3. Economic security and mobility

The last two years have shown how fragile social safety nets are in many countries. This was the case been long before COVID-19 emerged. Economic mobility has declined in many countries; in the US, only 8% of children raised in the bottom 20% of income distribution are able to climb to the top 20% as adults, while the figure in Denmark is nearly double at 15%. There are exceptions, as noted in the World Economic Forum’s Social Mobility Index, notably in the Nordic countries. A new social contract needs to re-establish social and economic mobility and security.

4. A just and inclusive transition to net zero

Climate justice and the just transition were recurrent discussion items at COP26. A new social contract must face this head on, meeting the needs of both those disproportionately harmed by the current energy system, and also those who face displacement in the transition. This means providing assistance for the displaced, investments to ensure that clean energy is accessible and affordable for all, and urgent action to improve public and environmental health affected by dirty energy.

5. Responsible use of technology

The rise of disinformation threatens the individual privacy and democratic processes on which functioning societies depend. A recent study found that roughly half of US adults (48%) now say the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content. What’s more, there is considerable evidence that the flaws in the information ecosystem disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, especially the young and the economically dispossessed. Governments have struggled to move as quickly as the pace of innovation, and would do well to expand their expertise, and create special-purpose entities to find policy solutions.

None of this can or should be delivered by any single sector, nor by any single model. Governments have the essential role in shaping a new social contract. Business has much to gain by helping ensure that market economies retain the license to operate. Civil society has a more prominent role than it had in the middle of the last century. Collaboration is essential, and all must play a role.

The benefits of a new approach are compelling. Modern social contracts can facilitate economic opportunities and mobility for all; secure the societal consensus needed for a decisive approach to the climate crisis; enable technological innovation in service of social progress, and foster more inclusive societies.