Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Greece Is the Word

Twitter tonight is loaded with jokes about advice and support for Greece. Banks in Ireland with advice for the government in Greece. The well-meaning advice from Wall Street. The U.S. Treasury giving advice to its counterparts in Germany about what to do about Greece. Charity fundraisers for Greece that fall short after the U.S. House of Representatives withdraws funding for the United States’ own disaster emergency fund.

It is easy to joke about any problem so complex, but put them all together, and there is a serious point. No one comes to the table with clean hands. If Greece cannot take strategic advice from the bankers in Ireland after what the banking system there has been through, they also cannot take advice from any bankers anywhere, not even in Athens. If the major national governments in the Euro zone are suspect, having seemingly done everything they could two years ago to precipitate a crisis in Greece and now more worried with saving the European banking system than with what happens to people in Greece, countries outside the Euro zone are in some ways even more suspect. Virtually everyone you can think of has some involvement in the problems in Greece or the same problems occurring elsewhere.

If the euro falls in November, we are warned that other world currencies could have problems too. The truth is that we have all become too dependent on money, the banking system, and the financial web that ties all of our work together. We need a financial system, of course, but we lean on it too much. It is not that we should go back to a system where work is controlled by tradition and superstition, but we have gone too far in the direction of anonymous borrowing and anonymous buying, from businesses with reputations built from anonymous online reviews. One sign of leaning too much toward the financial side of everything is that more people know the price of their lunch than know its ingredients. The problems in Greece’s financial arrangements can’t be solved by more financial arrangements, and it is a warning to us all to come to an understanding of the way we work and live that is not merely financial, lest we get drawn into the same mess. Greece is one of the oldest nations in the world, obviously not easily overcome by problems, so if it can come up with a solution here, as I suspect it will, it will be one that we will all want to copy in varying degrees.