If you want a model for how the world can solve its most pressing problems in the 21st Century, it is the posse. As governance systems go, the Wild West approach of rounding up a few available hands and driving the bad guy out of town is certainly messy, but, if our favourite westerns are any guide, it could be highly effective. Political theorists who can see the potential dress it up in highfalutin’ language as "coalitions of the willing" and governance based on "flexible geometry", but we prefer to call it what it is: a posse. And this week, in New York, we are going to see plenty of evidence of why, increasingly, solving global problems is all about the art of the posse-able.
If there is one historical personage that all finance ministers – or treasury secretaries – need to know, he is Jacques Necker (1732-1804). He was the finance minister of France in the 1780s. He was credited with popularizing the phrase ‘public opinion’ (opinion publique). What was his central insight? He noticed that the attitude of the French public to the king of France determined whether or not they purchased the treasury bills issued from time to time by the king. It they had a favorable opinion of the king they bought his bills; if not, they did not buy his bills. In other words, the financial health of the kingdom and the power of the king depended on opinion publique.
Necker pointed out that the same was true of the finance minister. He was clear that the finance minister ‘stands in most need of the good opinion of the people.’ He pointed out that fiscal policies needed to be pursued with ‘frankness and publicity,’ and that the finance minister must ‘associate the nation’ with his plans, including the obstacles he had to surmount. Necker practiced what he preached, launching a systematic management of public opinion. In 1792, he declared: