The G-20 summit meeting in Toronto came to a close yesterday. Leaders of the world's wealthiest nations and biggest economies convened to discuss how to bolster a fragile global economy which is seemingly taking small steps on its way to recovery.
The consensus is that massive government deficits pose the biggest threat to global economic stability. As such, it was unanimously agreed that governments must place a strong emphasis on debt reduction. How this is to be accomplished – or more specifically, how quickly this is to be accomplished – remains the subject of contention. While some European nations advocated immediately raising taxes and slashing spending in order to reduce debt, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner advocated a more "measured approach to debt reduction," i.e., continued government stimulus packages in order to continue stimulating economic growth.
Here's how The New York Times put it:
Although Mr. Obama insisted emphatically that there was "violent agreement" on the need to reduce debt over time, the final communiqué [of the G-20 member nations] included a delicately worded call for deficit reduction "tailored to national circumstances." In essence, the leaders were blessing their decision to go their own ways.
So was anything accomplished? Is there any point in agreeing on a goal, if there is no consensus regarding its implementation?
I think yes.
A while ago I stumbled upon a parenting blog post on this site, Baffled by the Book by Tzippora Price, which I thought to be really insightful. The author of the article responds to a mother who tries to raise her kids "by the book," but the books are driving her crazy. One day she reads that parents are too lenient, and that's why children lack self-esteem and direction. The next day she reads that parents criticize their children too much, and need to learn how to let things go and not be so controlling, etc.
Tzippora begins her response by saying:
There are many schools of thought regarding how to raise ethical and well-behaved children. The fact that so many theories exist shows that no one method has been proven to work for all parents and all children. In the absence of one perfect model, you will need to choose the parenting method that best suits your family...
No two people are alike. No two nations are alike. That's the way G‑d created us. So while it is a tremendous accomplishment when people of different mentalities and backgrounds come together and agree on a common goal, to insist on uniformity in the area of implementation is usually foolhardy.
This truth was reflected in the creation of the United States. Indeed, it is reflected in its very name. The Founding Fathers understood that there was a need for all the member states of the new republic to recognize and affirm certain core values, as expressed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Simultaneously they understood that different people will find different ways to operate—all under the same umbrella of values. We are united, but we are still a collection of different states with different laws and systems.
As is the case with all good ideas, this concept first finds expression in the holy Torah. In this week's Torah reading, Pinchas, we read of the division of the Holy Land into twelve tracts, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Numbers 26:53-55). Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, we learn that each of the tribes had its own judicial system (with the ultimate authority vested in the "federal Supreme Court" in Jerusalem). Yes, all the tribes were committed to the same G‑d and the same Torah—but each one had its distinct mode of service, its unique contribution to the colorful Jewish tapestry.
As the mystics explain, G‑d's infinitude is expressed to its fullest when an infinite amount of people, places, and times all express – in their uniquely inimitable fashion – the same G‑dly truth.
Sunday, Monday, Yom Kippur, and Purim. Workdays and vacation days. Weddings and funerals.
America, Israel, Zanzibar and all points in between. Synagogues and fitness centers. Dining rooms, studies, and bedrooms.
Me, you, and every other individual created in G‑d's image.
Unique entities. But all united by a common goal and destiny.