Perverse Cosmic Myopia
Op-Ed Columnist NYT
By DAVID BROOKS
You’d think if some tiger were lunging at your neck, your attention would be riveted on the tiger. But that’s apparently not how it works in the age of global A.D.D. As a tiger sinks its teeth into the world’s neck, we focus on the dust bunnies under the bed and the floorboards that need replacing on the deck. We live in the world of Perverse Cosmic Myopia, an inability to focus attention on the most perilous matter at hand.
The tiger, of course, is the collapsing world financial system. Americans actually have a falsely mild view of this crisis because the economy is worse abroad. The U.N.’s International Labor Organization projects between 30 million and 50 million job losses worldwide. Central European countries are teetering; Japan’s economy is horrifying; and the Chinese job creation machine is losing the race against its demographic pressures.
There have been riots in Greece and China as well as huge protest rallies in Dublin, Paris, London and beyond. So far, the protesters express anger without an agenda, but if the global economy continues to slide through 2010, they’ll discover one. A predictable result is a series of beggar-thy-neighbor exchange-rate policies, followed by rising trade barriers and the degradation of the entire global system.
In times like these, you’d expect prudent leaders to prepare for the worst. After all, the pessimists have recently been vindicated by events. But that’s apparently too painful to think about. In normal times, leaders like to focus on the short term at the expense of the long term. But now the short term is really confusing, so leaders take refuge in projects that are years or decades away.
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