When society heeds early warnings, events can be controlled. When it ignores them, events dictate themselves. The trend in U.S. business and economics over the past decade have reminded many of us of the late 1920s.
Only now are public voices echoing this concern. Walter Russell Mead points out this similarity in his article (Opinion, June 7), "Pasta With Platitudes in Venice: World Needs an Economic New Deal." But I would hasten to add that international economics are far more complex and incestuous than in the 1920s.
Today a one-half percentage point change in U.S. interest rates can affect the eating habits of millions of people on another continent. It is not going far enough to say that an "economic accident," as incoming Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan puts it, could trigger the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Farm failures, bank collapses, soil erosion, crop surpluses and lack of business diversity exist today at a magnitude greater than the late 1920s. The international economic web that connects us to the world will mean that no segment of the global community will be untouched by an economic "accident."
The world depression of the 1930s led to the most devastating man-made event in human history--World War II. Today's economic disaster would be as unlike the Great Depression as World War II to today's conventional war, as the USS Stark incident has shown. World events are now so interconnected that no subject is irrelevant to the discussion of global economics.
A State Department official recently made the absurd claim that "the world has never been better fed." As the basis of his conclusion he pointed to the lack of markets for grain surpluses. The hungry, you see, are not considered to be a market, as they cannot buy the product.
A world economic strategy aimed at buoying a global elite will not work. The complexities of world affairs are so absorbing that the simplicity of the problem is hard to see. In a world of abundance billions of people are forgotten, starved, murdered, dehumanized. The hungry can't eat semiconductors. And they don't grow when you plant them.