We Americans aren’t the only people on the continent who are fed up with gridlock and corruption. Throughout Latin America, citizens are throwing out old regimes: Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina and most recently, Brazil. Unfortunately, the populists champions who ride into power, blaming society’s ills upon the rich, often become corrupt themselves. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a recent example in our hemisphere, but Africa is rife with them. History is a playbook for tyrants who rise to power on the discontent of the people.
But who are the people? Hollywood’s Jody Foster is supposed to have said, “Attacking the rich is not envy, it is self-defense.” Though rich herself, Foster seems to think the wealthy are evil folks upon whom we should waste no understanding. They are predators and the rest of us are their victims. Their sin is to take bigger slices of the economic pie, depriving the middle class of its opportunity, thereby. She fails to take into account how slices are redistributed in an economy. In Scandinavian countries, the government takes a big slice and converts it into social services. In Communist countries, everyone is supposed to get an equal slice. A nice idea that’s never worked. In capitalist countries, entrepreneurs can be hugely rewarded, which might seem unfair. But in the case of corporations, much of the profit is redistributed to shareholders, large pension funds as well as individual investors. The shared wealth creates innovation and new industries. In some cases, profits flow into charitable foundations.
Nonetheless, in 2008, our nation suffered a crisis in conscience that changed the way we look at the rich. No longer was it a class to which we aspired, but one we reviled. The rich , we decided, weren’t helping to build a nation but raping it. In our anger, we forgot that many of the rich were devastated in the financial tsunami that followed the collapse of the mortgage bubble. Certainly, Lehman Brothers and those of its ilk never meant to go bankrupt and send thousands of well-trained and well-paid employees into the streets. Nor is the common man blameless in what happened. Didn’t many of us take out montages on houses we couldn’t afford? Didn’t we dream of flipping these houses for a profit? We became speculators instead of home owners — which was the intention of the new government regulations that allowed the bubble to happen. Instead, too many saw what amounted to a land rush. Greed spread its venom among all classes.
When the bubble burst, we needed our villains, rather than blame ourselves. Oh certainly, there were innocent victims. Some of them have never recovered from their loss. They continue to need the nation’s help. And we can help once we stop pointing fingers. This election, it isn’t about “the economy, stupid.” We are making a financial recovery. What’s broken is our trust. I don’t know how we bring that back until we learn from our mistake and decide to forgive one another. Those who call for a class war are wrong. We need reforms, not war. We are rainbow nation made strongest when young and old, rich and poor, and people of different cultures work together.