Experts Grapple With How We Got Here

Two New York Times columnists have contrasting views of why we're in such deep economic trouble. Bob Herbert blames the two wars we're fighting, in Iraq and Afghanistan. ''Instead of cutting our losses we appear to be doubling down.''   

And, on the opposite side of the Op-Ed page, David Brooks, who describes himself as a moderate, deplores the fact that we have a $3.6 trillion budget and that we're ''caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon us to solve all problems at once.''
That two highly intelligent members of the Times staff come at the crisis facing this nation in such radically different ways points up the dilemma that faces all Americans. We are a nation searching desperately for solutions, confronting problems that never existed in this form before. You can't blame the average American, who listens to talking heads of all persuasions and reads newspapers that try to analyze the situation, from being confused. There are an awful lot of words out there---but it's still very hard to understand how we got here.
The Prime Minister of Malaysia blames ''unbridled greed'' for the global financial meltdown. He told this to a group of business leaders who convened in Jakarta.
Raphael Cushnir asks: if America were a person, ''with its recent cycles of destruction boom and bust, and its almost slavish dependence upon consumption, what kind of person would the country be? The answer inescapably is---an addict.''
A New Zealand psychologist, John Schumaker, quotes a Chinese philosopher, La Tzu, who wrote 2,500 years ago: ''There is no calamity greater than lavish desires, no greater guilt than discontentment and no greater disaster than greed.'' Schumaker says that the ''infamous greedy Eighties turned out to be a mere dress rehearsal for one of the most spectacular greed surges in history with jaw-dropping degrees of stock market folly, corporate skullduggery, decadence, excess and high-octane narcissism.''
So what's the average American to make of all this? Layoffs and crashing stock values have made it clear that our economy is sick. The housing crisis, the bank crisis and the dwindling confidence of Americans in their economy have contributed to a malaise, a lack of confidence that afflicts many of us.
Like falling dominoes, the economic illness seems to spread from country to country. It is small comfort that we are not alone. Yet it brings home the lesson that we need to cooperate with other nations to confront this crisis. Perhaps that's the best thing that will come out of all of this is a realization that we must find global solutions to our problems, and, more than ever, the nations of the world need each other.

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