A moral sentiment

If Allen Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and their esteemed international colleagues can’t agree on remedies for the global economic crisis, can the editors of a magazine with an annual deficit (which, though well below Japan’s, is nonetheless worrisome) possibly come up with any?

Well, no. And fortunately no one has asked us.

But if the "technical" answers to the "contagion" now threatening the "globalized" economy are not obvious or ready-to-hand among those who trade in such goods, perhaps a turn to the moral dimension would help. After all, Adam Smith, the man who wrote The Wealth of Nations (1776), first made his reputation with A Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)-and they were not mere "sentiments."

Amazingly such a sentiment has been expressed by Mr. James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. At the gathering of world economic leaders in Washington on October 6, Mr. Wolfensohn argued that the approach of institutions like the International Monetary Fund must be adjusted so that "mathematics will not dominate humanity."

After reviewing a year of global upheavals, Mr. Wolfensohn summed up (New York Times, October 7):

"We must address the issues of long-term equitable growth on which prosperity and human progress depend.

"We must focus on the institutional and structural changes needed for recovery and sustainable development. We must focus on the social issues.

"We must do all this. Because if we do not have the capacity to deal with social emergencies, if we do not have longer-term plans for solid institutions, if we do not have greater equity and social justice, there will be no political stability, and without political stability no amount of money put together in financial packages will give us financial stability."

His argument is perhaps a trifle utilitarian, but to us his advice sounds almost as good as an encyclical.

Published in the 1998-10-23 issue: 
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