Tackling Crisis With Knowledge

Tackling Crisis With Knowledge
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The Greek crisis, now continuing unabated for seven years, has severely tested both international and Greek institutions. In particular, this crisis has tested successive Greek governments more than any single Greek institution. In light of the unprecedented contraction of income, unprecedented collapse of living standards and quality of life, no Greek government official sought to explain to the public (by means of more than aphorisms) the origins and the nature of the crisis, as well as, what the guiding principles are for tackling it.

There has been a sole exception. The lone effort made by just one Greek prime minister - and a non-political personality in fact - who assumed an extraordinary burden and succeeded in enacting history's greatest sovereign debt restructuring with mettle and determination. Other than he, several Greek politicians have challenged rationality and have gotten causality backwards sometimes in disingenuous ways while a succession of them in bidding for power sought to undermine their predecessors. The result of their "approach" is a boomerang effect of a never-ending sequence of tragic miscalculations.

In the meantime, it is obvious that the public is thirsty for explanations. The public has gobbled up any accessible information and explanations it could identify. But the public deserves better, it deserves to know because it has to be part of the solution.

Is there another way?

Right after winning the election in 1992, President Bill Clinton convened an extraordinary conference of academic economists and practitioners to whom he posed three questions. First, he wanted them to provide an assessment of the U.S. economy at that time, as well as its performance over the previous two decades. Second, he wanted to know how the U.S. "could bring together a diverse and talented group of Americans who make this economy work." He solicited input from distinguished experts and prominent businesspeople to implement an economic plan. Third, he wanted to actively engage the American people in the process in order to make economic progress.

I firmly believe that things would have been very different in Greece if anything resembling Clinton's approach had been tried. Instead, only petty politicking ensued. To the best of my knowledge, no Greek academic institutions attempted to bring together eminent personalities for a discussion of the Greek crisis. There have been private initiatives by the likes of civic associations, notably Axiotis, and various non-institutionalized professional organizations - notably the series of Conferences on Economic Theory and Econometrics and GreekEconomistsforReform.com - of which (full disclosure) I have been an active participant. In addition, a sporadic sequence of conferences organized under auspices of the Athens Megaron has taken place, and the events were widely attended. But again, none was convened by Greek academic institutions.

It is fortunate that the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University is now organizing a second event that focuses exclusively on the Greek crisis. Bringing together politicians, government officials, former officers of international organizations who have been intimately involved with the Greek crisis and businessmen, along with academics, the upcoming "Greece Turn?" --- where the question mark is significant --- seeks to throw a positive light on a subject that has been such a continuing nightmare. The conference is intended to foster a non-partisan set of dialogues and to encourage and indeed stimulate all lively exchanges over all perspectives and opinions, regardless of the political affiliations of their holders. University venues are uniquely suited to such an undertaking.

Bill Clinton's 1992 initiative is a tall order, but for the time being, let us think of it as an interesting challenge. In an ongoing crisis, analyses may seem like form of luxury. However, the question remains: Is there any alternative to throwing knowledge at difficult problems?

Yannis Ioannides is the Max and Herta Neubauer Professor of Economics at Tufts University.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, leading up to "Greece's Turn: A Litmus Test for Europe," an upcoming conference that will examine the fundamentals, strengths and vulnerabilities of Greece from the perspectives of politics, business, investment and the economy, society and international relations while exploring the implications for the future of the Eurozone. This series will address some of these challenges in advance of the conference. For more information about Greece's Turn, visit here.

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