Global Crisis: Economists’ Conference in Havana


The global economic crisis was the main protagonist on the first day of Globalización 2009, the 9th International Conference of Economists on Globalization and Problems of Development, presided over by First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura; Dominican President Leonel Fernández Reyna; Cuban Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernández; Nobel Laureates in economics Edmund Phelps and Robert Mundell; Roberto Verrier Castro, president of the conference organizing committee; and others.

In four lectures and a panel discussion examining the causes, consequences, and possible solutions to the crisis from different angles, as well as contributions by other participants that sparked debate, there was full agreement on the gravity of the complex international economic and financial situation, which has intensified in recent months, while the diverse approaches from the start confirmed the validity of this confrontation of ideas.

The shake-up on Wall Street has thrown the global establishment into turmoil.  In ruling circles, panic and alarmist statements predominate.  They all register the presence of an event that could open an era of change.  The victims are not responsible for this crisis.  It is necessary to find the solutions to the crisis’s many effects on humanity.

In a welcoming speech, Roberto Verrier noted that the conference would attempt to “insist on finding answers to fundamental questions of our time, many of which were raised a decade ago, as an initial challenge, by the promoter and founder of these meetings, Fidel Castro Ruz.”

He stated that the problem today “is not a recession or a depression, but a free fall of the economy, which has not yet hit bottom, and there is no clear sign of when it will do so; in the meantime, all indicators continue to worsen, especially unemployment, which has now exceeded the levels of the 1974-1975 crisis.”

The first guest speaker was Edmund Phelps of the United States, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, who has attended three of these conferences.  His presentation was titled “Altruism and Social Responsibility.”

Phelps insisted that he had not come to the conference to provide formulas and suggested the idea that “shortcomings in personal responsibility played a role in the financial crisis that began in the United States and spread throughout the rest of the world.”

As part of a panel discussion on “From the Financial Crisis to the Global Economic Crisis: Impacts and Lessons,” Claudio Katz from Argentina, in describing the current context, focused on the fact that recent months have been marked not only by tax frauds and the scandalous use of public funds, but also credit is being frozen and governments continue to make up for the losses of the financial institutions.  However, he said, “There is not enough public money to remedy so much bankruptcy.”

One interesting idea at this juncture is the “scenario of social struggles emerging in the First World” due to the outrage, higher unemployment, and increasing poverty generated by the crisis.  Worldwide, there is a sense of fear, xenophobia, and popular mobilizations that could reach the great centers of capitalism.

“We cannot vindicate a system that generates these intense crises; the time has come to go back to the socialist project and to seek a society based on justice, democracy, and equality,” he affirmed.

Another panelist, Jan Kregel, from the United States, said the response to the crisis must be representative and include all countries and peoples of the world.  Christian Ghymers, of Belgium, tried to give a “European viewpoint” of the crisis, which is “not limited to a traditional cyclical downturn” and is like “a tsunami that began in the United States and is invading all of us.”

In the debate following the panel presentations, Eric Toussaint, also from Belgium and president of the Committee for the Cancellation of the Third World Debt, expressed his disagreement with blaming the victims for the onset of the crisis.

For his part, Samir Amin, president of the Third World Forum, maintained that what the system is trying to do now is to restart itself as it was before.  However, the well-known Egyptian professor said, “We have moved into a new stage of capitalism, which is obsolete as a system.”

Amin began the second part of the session with his lecture, “Financial Crisis?  Systemic Crisis?”  He commented on the most recent crises of the capitalist system leading up to today: “Today we face the same challenge in a more dramatic and severe dimension.”

Amin listed the crisis’s effects on the energy sector, climate change, food, and agribusiness’s attack on agriculture-based economies.

Another speaker was Pedro Páez, president of Ecuador’s Presidential Technical Commission for Configuring Components of the International Financial Architecture.  Páez gave an extensive presentation on the origins of the crisis, the vulnerability of the capitalist system, and the role of social movements in finding solutions, among other issues.

The last presentation on the first day of Globalización 2009 was given by Alí Rodríguez, Venezuelan minister of economy and finance, who commented on the severe disruptions of the U.S. economy from the 1950s, when a sustained decline in production began, leading up to its current financial crisis, now a global economic crisis, and its social effects.

Today, commissions did their work in the morning, which was reported to the plenary of the afternoon session, where His Excellency José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, President of the Republic of Honduras, delivered the keynote speech.

This article was published by Granma International on 3 March 2009.