The logo of Boomerang in Latin America.

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Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, recently made into a film starring Brad Pitt. This slender volume is an eminently readable tale of how the Great Recession is affecting five different countries: Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany and the US. His  thesis  is that different cultures react differently to the shock of economic disaster.

If people are given the opportunity to live beyond their means, most people will do so. Almost everyone in Greece is corrupt; no one pays their lawful taxes. All 300 members of the Greek Parliament cheat on their taxes. To expect Greece to change its customs now when facing national default is too optimistic. And a Greek default could bring down the Euro affecting the US adversely.

Germans live by the rules, and it will be up to Germany, the financially strongest country in the European Union to bail out the rest of the members of the European Union who may need help. Iceland went bankrupt because it thought that its banks could outsmart the big banks of London and New York who had both more assets and more experience. Ireland went mad with construction of commercial and residential structures for which there was no foreseeable demand.

Here in the US, our ties to one another have become frayed. Instead of looking out for one another, it has become a game of grab all you can while you can before someone else does. We need to watch out for each other and cooperate in this time of need if we are going to survive the Great Recession, which shows no sign of ending and is likely to worsen.

On the steps of a fire-bombed bank in Athens, Lewis saw a sign quoting an ancient Greek orator named Isocrates who lived from 436 BCE to 338 BCE: “Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.” True then–true today.

Please see Great Depression 2