Tag Archives: Club of Rome

Stretching the Overton window: the need for (more) radical reform in the language of leading institutions

Large, venerable institutions like the United Nations or the European Union prefer to use understated language. When discussing possible reform, they tend to deploy expressions like “adjustment” or “course correction”. They are incrementalists, not firebrands.

This is even more true when economic reforms are concerned. As long as I have been intellectually active, economics has been an intellectually and politically conservative discipline. The mainstream economists’ idea of policy was the identification and correction of market failures. Well-functioning markets automatically deliver the best possible outcome for all.

In the past few years, though, I have started to see increasingly strong language – already widely used in the corridors, mind you – making it into high-profile official documents. I choose to interpret this as a harbinger of hope: as multiple crises bring our societies under increasing strain, policy makers realize that the old ways of thinking are just not going to cut it. The good old Overton window has served our institutions well, helping to guarantee stability. But now stability has become impossible; business as usual is setting the world on fire, quite literally. The Overton window needs to be blown wide open.

And so the language is changing: the aforementioned large, venerable institutions are now calling for a lot more radicality. In this short post I want to note the expression I have noticed. If you know of any more, please let me know, it may help people advocating for bolder thinking, as it is already helping me. Brace for interesting times.

What institutions are calling for (in rough chronological order)

  1. Green New Deal (US Democratic Party).
  2. Green transition (EU)
  3. Just transitions (everybody, from the EU to South Africa
  4. Systems transformation (UNDP, 2022-2025 Strategic plan)
  5. Transformative shifts (UNEP, strategic plan 2022-2025)
  6. Systemic change (IPCC, Assessment Report 6, Summary for Policymakers)
  7. Structural transformation (OECD, but I seem to have lost the reference. Can anyone help me?
  8. Extraordinary turnarounds (Club of Rome, Earth4All report