Drowning in Numbers

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Headlines around the world are dominated by stories of the financial crisis, but can we possibly understand the numbers that are being tossed around? According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), approximately fifty trillion dollars has been eliminated from the world finances as a result of the credit crisis. A trillion, for those who are not keen on numbers, is one thousand billion, or fifty million millions, whichever you prefer. To put it into perspective, John Alan Paulos, a professor of mathematics, calculated that if a bank clerk could count five one dollar bills a second, it would take him three hundred and twenty thousand years to count out fifty trillion dollars! Three hundred and twenty thousand years! Can you believe that?

And that means – hold on tight – that last year, sixty-three percent of this entire world’s profit disappeared, disintegrated, lost. No one benefited from it, the money was not transferred from one person to another and it didn’t reach a small group of rich people. The money just vanished.

Of course, the great financial powers of the world immediately began trying to save the economy from the crazy landslide that was building steam. Still, those initiatives – how should I put it? – do not really make sense. The United States has invested one thousand billion dollars in banks and financial institutions in addition to over one thousand billion dollars to assist the auto industry, students, the unemployed, mortgage holders, etc.

Five hundred billion Euros have been transferred to financial institutions and another fifty billion to the yearly fiscal plan in Germany. England has not fallen behind the Americans and the Germans, as they invested slightly over one hundred billion in financial institutions and in different debentures. Over two hundred and twenty billion dollars disappeared from Russia’s treasury in its attempts to recover the ruble and stop fleeing investors. I could go on and on talking about every country in the world, but I think you get the point. If we put it all together, we end up with numbers that our personal calculators simply cannot handle.

But the true question is: Will any of this help the markets? “Leave me alone, I have no idea,” would be the most honest answer you might hear from analysts and senior economists. Therefore, all they can do is play with the numbers. However, these numbers are not just numbers. They reflect the devaluation of pensions and savings belonging to people like you and me. The money is disappearing as if it was never earned through the sweat and investment of people who toiled for years. It is coming straight from our taxes.

So what can be done?

First, we need to realize that this world craze and the inability of national leaders to cope indicate the need for a new approach. We now live in a reality where all individuals are inherently connected with each other, and it is not enough to inject sedatives into collapsing systems. What is the point in pouring a fortune into the banks, if they only keep the money to themselves while at the same time throwing former homeowners onto the streets? Neither rigid regulation nor the purchase of additional “toxic property” – two of the suggested solutions provided by the leaders of powerful countries – will be able to reconstruct the devastation of the past few years.

To solve this crisis, we must understand that external regulation will not work in the world’s present situation. An inner regulation is necessary, a human one, through the connection between people. That is where this crisis began, and it must be solved similarly, because first and foremost, it is a crisis in relationships. Ordinary citizens do not trust banks, which in turn do not trust companies and private merchants, who do not trust the government, which does not trust its citizens.

In other words, although our world is sufficiently rich to provide for us all, the only asset that is lacking today is the connection among people. In order to pull the world out of crisis, leaders must engage the people. It will not be possible to force a regulatory regime on the markets, just like one cannot keep water in a leaky bucket – even if he tries, the water will leak out through other holes.

While it may not be possible to force a person to limit himself, he can be led to reach his own decision that he would like to take others into consideration. The only regulation that will work is when each person comes to the clear and deep sensation that the entire world depends on him and he is dependent upon all the others. Such a shift in the relationship between people and their surroundings will inevitably create the regulation the finance ministers and leaders are searching for.

So where do we begin?

We have to start by creating an environment which will raise our awareness of the natural laws of living in a world in which we are all interconnected. In order to emerge from the financial crisis, each and every individual must realize that the only way to survive in this new world is by taking the egoistic motivation out of interpersonal relationships. If the media and country leaders explain to everyone that the ego is the true source of the crisis and that life in the Global Age requires our unity and mutual responsibility towards each other, we will begin to witness a shift in the course of the markets.

Imagine the following scenario: I think of others and others think of me. I am completely confident that as long as I do my part, all my needs will be filled by society. The time I used to devote to worrying about survival dissipates. No one in the world lacks anything and everyone relates to each other in love and mutual guarantee, just like a family. Whether we believe it is possible or not, this is the direction in which we are progressing. This is what will solve our money woes.

Eli Vinokur an independent columnist. He is completing his PhD in Social Sciences and Philosophy in The Faculty of Humanities at Tel-Aviv University, Israel. His research focuses on Jewish thought and its modern applications. Vinokur’s work has appeared at Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, MSN Israel, NRG Maariv among other publications.