October 22, 2014
Working harder to get better?
For the Herald
Six days after the End of the World we are back to the usual disorder and seemingly quite unchanged. This bit of introspection you will not find original but it is intended to remind all of the doleful self-scrutiny we suffered by some otherwise educated men and women posing as intellectually sound columnists. Several of the learned opinion-shapers ventured forecasts in their comments on the last match on Earth that win or lose we were now a better people.
We had enjoyed our own levels of improvement in the sport, seen the Brazilian team humiliated, and we were ready to welcome home our beaten heroes even in their defeat which would show us to be a mature, sport-loving and sensible society. Then all hell broke loose at the Obelisk, the heroes did not get their city-centre welcome, and the rest of us just tried to forget the circus.
What did we learn from all that? First, that we need to work hard at changing for the better.
Second, we see confirmed, once again, that political interests get in the way of anything changing in Argentina in the certainty that we will have forgotten the rotten lot by the next elections. Third, we have immediate evidence that due to multi-layered corruption, we do not have a domestic security force to protect us (in spite of having four different uniforms in the nation’s capital: federal police, metropolitan police, border guards and coast guards). And what “security” we have lacks the required intelligence (meaning the spy or infiltration factor, forget the IQ) to be able to isolate the hooligans and Quebracho-style gangs.
At mid-week there were still some quarters tut-tutting over the city-centre vandalism, while admiring the solidity of the MetroBus shelters on Avenida 9 de Julio. And there were those certain that we are going to be a more respectable society, in spite of our government and politicians, and that includes the crack-noses in the so-called opposition.
For the record, the multi-career (army officer, medical doctor, legislator, etc., and head of security) Sergio Berni has argued that the federal police sweep on Sunday night was a success because nobody was killed. Berni was also attributed with rejecting criticism of low intelligence by arguing that he had a dossier on the hooligan networks and their political bosses. Being a Sunday evening he probably forgot to open the file.
One small point of improvement is a less strident economy minister Axel Kicillof. He may be called a Marxist or “el sovietico”, but his profile is increasingly similar to that of convertibility Cavallo the economy minister of the nineties, given Axel’s breathless changes of course and single-track arguments in defence of his own policy decisions.
But that is window dressing. It does not represent a change in substance or in the idea that society is altering for the better. We may be encouraged to think that quiet reaction, i.e. without anger, to a sporting result makes us better people, but the palpable results are not there.
In the context of Kicillof’s action, what should be said about a policy that allowed Aerolíneas Argentinas to patriotically treble the price of fares to Brazil for those who wanted to get to the final, thereby patriotically screwing the public? They must have called last week high season.
What we may have learned thanks to Axel is that the big financiers of the world hold greater power than national governments. It is not a pleasant experience to be reminded as victims of those nineteenth century banking barons who bought countries or paid off a national debt. Of course, we usually dismissed those examples as a thing of the past, belonging to Barings or Morgan, but no, it is staring us in the face and all the bags of cash left in Belize, Panama, Montevideo (short term, of course, it is too close),Switzerland and Angola, or the various island havens, are very much part of Argentina’s daily existence, and nothing has changed here.
A disturbing reminder that not a lot changes for the better however much we may will it, was the commentary of a La Nación newspaper columnist, Orlando Ferreres. According to a university study, in 1994 in the city of Buenos Aires it required 40 wages to buy a minimum (50 square metres) first home. The calculation is arbitrary and not easily placeable, of course, as the figures are not set according to the wage levels or the city area. The ratio improved to 30 wages for the same sized property in 2001 (which might be considered a pre-crisis result), and now the rate is 70 to 80 wages to make the same initial purchase. The access to mortgage loans now is extremely limited and the poverty levels have increased. So the compounded increase in the difficulty of access to a first property is considerably greater.
From another angle there is indication of a different form of change. The well-informed Jorge Asís reported in his weekly blog that the lady is for turning, according to circumstances. President Cristina Kirchner is taking far greater interest in Mauricio Macri as her potential successor, and the flirt dates back six months. She takes his calls and woe the lackey who does not put them through. Good news, at first glance, because it was ridiculous that her ladyship avoided addressing the mayor as a sign of political difference. Jorge Asís says the president clearly shows preference, over and above her closer line-up, for her old enemy. Maybe. It is either in search of some kind of favour in return should he reach high office, or it might be the lady’s weakness for anybody with bags of money. It could be the latter. Macri has just posted personal assets of 51 million pesos, in property, farming and timber, plus three million dollars in cash for incidentals. Old preferences die hard, even though the first family is alleged to have salted away enough for a comfortable retirement.
So, in real terms, we have to try harder to change for the better.