dissabte, 22 d’octubre de 2011

Guns and phones

Watching the news, I saw that Libya’s victorious rebels have killed colonel Gaddafi. Thanks to technology everybody have witnessed the last minutes of the dictator, given that most of the “freedom fighters” were armed not only with submachine guns but also with modern cell phones. Yet their cameras have captured a badly wounded Gaddafi, half naked and covered in blood.
The next image on the news was the colonel’s body, lying on the floor in the cold store of a slaughterhouse. Where beef and lamb meat peaces used to hang there is now a dead dictator.
But what impressed me the most were the comments of the journalist. He explained that the “freedom heroes” are considering the possibility of burying the corpse very soon as its stink is becoming increasingly unbearable. But why is it smelling that much if it is in a cold store? Because the door is always open.
Everybody wants to see the dead enemy. Some even take pictures with their foot on Gaddafi’s head. The images show entire families visiting the slaughterhouse, which has almost became a tourist attraction. Smiling kids come out from the room. I can imagine a father saying to his son: Come on, dress up! This afternoon we are going to see a dead dictator!
Again, cell phones and submachine guns everywhere. While proud soldiers shoot in the air kids take photos of the defeated villain. This is certainly a historic moment for Libya. However, I am not sure if this bloodbath is a good start for a new and democratic regime. What I am sure of is that the combination of guns and cell phones will provide us with a great array of unforgettable moments in the future.

dijous, 29 de setembre de 2011

Chinese platitudes

After a rather quick but certainly intense trip through China, I am in a position to certify what everybody knows: something huge is happening there. Not very original, but I had to say it.

I grew up in the Spain of the massive construction boom (and subsequent burst). Just let me show you a figure to illustrate the magnitude of it. In 2007, the last one of the happy boom years, one fifth of the whole European construction workforce was concentrated in Spain. We were building massively, at an unsustainable pace, and now we are paying it.

However, even I am used to landscapes of crane forests, what I have seen in China surpasses all my memories. Whole neighbourhoods of housing blocks emerge rapidly in the suburbs and new roads, bridges and railways are built everywhere. No matter where you look, there is something on construction. Nevertheless, the comparison with Spain’s bubble is not fair, as China is not only constructing but also manufacturing at a huge scale and Spain didn’t. And the scale is much larger. The richest person on earth, according to Forbes is already a Chinese who owns a construction firm.

In coastal prosperous regions, the Chinese jolly middle class fill the brand new shopping malls, art districts, restaurants and karaoke bars. They are living their heyday. However, observing their behaviour I was amazed by two things: first, by the fact that quite often they order plenty of dishes and leave them untouched on the table and second, by how horribly they sing. The former might be related to the (still) cheap prices for middle and high income households. For the latter I am unable to provide any rational explanation.

Someone told me that “The Chinese taken one by one are lovely people. In groups they are rather noisy, and in large amounts they are barely more than a horde of queue-jumpers.” I don’t know if I agree with this statement. I found Chinese people extraordinary friendly and charming but I also share the view of a quote I saw on a toilet wall in a Yangshuo youth hostel. It stated (in French): “Beaucoup de chinoise en Chine”. Yet obvious, it cannot be truer.

You are never alone in China. Buses are crowded, so are trains and even streets, roads and supermarkets. Yet the 1.3 billion people living in china are not evenly benefiting from Chinese economic boom. With inequality reaching USA levels, but with a much lower income per capita and in an undemocratic formally communist country, social tensions are likely to explode in the near future.

To simplify a much more complex debate, China’s rulers have traditionally debated between Taoist wúwei (non-action) and Confucian top-down harmonious order. To me, wúwei concept bears a significant resemblance to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, while order imposed from above legitimate state action for the sake of the interest of the common. 

Even the Chinese government frequently talks about “harmonious growth” and undoubtedly is (and have been) controlling, monitoring and holding an authoritarian rule, I felt that things are not as straightforward. My traveller first impression is that this vast and populated empire, due to its size and diversity, is practically ungovernable in a top-down way. Even having the political will things might take their own pace.

I saw a girl, shredding chickens at the river bank and washing the knife in a barrel. She probably had no water supply in her house. She looked at me. She didn’t say anything. But what I understood from her eyes was something like: do I look like China’s boom is affecting me at all? Please, laowai, leave me alone.

dimarts, 23 d’agost de 2011

On sheep and shepherd

In some countries, the rich are claiming higher taxation for themselves. This new trend was started by the USA billionaire celebrity Warren Buffet. He was shocked about having to pay proportionally less than any other person in his office for his federal tax bill, and decided to write an open letter to the New York Times entitled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich". Next were the French. Sixteen of the wealthiest individuals, including l'Oreal heiress Mrs. Bettencourt, asked also for a reduction in their exceptional tax-breaks to contribute to manage the country’s public debt: Taxez-nous! was their desperate claim.

These altruistic gestures are deeply disturbing. What is wrong in the world when the privileged are publicly admitting that their shamefully beneficial position is just too unfair? How can be possible that the beneficiaries of a wrongful situation are precisely the ones pushing for a change? And what is going to happen if the policy makers do not follow their advice? They will have to take the streets. Imagine a demonstration of chairmen of companies, aristocrats and investors shouting in the street things like "We are rich, but not stupid!" and holding banners with slogans like "Higher taxes for us!" or “Tax me please!”. That would be an interesting picture.

Stendhal said that "The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same". This time, the shepherd’s speech was too convincing. We have believed that only by pampering the great fortunes, we all would achieve prosperity. This is obviously far from happening. On the other hand, we have also been told that the burden of the crisis had to fall on the sheep’s back and the shepherds must remain untouched: reducing public services and cutting benefits, but leaving extraordinary tax-breaks for the super-rich. Surprisingly, no major organized protests have happened so far. Indeed, the sheep still look quiet and sleepy, and keep following the path they have been told to follow. On the contrary, some shepherds are raising voices, apparently against their own interest. Maybe they think that even the sheep look quiet and sleepy they are not so. Actually, it might be better to continue with the "common effort" and "common interest" speech - even if that implies paying a bit more - rather than going back to old times of sheep vs. shepherd confrontation and all these angry animals asking for the shepherd’s head.

dimarts, 16 d’agost de 2011

Jingle Mail

Finally, I have decided to embark on a Blog. In this first post I will explain the reason behind the choice of name for this new and hopefully stimulating site.
Why "jingle mail" you might be wondering? Because it is a sound image of the current crisis. In some places - remarkably the US - when someone has a mortgage and finds himself unable to pay, he can incur what is called strategic default. This is colloquially known as jingle mail. It works in the following manner: the debtor stops making payments, puts his home keys into an envelope and mails them to the bank. The kling-kling sound of the keys inside the envelope evokes a jingle, yet its sonority, far from jolly, sounds rather tragic for the debtor.
So this kling-kling noise might be one of the soundtracks of the current time. Not everywhere as in most European countries debtors are not offered this possibility by the banks, and have to keep paying even after losing their houses. But still, I would like to start my experience as a blogger with the sour kling-kling sonance of a jingle mail.