Prologue by Professors Bryan Brophy-Baermann and Nancy Heims
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, understands intimately the forces of globalization, the role that they have played in the European Union, and the challenges they pose to economic and social well-being at home, regionally and globally. At the helm of Greece in 2009 when its economy was felled by the reach of global forces that upended economies in every region of the world, Papandreou had to grapple with the devastating choice placed before him: to accept severe austerity measures or concede bankruptcy. However narrow and stark those options, he had no illusion as to the difference between them, with the former (austerity) an admittedly difficult path, but the latter (bankruptcy) an all-out nightmare. He came to know, however, that having the process work properly and equitably was not a possible outcome. Thus, he continues to challenge what he deems to be the uncritical allegiance of Europe’s leadership to these inequitable policies, an allegiance to the “orthodoxy of austerity,” in his words.
Indeed, not lost on the Greeks, or, for that matter, on the Americans and other victims of the massive economic upheaval, have been the resulting disparities in the global economic system: holders of immense fortunes exist alongside those either destitute or laden in debt. A country such as Greece today, with almost 28 percent unemployment and 65 percent youth unemployment, co-exists regionally, and in a shared currency zone, with those posting strikingly lower numbers, such as Germany with an under-7 percent overall unemployment rate last month – ironically, an uncharacteristically high number for that country – and a 7.7 percent youth unemployment rate.
George Papandreou knows well this bleak side of globalization that, as he has acknowledged, “promised so much, and opened so many doors, (yet) has also brought new inequalities and new risks.” A Yale University study has underscored that finding, noting that in the past few years of unprecedented financial deregulation and speculation, global markets, those beacons of economic globalization, have displayed “a level of greed, irresponsibility and unaccountability that has led to a drying up of trillions of dollars of economic growth and decimated hundreds of millions of lives.”
Papandreou has recognized that if such new forces of globalization — whether the massive global capital flows, or the global power of technology and the media — are not monitored and directed by democratic institutions, more control will be concentrated in the hands of economic and political elites with, from Papandreou’s perspective, devastating possible consequences. Papandreou brings to this assessment the insight gained from his years of political leadership in Greece as a member of parliament, democratic-socialist party leader, foreign minister and, like both his father and grandfather before him, prime minister. He also brings the visceral understanding of what the absence of democracy means, having witnessed at gunpoint as a 14-year-old boy the start of the suppression of popular voice in Greece that persisted throughout the seven-year dictatorship.
Therefore, he contends, if we seek social well-being and social justice, we must view globalization not as a static or neutral force, but as a process that we must consciously and wisely invest in and shape according to an underlying, well-considered set of values. To that end, we might ask ourselves, as Papandreou himself poses, why we want globalization. Does it help promote security and prosperity, broadly considered? In what ways? Will global capitalism continue to be given free rein to operate unconstrained for the benefit of a few, or can it be properly balanced with democracy for the benefit of local, national and global communities? And how should we take on global challenges such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and poverty in an age defined by this dominance of global capital?
In all, we might ponder with Papandreou whether and how global capitalism can be humanized and further enriched by the “collective wisdom in our societies.” At this critical moment, we look forward to George Papandreou offering some creative, even unorthodox, responses to these queries during his lecture.
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