Nikos Konstandaras at PostGlobal

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press from 1989 to 1997 before joining the Greek press and has reported from many countries in the region. Close.

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. more »

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We Need to Rethink Our Views for 2009

If we do not have good news in 2009 then we will certainly have very bad news, both locally and globally, because 2008 showed that we have to rethink everything that we took for granted since World War II. The good news will involve finding ways to provide our populations with the minimum necessary for a dignified and meaningful life while guaranteeing the individual's freedom to develop according to his or her ambitions and capabilities. The challenge will be in devising a new system of minimal but effective government in a marriage with individual freedom and a market economy. Leaving things to drift along as they are now will lead to greater unrest within societies and greater turmoil in the world. It is time for ideas, time for new ways of looking at the world, its problems and its possible solutions.

The global economy is in a mess. The chain reaction began over a year ago when the giant pyramid scheme which was built on providing huge mortgages to U.S. citizens who could not afford them began to collapse. The financial services sector as we knew it, which had been skimming the profits off this collective madness, is now on the scrapheap of history. For once, even the rich have lost great fortunes as the crisis uncovers the fraud on which so many investments were based.

The world is looking for new ways to finance growth, at a time when trust has collapsed and major economies are in recession. This means that the effects of the global problem are hitting individuals in many - if not most - countries. Jobs, pensions, schools, hospitals and other foundations of our society are in jeopardy. In our democracies, we have a social contract in which the population remains docile even when dissatisfied with the government, waiting for its opportunity to change things at the next election. In Greece we have seen what happens when this contract is undermined: a policeman's killing of a 15-year-old boy on Dec. 6, sparked widespread rioting, in which anti-establishment groups took over the protest and, in effect, destroyed the economy of central Athens, sending shock waves through a Europe that is terrified of the social fallout of the economic crisis.

It is clear that our societies have to find ways to provide dignified jobs, with adequate wages, and the necessary social services to their populations. This may sound absurdly difficult - Utopian even - but it is the challenge we must meet or face unrest of such an extent that today's fears will look like a picnic. The Internet, telephone text messaging and other technological innovations have empowered people to such an extent that even the smallest protest movement can cause chaos in our complicated societies. Think of what will happen when serious protests get underway as more and more members of the highly-educated and technologically-empowered middle class become disillusioned and disenfranchised.

The problems faced by the developing world are just as serious as those in the mature economies, as the recession reduces the developed countries' need for raw materials (including oil) and manufactured goods. People who had pulled themselves out of poverty may just slip back again, and, as we have learned through history, it is the social group that tasted a better life that is most likely to revolt (and to have the means by which to revolt) when those benefits are removed. All of our societies, then, have hit a wall.

So, what is to be done?

It will take a lot of thought by many philosophers and economists to propose realistic solutions. But it is certain that the key to humanity's wellbeing lies in the greater exploitation of the wonderful opportunities provided by technology. If we break away from the pattern of people being fully employed or unemployed (with the accompanying benefits and lack of benefits) and begin to use people according to their skills and the time they are willing to put in, we may begin to build far more efficient economic models. As long as the minimal social security network is in place for all. If we minimize the need to commute or travel, allowing people to work at home or in public spaces, we will be able to pass on the savings to creating better communities, with parks, squares, clinics and libraries and cinemas, and so on. The need to make use of renewable energy sources and the growth of organic farming will suit many societies as they look for ways to employ their ever more educated populations: all these pursuits are labor intensive and, at the same time, provide for improved quality of life. The fact that they are not cheap can actually work in their favor, if we factor in the benefit of the employment opportunities they provide.

These random thoughts are wild leaps into unknown territory. But for our societies to break the deadlock in which they find themselves, we can only hope that 2009 will bring inspired proposals for solutions to the problems that broke into the open in 2008 and which threaten to overwhelm us.

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