired on BBC between 1980–1984 is a treasure trove of techniques for stalling ministers. The five-stage formula Lynn and Jay penned is best described in this vignette:

“Jim: Stalling technique? 

Tom: Yeah, comes in five stages. First of all, he'll tell you that your administration is very new and that there's lots of things to be getting on with….

Then if you still persist whatever your idea is he'll say something like, er yes Minister I quite appreciate the intention certainly something ought to be done but are you sure this is the right way to achieve it…..Now if you are still unperturbed he will shift his ground, he will shift from telling you how to do, to when you should do it, you know I mean he'll say now Minister this is not the right time, for all sorts of reasons….if you don't [settle for that] he'll simply say that the policy has run into difficulties….Technical, political, legal. Now legal are the best sort because he can make these totally incomprehensible and with any luck this stalling technique will have lasted for about three years and you'll know that you're at the final stage where he says now Minister we're getting very close to the run up to the next general election, are you sure you can get this policy through.”

Then there is the 12-stage process for slowing initiatives down.

Any unwelcome initiative from a minister can be delayed until after the next election by the Civil Service 12-stage delaying process:

  1. Informal discussions
  2. Draft proposal
  3. Preliminary study
  4. Discussion document
  5. In-depth study
  6. Revised proposal
  7. Policy statement
  8. Strategy proposal
  9. Discussion of strategy
  10. Implementation plan circulated
  11. Revised implementation plans
  12. Cabinet agreement

If these arguments do not succeed in stopping reform, then one can invoke the wisdom of Nobel prize winners Kenneth Arrow and Gregory Mankiw to remind that the economic models and analysis underlying any recommended proposals are built on illusory foundations of sand:

  • “It is my view that most individuals underestimate the uncertainty of the world. This is almost as true of economists and other specialists as it is of the lay public. To me our knowledge of the way things work, in society or in nature, comes trailing clouds of vagueness … Experience during World War II as a weather forecaster added the news that the natural world is also unpredictable. An incident illustrates both uncertainty and the unwillingness to entertain it. Some of my colleagues had the responsibility of preparing long-range weather forecasts, i.e., for the following month. The statisticians among us subjected these forecasts to verification and found they differed in no way from chance. The forecasters themselves were convinced and requested that the forecasts be discontinued. The reply read approximately like this: ‘The Commanding General is well aware that the forecasts are no good. However, he needs them for planning purposes.’”5

  • In some ways, economics is like medicine two centuries ago. If you were ill at the beginning of the 19th century, a physician was your best bet, but his knowledge was so rudimentary that his remedies could easily make things worse rather than better. And so it is with economics today. That is why we economists should be sure to apply the principle ‘first, do no harm.’”


Top Ten Influential Papers

The list of influential papers covers topics as far ranging as economic policy to financial risk taking to climate engineering to globalization.

  1. Economic Policy, Distribution and Poverty: The Nature of Disagreement  
    By Ravi Kanbur
    How understanding why people disagree is a key to successful negotiation.

  2. When the Scientist is Also a Philosopher  
    By Gregor Mankiw
    Why economists should not be trusted.

  3. The Draft Memorandum to Cabinet
    By Douglas G. Hartle
    On the facts of life and providing policy advice.

  4. Endogenous Steroids and Financial Risk Taking on a London Trading Floor
    By: J.M. Coates and J. Herbert
    Why to hire women.

  5. Development Research in Europe: Towards an (All) Star Alliance
    By Simon Maxwell
    Why think tanks should form a network analogous to the Star Alliance.

  6. 20 Reasons Why Geoengineering May Be a Bad Idea
    By Alan Robock
    A well-intentioned but mistaken article on climate engineering.

  7. Climate Policymakers and Assessments Must Get Serious About Climate Engineering
    By Edward A. Parson
    A rebuttal to Robock’s fallacious conclusions.

  8. Seven Deadly Sins: Reflections on Donor Failings
    By Nancy Birdsall
    Essential reading regarding development assistance.

  9. To Understand 2016’s Politics, Look at the Winners and Losers of Globalization
    By Branko Milanovic
    An introduction to the authority on inequality.

  10. Breaking the Tragedy of the Horizon - Climate Change and Financial Stability
    By Mark Carney
    An Introduction to “stranded assets.”

Puzzles for Think Tanks

The Think 20 (T20) has evolved from its informal, nimble beginnings. In 2009, a small group of us met with then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the UK Sherpa team two months before the London G20 Summit. Each subsequent year, the T20 grew in size and scope to the point where it is now unwieldy, ineffective and largely irrelevant — just one of many G20 “engagement groups.” The principal deficiency is the lack of a screening mechanism to select a limited number of priority recommendations. The German T20 product was produced too late to influence deliberations and it is unlikely to even have been read by the officials preparing the leaders’ meeting. The ideas below are suggestions for targets where research results may ultimately have an impact.

  1. Redesign of Global Architecture
    The existing suite of international organizations and both formal and informal arrangements of global governance are inadequate in breaking global deadlocks. The United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and many other organizations do not have appropriate mandates, decision-making rules or resources to reform themselves, or address problems simultaneously, which would allow for trade-offs necessary to change apparently zero-sum games into positive-sum games.  

    The mandates, the resources and decision-making rules of the many different international institutions are accidents of history. To redesign the global governance architecture requires imagining a desirable future world organization chart of effective international organizations. The T20 could lay out credible alternatives for international institutions and arrangements, envisioning reformed and new organizations, formal and informal intergovernmental arrangements, and mechanisms at the global level. The T20 objective could be the description of institutional reform and innovation where individual nation-states are satisfied with the overall outcome. This ambition is beyond the capacity of any one research institution or think tank

    The output could be a series of reports, tying together the results of the independent research products to sketch a “big bang” package to address the needs and gaps in global governance. Reports produced could include: a map of the formal and informal arrangements and mechanisms, identifying gaps and inadequacies; inventories of the existing global coordinating mechanisms and agencies and informal networks of officials; and several forward-looking “2025” scenario papers exploring the future map of international coordinating machinery.
  2. Map Future G20 Agendas
    In the immediate future, multilateralism will be tested by the anti-globalization sentiment and by the “Fortress America” mentality. The challenge for the G20 presidency will be to devise win-win-win agendas. The burden will be to the limited time for discussions on topics where there are prospects for agreement. In theory, trade would be a prominent candidate for G20 discussion. In practice, political realities doom the prospects for major progress. The over-constrained G20 agenda should be limited to matters of global concern where progress is feasible.

    Many subjects appear intractable in the current context. Prevention of armed conflict is not an issue of comparative advantage for the G20. Neither are the questions of human rights, governance of the oceans or climate change. One would think that G20 countries could agree on nuclear non-proliferation initiatives. Common ground should be accessible in fighting terrorism, crime and tax evasion. In the internet domain, consensus may be reachable if discussion is limited to cyber-security norms in the finance and utility sectors. Progress on public health initiatives to prevent pandemics seems practicable. Leaders will of course talk about whatever they want to talk about, but it would be a service to future G20 presidencies to survey the global issue landscape, update the criteria for G20 agenda consideration and identify areas where G20-led progress appears feasible.

  3. Design the Future Global “Steering Mechanism” 
    Global governance requires coordination and an institutional memory. What should be the constitution of an appropriate “executive committee” to be the “premier forum for international cooperation,” 10 years after the formation of the G20 at the leaders’ level? Questions could include:

    • For a crisis resolution committee, is there a practical alternative to a self-selected group of countries? Does it have to be at leaders’ level?
    • Should the idea of a United Nations Economic Security Council be resurrected?
    • Is there a role to focus on proposing institutional innovations to fill gaps in global governance; to mediate and arbitrate between international organizations when mandates overlap; or for a pre-negotiation committee to break apprehended deadlocks?
    • Should the “steering group” function commission policy research reports to international organizations or groups of ministers and officials?
  4. Identify Issues Propitious for G20 Resolution
    A prestigious essay contest could catalyze the research community. The topic would be an ideal but feasible outcome of the next G20 events. A list of current foreign policy issues could be published with the notice of the contest. The limits of the G20’s tool box would be to publicize:
    • statements for the record expressing a common commitment, assessment or conceptual/normative framework;
    • commitment to mobilize resources in international financial institutions, especially to deal with economic crises or threats to the global economy;
    • signature G20 initiatives, projects with which the group is most closely connected and, thus, most responsible for;
    • pledges to put domestic affairs in order;
    • preparing the ground, knowledge building, and information generation and dissemination, particularly by commissioning studies for future deliberation; and
    • facilitating progress, focusing attention to help spur progress on issues whose ripeness presents opportunities.

    The contest could be advertised widely by a partner in the telecoms/media industry. It could be endorsed by the patronage of a minister in the G20 presidency’s government. There could be significant financial reward for first, second and third prize winners for best essays. There could be separate categories for professionals and for students. There could be an international jury including some current or former officials.
  5. Stimulating Climate Research
    There is a need for increased research into renewable and low-carbon energy. CIGI President Rohinton Medhora argued in a CIGI Policy Brief that researchers could profitably explore how to extend two existing models to research in green energy. The Consortium of Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) is a network of 15 research centres, spread across the world, conducting research on the science and policy of agriculture, aquaculture and nutrition. An Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) is an innovative mechanism recently introduced in the pharmaceutical industry.

    Medhora argued that “the pursuit of green technology and its dissemination would benefit from an examination of CGIAR, where patents are held in the public interest and advances in technology and technique are disseminated swiftly and freely across countries.” He concluded: “This is the moment to create a new organization in an era where this is frowned upon — a “CGIAR for green technology.” It will be easier to fund incremental research if the money is directed to institutions in the funding country. 

    An AMC is a commitment to subsidize the future purchase of a vaccine that is not yet available. It provides incentives to private manufacturers to invest in research and development to supply vaccines to developing countries. The goal is to accelerate the availability of effective vaccines at cost-effective and sustainable prices. Making a similar advanced commitment to buy energy devices and processes with pre specified properties, if and when they are developed, would create incentives for industry to increase investment in research and development.

    The T20 could propose ways and means to pursue these two ideas. 

  6. Geoengineering
    With respect to climate policy, it would be prudent to buy insurance. World leaders have continually reaffirmed the 2°C goal. The 2°C goal is not achievable. The World Bank report, Turn Down the Heat, concluded we are on a path to heat up by 4°C at the end of the century. Governments and mainstream media have interpreted the 2°C goal as equivalent to an atmospheric concentration target of 450 ppm CO2. The dirty little secret is that the response of average global temperature to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations is uncertain. Scientists don’t know for certain whether 450 ppm will lead to 2°C degrees increase. The risk is that even if concentration is limited to 450 ppm, there is a 67 percent probability that temperature increase could be greater than 2°C. The arithmetic is sobering.

    Early research suggests geoengineering interventions could offset much of the global average heating projected this century, rapidly and at a relatively low direct cost. But these interventions carry substantial new risks. Research will be required to explore the implications and costs of climate engineering:  consideration of realistic forecasts of the scale and impact of mitigation efforts; how to constitute the body to assess research proposals and outcomes; the criteria for decision making; and transparency and accountability provisions. In the long term, if research results are promising, what is the process to determine if we are facing a “climate emergency” requiring deployment? What threshold of agreement?6 Who controls the thermostat?

    The question is how can we determine if the potential consequences of geoengineering are justified to avoid the future costs and consequences of global warming caused by carbon emissions. The only way to determine which risk is of less consequence is to perform research. Edward A. (Ted) Parson, in a CIGI Policy Brief called for a global commission to set the rules for experiments. The T20 could underline the necessity for “buying insurance” and recommend governance arrangements to approve research experiments, to enable well-founded decisions on whether or not to ultimately deploy geoengineering initiatives.7  The T20 could frame the terms of reference for an appropriate process.

1 Seconded by the poet W. B. Yeats "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

2 To confirm their biases, skeptics of NGOs should read Patrick Moore’s book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, published by Beatty Street Publishing.

3 Schuyler Huck and Howard Sandler’s Rival Hypotheses: Alternative Interpretations of Data Based Conclusions, Harper and Row, 1979. Page xiii.

4 Ibid. page 243.

5 In “I Know a Hawk From a Handsaw,” in M. Szenberg, ed., Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies, Cambridge University Press (1992).

6 “Any truly inclusive governance process will not be able to act decisively in the face of an emergency.” Jamieson, D. Climatic Change (2013) 121: 527. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0862-9.

7 Despite the Convention on Biodiversity call for a moratorium – “…that no climate-related geo-engineering activities** that may affect biodiversity take place…” See:

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.