Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Real Recession Recovery Debate vs. the Washington State of Denial

A very serious debate is currently occurring on the Internet between those who believe socio-economic trends true during their lifetimes will certainly continue over the long-run and those who feel the world has now been pushed to the point where a new system of global governance is unavoidable.

As far as I can determine, Washington officials are floating off in a bubble somewhere completely oblivious to this debate, in utter denial about the seriousness of what is happening, still insistent on maintaining the very nice privileges to which they have become accustomed in a glorious (for the winners) century during which, amazingly, the U.S. won two world wars and a Cold War while avoiding nuclear war. Arguably, the U.S. won WWI on the backs of the British, WWII on the backs of the Soviets, and the Cold because of the utter incompetence of the Soviet Union. It does, in the end, deserve enormous credit for avoiding nuclear war, though it has been a very close thing. My point is not to denigrate the huge effort the U.S. made, but simply to remind clueless Americans that they were very, very lucky. From the perspective of mankind, the 20th century was horrifying, but from the perspective of the U.S., one can hardly expect things ever to be so good again. Four astonishing victories in a row is quite likely to be followed by a regression to the mean.*

Since officials and their corporate buddies simply deny the need to engage in this debate, the elephant in the global room is wandering in a fog of its own making, polishing the paint on a car hanging off the edge of a cliff. It is really not that the solution is all that difficult. An extremely good initial take has already been submitted to the U.N.

That report recommends:
  • increasing foreign aid
  • creating a new international credit facility
  • attaching fewer strings to foreign aid
  • offering more export opportunities for the poorest countries
  • reforming corporate governance
  • requiring greater corporate transparency
  • setting up a new global reserve system
  • reforming international financial institutions
  • establishing a global financial regulatory institution.
I would not recommend paying any attention to any commentator on global finances who has not read this report. That is exactly how important (in a technical sense) it is. In a political sense, I suspect it will have no significance at all, unfortunately. I pray that I am wrong. This report should be adopted as the official vision and goal of the U.S., and American bureaucrats should be ordered to draft implementing procedures on a crash basis. That would be our best hope of preventing the most dire warnings of chaotic collapse from coming true. That said, the Stiglitz report is essentially the last best hope for preserving a modified version of the current global governing system rather than being the call for revolution that might just be necessary. For example, it recommends fairly conservative increases in foreign aid, with more of an eye to the politically feasible than to steps that the world really needs and it pays little attention to global food problems.

It may well be too late to preserve our current system; beyond that, it can be persuasively argued that this recession is a valuable opportunity to get rid of a system that has been around too long. Saskia Sassen's opinion that the current system is overly focused on financial excess constitutes one form of this argument. Immanuel Wallerstein's argument that the current global capitalist system is now facing its demise is another. The problem is that constructing a new system may entail some very unpleasant consequences, particularly since many powerful people will clearly be in opposition to the common endeavor of mankind.

Despite the welcome opening of official minds in Washington since November, the debate in Washington appears to be covering only a minute portion of the space that needs to be considered in order to design a realistic response to the crisis that is now engulfing the globe. That is dangerous; the longer hard choices are postponed, the greater the probability of failure.

*unless, of course, officials take to heart the lessons being rudely pointed out in this blog

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