Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thomas Friedman's Lesson from Greece

Today's New York Times has an interesting column by Thomas Friedman on the public finance mess in Greece, which is worthy of comment--unlike much of Friedman's recent columns, which tend to be shrill rants about our feckless domestic politicians. (When Friedman sticks to globalization, he tends to do best.) Today's piece has a nice description of how globalization connects people so much that it requires us to be more ethical. If globalization really does make the world into a village, then our actions have impacts on people on the other side of the earth. People in Asia or Africa or Latin America or Europe are my neighbors.

As Friedman puts it,
. . . we’ll all need to be guided by the simple credo of the global nature-preservation group Conservation International, and that is: “Lost there, felt here.”
Conservation International coined that phrase to remind us that our natural world and climate constitute a tightly integrated system, and when species, forests and ocean life are depleted in one region, their loss will eventually be felt in another. And what is true for Mother Nature is true for markets and societies. When Greeks binge and rack up billions of euros of debt, Germans have to dig into their mattresses and bail them out because they are all connected in the European Union. Lost in Athens, felt in Berlin. Lost on Wall Street, felt in Iceland.
While it's possible to exaggerate these global connections, it's impossible to ignore them. When the Greek government's finances started going south, the impact was felt in the U.S. stock markets.

Such interdependence, in Friedman's view, requires ethical action by everyone. But how do we promote that?
How do we get more people behaving sustainably in the market and Mother Nature? That is a leadership and educational challenge. Regulations are imposed — values are inspired, celebrated and championed. They have to come from moms and dads, teachers and preachers, presidents and thought leaders. If there is another way, please write me. I’ll leave a note for Lydia.
"Lydia" is the name of a 10-year old Greek girl who left a note outside the bank building firebombed during protests against austerity measures imposed by the Greek government. The note said, “In what kind of a world will I grow up?"

Great question. But I don't think "values" instilled in individuals are the solution. Instead, I argue in the book that the practice of the church year helps to build a community--the church--that can model practical and hopeful alternatives to the current system of globalization.