This is United Nations General Assembly Week in New York City. Heads of state converge on the city to discuss the environment, immigration, collective security and economic growth. I had the opportunity to hear leaders from the UK, Holland, Greece, Estonia and Chile in the past few days. Here are highlights:
- UK—Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his commitment to Brexit on October 31. He dismissed any calls for a new referendum. He explained that Britain is better off on its own. He said that his country will be able to conclude a trade agreement with the U.S., pending resolution of farm issues. He said that his country has the best trained, most committed work force, rule of law and regulatory simplicity. His funniest line was: “We have been looking at trade opportunities with the U.S. We make the best measuring tapes in the world. Now there is a Pentagon rule that limits purchase of tapes to U.S. suppliers. We know that you have a problem with British rulers, but come on, that was a long time ago.”
- China—Kai-Fu Lee, a top technologist who has worked at Google and Facebook and is now a venture capitalist in China, said China has the best entrepreneurs for speed, execution, results, tenacity and ambition. There is now a robust VC crowd, funding advances in mobile payments; there is no need for cash or credit cards in China. U.S. policy is based on the idea that China steals intellectual property. The ban on U.S. exports of semiconductors or mobile operating systems (Android) will force the Chinese to develop their own. You could well see a bifurcated system of technology, with China dominating the developing market.
- Netherlands—Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the global nations need small-town simplicity, honesty and decency. In short, he called for government trust to be restored through values, transparency and straight talk. He wants the Germans to open up the budget, to spend more in order to counteract the recessionary pressure in that export-led economy.
- Chile—President Sebastián Piñera noted that in the past 100 years his country has been poor in energy supply, dominated by hydrocarbons. But in a world of renewables, Chile is rich because it has a long coastline for wind power and a large desert for solar power. He said that he is insisting on the transition of automobiles to electric and, similarly, the conversion of buildings to renewable energy supply.
- U.S.— The move by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to launch a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump sent a shudder through the business community, as it portends the possibility of more instability around the economy.
We are in the midst of an accelerating and unprecedented trend of government unpredictability, populism and trade issues. Smart global companies must be ready to address problems that arise out of nationalistic sentiments and call out those that aren’t true. I predict that our upcoming Edelman Trust Barometer data will show government once again becoming the least trusted institution. The void in global governance will have to be filled by business, especially by CEOs, because My Employer is now, by far, the most trusted institution.
Business’s willingness to answer that call was evident in the three panels I participated in at Advertising Week. There was a strong commitment to purpose by brands and their agencies. Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben and Jerry’s, talked about the need for his company to continue its societal activism, for both customers and employees, with products such as Pecan Resist. I made the case for CEOs speaking out and not waiting for dysfunctional government to act. I also said that those in the audience had to make a choice, to pick an employer whose values were consistent with their own; specifically, to walk away from agencies that work for tobacco, guns or coal. We have a responsibility to use our power of persuasion for good.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.