Not much happens in the beautiful, but sleepy, town where I live. Like most other localities in Portugal’s interior, (“interior” actually means “not by the coast”), emigration has decimated the population, which only swells during the major holidays. Yet, at the local supermarket, pasta is being rationed and flour has disappeared from the shelves. At the gas station, the price of fuel has increased over 40 cents in the last couple of weeks. Of course, we all know why this is happening, but why, is this happening?
Is it the “global village” phenomenon that so many love to romanticize about? The global economy? The opening of economic borders was for everyone’s benefit, they said. We’ll sell them our stuff and they’ll sell us theirs, no hassle. We were all convinced, as we watched the “boys” pull out their fountain pens, signing and then shaking hands for the cameras, that they all had our best interests in mind. More jobs, more spending money, more smiling faces. In retrospect, things did become easier, for the big players, who could now freely roam the Earth, selling their wares to those who could pay the most, while having those same wares manufactured wherever they could pay the least. We allowed profiteers to sign away our independence and now have very little or no control over matters that are essential to our survival. Case in point, we currently have a single individual wreaking havoc on an independent country and, simultaneously, economically affecting everyone on the planet, due to the usual pesky market scares and breaks in the global supply chain. Are we to believe that not one of those well-paid, supposedly well-educated brains saw any of this coming, when they were grinning for the cameras along with their counterparts?
Countries that signed economic agreements are contractually bound to buy goods and services from each other and not allowed to charge tariffs on the imports. This dependence can cause serious shortages of essential commodities in times of turmoil. If, for instance, grains or textiles are coming into your country for lower prices than the domestic manufacturers, those domestic manufacturers are susceptible to going bankrupt and thus putting people out of work. This has occurred throughout the world. Smaller economies like Portugal and even Canada, to a lesser degree, are affected the most because they often need to import more than they can export, thus creating what is called a trade deficit, buying more than you sell. They’re are greatly dependent on other countries for essential goods. I can’t help but wonder that if, during the hammering out of economic agreements, the goal had been on actually bettering the lives of everyone, things would be as unbalanced and out of control as they seem to be today.
In Portugal, much of the arable land is either abandoned, (due to population loss to the cities and other countries), or turned into vineyards, or industrial olive groves. We produce relatively little that isn’t for export. In the meantime, we depend on a slew of other countries for most essential goods. It’s that lack of balance, once again. It’s in this system that we find ourselves, globally, at the mercy of one individual bent on controlling as much wealth as he can, no matter the cost. All we can do is sit back, watching a few others, just like him, negotiate agreements that may eventually calm things down, but do nothing to alter the status quo. One thing is certain, we all bear some responsibility. We continue to tow the proverbial line, year after year, knowing full well that nothing will ever change, no matter who’s at the wheel. How could it? The goals are always the same: profits and growth. The economy, lord of us all. Most of the world has been lulled to sleep, accepting the current way of doing things as life, which, in my view, has no happy ending. We’re all aghast while Putin does his thing. One guy with nuclear weapons, a reality that ties the hands of some who seek to intervene. Others don’t blink due to energy dependence. Then there are those who, like in the United States, support him for political gain. They know there is a part of the Populus that hang on to every word they preach. The reasons may defy any logic, yet people believe. How do you fight misinformation if so many people are so eager to eat it up? Who and what do we believe? Are we so used to having everything done for us that we have lost the ability to think for ourselves?
Maybe we’re losing the capacity to think, period. We were gently manipulated for generations, but now the gentility has been cast aside. The world’s oligarchs, (the media will have you believe that oligarchs are strictly Russian), have become bolder and more brazen in their actions, probably due to the fact that the rest of us look up to them as heroes and want to be just like them when we grow up. Seriously? Do we really believe that? Ask the Ukranian kids that suddenly find themselves attending our local school and ask their moms.
They’re all living in borrowed housing just up the street from where I write these words.