William A. Macdonald is a corporate lawyer-turned-consultant with a long history of public service and social engagement.
The world has never had more people, more diversity or less-robust borders – it has never been more connected, yet disconnected. These trends will continue – the result of six centuries of freedom and technology that have weakened previous sources of Western cohesion. The need for mutual accommodation is now urgent if we are to live in a bearable world.
Mutual accommodation is not a path to eliminate power and force, but rather a way for humans to better manage them both. It makes room for others. It is often about compromise and always requires understanding of what every player requires. Inclusion is key. Mutual accommodation may be about shared purposes, values, interests and beliefs, or it may simply make a goal doable. Despite its inexhaustible reach, it does not always work. Force is sometimes needed, though this requires knowing how far to go and when to stop.
Mutual accommodation requires careful listening and speaking, and the belief that a shared and meaningful order lies at the heart of things. Geography creates problems in communication, while abrupt breaks from history can lead to even bigger breaks. The U.S. Civil War lasted just four years, but its divided aftermath persists to this day. Force can bring lasting political turmoil, while persuasion can take longer. Its results, however, last longer, too.
In the 20th century there were two great mutual accommodations on the world stage: the non-violent resistance movements led by, respectively, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela; and the U.S.-led broadening of the inclusive global order after 1945, which contained those countries and forces that were not yet ready for inclusion.
The world has become too intertwined for power and force to hold sway alone. Mutual accommodation is difficult and, to succeed, it needs support from free markets, a robust media, fearless universities, institutions that deliver the rule of law and democratic governance that delivers.
Honda Motor Company was founded in 1959, and produced its first automobile in 1970. It never bought into the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher mantra of “shareholder value” as the primary driver of business. Rather, it looked at all stakeholders – suppliers, consumers, workers and communities – not just investors, in its business decisions. That is mutual accommodation, Honda-style.
When Honda decided to establish a plant in Brazil, the government wanted it to be in the Amazon Valley – a location where none of the workforce in the assembly plant could read an operator’s manual. Honda found a way around that, without diminishing any standards. It achieved the best kind of win-win mutual accommodation. Back in Japan, Honda built an assembly plant in Kyushu; 70 per cent of the employees hired had physical disabilities. This inclusiveness shaped the plant from Day 1 and was not just an add-on.
Ray Dalio, the author of Principles, is the founder and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates – one of the world’s largest and best-performing hedge funds (with about US$160-billion in assets under management). His tenets of radical transparency, believability weighting and idea meritocracy, integrated into algorithms, have created a recipe for highly successful decision-making about investments.
Markets are largely effective, but imperfect instruments for mutual accommodation. In Mr. Dalio’s system, algorithms provide the basic financial-market data for specific investments. A specialized group of people then apply their well-disciplined thinking to each case, resulting in the best investment decisions. In a tough world, this method provides a hard-nosed successful mutual-accommodation way to invest.
In recent decades, China has chosen a partial market economy rather than the political democracy espoused by Russia. So far, China has fared better. On the mutual-accommodation front, China has recognized more astutely than Western elites that it must pay attention to its economic social contract.
In 2015, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated that “the post-Cold War era was not really an ‘era,’ but rather a gradual transition from a bilateral Cold War to a more complex international order that still involves … two world powers. In brief, the decisive axis of the new order increasingly involves the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The Sino-American competition involves two significant realities that distinguish it from the Cold War: neither party is excessively ideological in its orientation; and both parties recognize that they really need mutual accommodation.” With the current conflict between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, however, accommodation could be threatened by tone-deafness exacerbated by hubris.
Nothing is ever only one thing. No one thing is ever everything. These dictate more inclusion and compromise. “United we stand, divided we fall” applies not just to individual countries but to the whole world.