The global financial crisis is like a giant flash that tore through the grey and lit up unseen details of our world – from dysfunctional international systems to secretive pyramid scams. The longer we examine the photograph, the more things we discover in the hidden corners of our everyday world, helping us understand what went wrong and allowing us to plan how we will deal with the new situation. Whatever the photo shows, however, it remains a snapshot of a particular moment, one that is already passing: The longer we delay to act, the greater becomes the danger of our missing the opportunity to bring our society in step with the challenges of the time
The crisis has shown how vulnerable the global credit system was and how irresponsible those who served it (or who – ostensibly – were burdened with regulating it) were. It has also shown how our perceptions depend on the psychological state of all involved in the economy, from governments to consumers. It is now obvious that the worm of destruction was slithering its way through the economy’s guts for many years, but, in the general euphoria, no one noticed – or if they did, they chose not to speak lest they spoil the party. Now the United States, the EU countries and other economies are looking for a way out. Now we all understand that no one knows the way. The reactions to news, to proposals and so on, depend on the psychological state of people at that moment. One day US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the subject of angry ridicule because he did not cancel the bonuses of executives of AIG, the tottering insurance giant (a minor but meaningful detail in the deluge of our days), the next he is instantly beatified for the trillion-dollar stimulus package – the same package that the inimitable Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek described as “the road to hell.” The Americans and the British are printing money to deal with the crisis – and analysts who should be worried about the possible consequences hardly mention the dangers involved.
The Americans accuse Europeans of not allocating enough money to support their economies and boost demand, after decades of ridiculing the “inflexible” economies of the Old Continent with their extensive social security network for citizens – the same networks which need much less money to keep the unemployed and the underemployed in the economy, allowing them to keep consuming and thereby supporting demand. Traditionally, in Europe – with the exception of Britain – more money goes to citizens and less to banks – whereas in the United States the opposite is taking place. Time will tell who is right. Theories and dogmas are of no use – and at least we are no longer under the illusion that they are. In this atmosphere of confusion and subjectivity, the leaders of the 20 most developed economies will meet in London this week to try and chart the global economy’s future.
For Greece, the flash shows what we already knew: Our economy is unproductive because we waste our people’s energy, just as we waste our natural and cultural wealth. The situation will not improve as long as our politicians do not feel the need to cooperate in order to set the foundations for change in the economy, education, public administration, social security and for an all-out war on corruption. Such cooperation, if sincere, would be an earth-shattering event, a revolution that would set our country on course for the future. But as long as “progressives” care only about maintaining the status quo and conservatives worry only about remaining in power, at a time when the only urgent calls for change come from abroad and sound like commands, then it’s clear that we have decided that the revolution must start without us. We will observe the G20 conference in London in the same way a beached ship observes the rising tide, waiting to see if it will lift it or sink it.
Comment in Kathimerini English Edition, 30 March 2009