Let me begin with a disclaimer. I attended Jesuit schools as a boy and adolescent. Belief in the sanctity of human life and the principles of social justice, which were at the core of the teaching imparted there, shaped me. The vision and language spoken by Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, with an emphasis on the “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable”, profoundly resonate with me.
"Each new generation is reared by its predecessor; the latter must therefore improve in order to improve its successor. The movement is circular." - Emile Durkheim
How are Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bill Mckibben, Pope Francis, and Al Gore alike? The answer is very simple: they are part of a 60+ cohort, which includes baby boomers and their predecessors. And they are all very effective and passionate about how to tackle the biggest threat of our times: climate change.
I vividly remember that the first person who drew my attention as a child to the environment was my grandfather who was a small farmer in my native Poland. Around twenty-five years ago, during my first visit to Siberia, tribal seniors raised the issue of the melting of the “eternal ice” as well. Neither my grandfather nor the seniors were highly educated, but they were able to observe the rapid changes in their own environment. Despite this, we did not heed their concerns as they did not possess academic credentials. Now that over five thousand researchers have agreed that climate change is occurring, we are suddenly starting to pay attention.
Older adults constantly address the issues involved in global warming to Millennials, youth or even children, fully aware that their generation’s irresponsible behavior contributed immensely to the current state of the Earth. But why exclude the culprits? What happened to resocialization and second chances? Even James Madison was aware of generational responsibilities when he stated: “Each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”
The baby boomers and the silent generation are reaping the benefits of the “longevity dividend”. Why don’t we start working together towards the survival of our kind not only as preachers, but also in the trenches of the global climate change movement? Members of the grey generations are often bold, skilled, experienced, financially independent, and in most cases, are very active and sensitive to social inequity. As the old saying goes: the funeral shroud has no pockets. It is in their best interest to be part of this movement.
There have been many days over the past five years characterized as the final decision day, climax in a drawn-out attempt to resolve the Greek debt crisis and lead the country back onto a sustainable growth path. Today’s emergency summit of eurozone’s heads of government seems to be yet another of these days. Will Greece exit the euro or will there be another short-term respite? Are we really in the endgame? In the following, I will argue that whatever outcome, Greece will be on fiscal life support from the European Union for many years to come and that, ultimately, growth can only be restarted in Greece and not with externally imposed adjustment programs.
“I am misfit and a happy misfit.”
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a world renowned Nigerian economist currently serving as Finance Minister of Nigeria. She is credited with developing reform programs in Nigeria that helped improve governmental transparency and stabilzing the economy. Previously, she worked for the World Bank, including several years as one of its Managing Directors (October 2007 – July 2011).
As quoted in the Financial Times on June 5, 2015, Lunch with the FT: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, by William Wallis
Wasting billions of dollars, time and time again, to stage self-indulgent sports spectacles is no way for any society to build shared prosperity for the long term. But just try explaining that common-sense economic logic to the sports-crazed cities that keep lining up to purchase a moment of fleeting fame – and that end up squandering vast sums, by building use-once-throw-away “white elephants” for one-off events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer tournament.
The sports-industrial complex continues to beguile the gullible and the grandiose, even though scholars have long warned of the futility of sports-event-driven spending. Beijing spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games, and Sochi spent upwards of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games – while Brazil spent $20 billion to host (and heartbreakingly lose) the final rounds of 2014 World Cup soccer. Not to be outdone for extravagance and excess, Qatar reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 billion for the 2022 festivities.
Like the deluded leaders of declining Rome – who distracted their once-industrious city into passivity by pacifying the populace with what the poet Juvenal derided as panem et circenses: "bread and circuses" – modern-day civic leaders are allowing their obsession with media-moment athletic fame to trample economic logic. The scale of their civic hubris – and the malign self-interest of the construction firms, financiers, flacks and fixers who goad credulous Olympic-wannabe cities into wanton overspending – is insightfully dissected in a valuable new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College.
In recent remarks at the World Bank, Zimbalist deplored the reckless rush that stampedes many cities into bleeding their civic coffers in the quest for Olympic notoriety. The saddest example may be the city of Montreal, whose debt from the 1976 Summer Games burdened the sorry city for 30 years.
Yet the suckers keep taking the bait. Boston, said Zimbalist, recently put forth an extravagant multibillion-dollar bid for the 2024 Summer Games – and only later, after the initial headlines and hoopla had abated, did more complete statistics reveal the likely scale of Boston’s folly. And, of course, the Olympic organizers would again stick the long-suffering taxpayers with the bill for any revenue shortfall.
Zimbalist’s logic is a wake-up call for those who somehow imagine that “this time is different” – that one-shot wonders might somehow produce long-term economic benefits. Some occasional exceptions suggest how very rare it is that optimists are rewarded: London, for example, may have gained a much-needed morale boost after its successful 2012 Summer Games, and two (but only two) Olympic festivals actually turned a profit – both of them in Los Angeles, which shrewdly re-used some of its 1936 Olympic facilities when it again played host to the Summer Games in 1984. But for most cities – Montreal in 1976, Sarajevo in 1984, Athens in 2004 and many more – the money spent on soon-to-crumble stadia, ski jumps and swimming pools was a diversion from urgent human needs and productive investment.
Zimbalist makes a compelling case – yet beyond the diagnosis of the malady, one seeks a prescription to cure it. Can such Olympic megalomania be tamed? Are there other ways to build, and pay for, worthy sports facilities that honor the spirit of the Olympic Games while avoiding the overspending that bleeds their hosts dry?
A potential solution arose amid Zimbalist’s recent World Bank discussion. Rather than build one-shot Olympic facilities that are destined to be discarded as soon as each extravaganza is finished, why not build just one enduring set of permanent Olympic facilities that can be refurbished and re-used, year after year? Build it right, and build it only once: That way, the cost of building and maintaining an Olympic complex could be spread over generations.
Pursuing that solution seems especially timely right now, and here's why. Where is the historically logical place to locate such a permanent Olympic site? Why, in Greece, of course, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. and continued until 393 A.D. There could be no more authentic place to have today’s marathoners run than in Marathon itself – no more meaningful place to have skiers schuss than on Mount Olympus, or to have boaters ply the very waters that warmed Odysseus’ odyssey.
Juancito is from a small town in rural Peru. He wakes up every day at 5 a.m. to walk two hours to get to school. One day, he fell and twisted his ankle, but because the nearest health clinic is three hours away, his teacher had to fill in as a health care provider.
Juancito’s story provided the inspiration for the third-place winning team of the first Ideas for Action Competition, sponsored by the World Bank Group and the Wharton Business School. The team noted that the local government — which receives royalties from a mining company — didn’t lack the funds needed for development, but community needs were being overlooked.