Humanity is at a crossroads. Present social science theory and public policy are no longer adequate to meet the multi-dimensional challenges posed by rising social aspirations, unemployment and inequality, wasteful patterns of production and consumption, globalization of markets, technological advances, demographic changes, and ecological constraints. Incremental changes in public policy based on the present conceptual framework will only aggravate problems that are already acute. At the same time, the resources and capabilities of global society have never been greater than they are today. Scientific knowledge, technological developments, infrastructure and productive capabilities, educated and skilled human resources, entrepreneurial skills, commercial organization and a rapidly expanding global social network offer unprecedented opportunities for rapid social progress.
Our problems arise from a mismatch between resources and opportunities: social science theory that is divorced from real world functioning, financial markets that siphon off funds from investment in the real economy, capital and technology-intensive manufacturing strategies that eliminate labor resulting in higher levels of unemployment and falling consumer purchasing power, educational systems that fail to impart the knowledge and skills required by the labor market, energy production technologies that threaten the ecosystem, mispricing of natural resources leading to overexploitation and waste, national level institutions incapable and unwilling of coping with global level problems.
A solution can be found to every one of these problems, if only we are willing to think outside conventional boundaries. There is no dearth of opportunity. The limits we confront are limits to our thought. What is needed is to approach the challenges and the opportunities comprehensively and evolve an integrated package of solutions. The concept of efficient market theory to maximize return to investors has to be replaced by a theoretical framework that maximizes the efficiency of society as a whole by the full utilization of all available social resources to improve human welfare and well-being.
This Forum seeks to formulate a comprehensive package of solutions to mobilize the enormous untapped potentials of human and social capital based on far-sighted, ecologically sustainable economic policies; advanced delivery systems for higher education and vocational training; innovations in the application of science and technology; and new types of social networks and industrial clusters; together with strategies to release and direct social aspirations and energies into new fields of creativity.
- Human-Centered Social Framework/Human Capital: This theme combines the focus on new economic theory and human capital with the role of entrepreneurship and innovation, placing them in a wider theoretical context. Human Capital is a central unifying theme of the Academy’s work and also a central strategy for breaking out of the narrow conceptions and stifling economic policies that prevail now. The theme also focuses on the catalytic role of the individual in social change, exemplified in economy by the role of entrepreneurs. It also encompasses the issue of human rights and economic rights, including the right to employment.
- The Network Society: This theme focuses on Social Capital and is a complement to the one on Human Capital. Organization is a determinant of social productivity and human welfare. The theme here is the creative role of organization in social development, the enormous productive potential generated by advances in social organization and the opportunities to utilize innovative organizational models and delivery systems to accelerate social progress in business, education, scientific research and governance. Traditional economic theory and contemporary preoccupation with fiscal and monetary policy ignore the tremendous potential for organizational innovation as a stimulus to social change. A comprehensive strategy for addressing social problems needs to give sufficient prominence to this aspect.
- Economic theory and real economy: The Newtonian view of economics, in particular, and social science in general ignores important theoretical advances in the physical sciences and critical aspects of economic reality. This theme could actually encompass a wide range of issues related to economic theory in an intellectually challenging manner which would include contributions from non-economists.
- Re-valuing Nature: Current theories based on the efficiency of markets overlook the gross inefficiency of economic systems that seek to maximize return to investors by wastefully consuming natural resources or grossly undervaluing and underutilizing human capital. Economic thought and practice are reoriented to take into account the real value of natural and human resources to present and future generations and formulate effective public policies designed to optimize the efficiency of the overall social system. This theme should re-examine the concept of economic value and its role in promoting sustainable human welfare and well-being. Energy plays the central role in society’s relationship with the environment: this theme can also highlight the potential for new and alternative energy sources.
- The Global Workplace or Global Employment Challenge: Like climate change, the challenge has become global and requires a wider understanding of the multiple factors affecting job creation and retention, including trade, demography, aging, migration, technological development, tax policies, Internet, global sourcing, production strategies, outsourcing, resource depletion, etc. The notion of regional and global economies raised here has direct relevance to the Euro zone and EU.
- Recognizing Talents and Genius -- education for the 21st Century: A comprehensive social strategy must give a central place to the role of education and training in preparing youth for productive engagement in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex and sophisticated world. The Internet is set to become the main delivery system for expansion of the global educational system to meet the rapidly expanding needs of developing countries. It also has an essential role to play in vocational training to close the gap between the need and availability of skilled individuals in the workforce. One of the challenges will be to prepare youth for entrepreneurship and self-employment.
- Sharing Knowledge, Innovation & Creativity for Human Welfare: This theme covers the broad issue of how to make available to industrial applications the existing large amount of scientific knowledge and technical innovations. Particular emphasis will be given to the development of a sustainable human welfare, including the field of health care, which is one of the world’s fastest growing industries, accounting for more than ten percent of the economy in most developed nations. The general awareness is increasing on this topic, but the management of S&T needs to develop instruments and a consensus to promote data sharing and economic exploitation in developing countries.
- Freedom and equality: This theme, that should address the lack of balance between developed and developing countries, is very much in keeping with the programmes of the International Higher Education and Research Centers operating in Trieste, often in close collaboration with UNESCO, such as the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, which hosted the Forum.