lunes, 12 de diciembre de 2011

The Forest and the Trees

Nota: algunas de las columnas que escribo quincenalmente para el periodico El Tiempo de Colombia, son traducidas al inglés y publicadas por WatchingAmer­, un portal de Internet cuyo objetivo es reflejar de la manera más fiel posible, lo que se piensa en otros países acerca de Estados Unidos y de sus políticas. La columna que incluyo a continuación fue publicada en en noviembre.

New York.- The occupants of Zuccotti Park are accused of being incoherent and without agenda. The hundreds of protesters who for weeks have been camping in a public sector of Wall Street have not been able to reach an agreement on what it is that bothers them about the current state of affairs.
I recently went to the scene of protests and saw that the group is, undoubtedly, quite diverse. They range from the unemployed and students to housewives and artists, to trade unionists, civil servants and aging rock fans. The truth is that it is easy to regard that motley group (mishmash) with condescension, because, among other things, discontent is so wide spread, and therefore so undefined, that it does not seem real.
But it is real. Protesters in Zuccotti Park and those in other cities where protests are being replicated feel cheated because the system is not giving them all the benefits to which they feel entitled and their American Dream has remained simply a dream.
The protesters are correct when they point to the bankers’ greed, and that of the elite in general, as one of the reasons for the economic crisis. The U.S. Budget Office has just published a report confirming that in the past three decades, the income of the richest fringe of the population grew at an accelerated rate. The rich became richer. In contrast, the incomes of those who find themselves at the lowest point of the spectrum moved at a snail’s pace.
They are also correct when they complain that there have not been obvious penalties for the protagonists of the unleashed financial debacle. Or when they point out that the government is not creating the number of jobs needed, nor doing enough to extend the benefits of quality education to the entire population.
All that is legitimate, but the forces involved are much larger, and it appears that those protesting in Zuccotti Park can’t see the forest for the trees. The pains experienced by the U.S. are the result of a paradigm change that has prevailed for most of the last century and that has made us believe that the prosperity enjoyed by most Americans would never end.
From my perspective, I see a self-indulgent society, in which individual rights seem to have become more important than duties. And signs of this distortion are everywhere. For example, in the cavalier attitude of many employees who do not seem to notice that the unemployment rate is at 9 percent. Or in the excessive consumption and waste. Not to mention the lack of environmental awareness or the obesity of millions of people.
In my view, the lagging U.S. economy is not the product of a momentary situation, nor can it be remedied through presidential directives. We are witnessing a change in direction, in which emerging economies (especially Asia) are demanding their fair share and count on a hard working, ambitious and increasingly educated population to achieve it.
A columnist for The New York Times reported this week the case of a Vietnamese girl he knew, who gets up at 3 in the morning to go over her books before walking two hours to the nearest school. I am sure she is not the exception.
I am not suggesting that the only thing left for Americans to do is resign themselves to witness their lifestyle going down the drain, nor that the course of history cannot be changed. But to regret what was and is no longer, as the mass in Zuccotti Park is doing, will not accomplish anything. As in the famous Kennedy speech, they would be better served to ask what it is that they can do for their country.

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