Wednesday, August 17, 2011

catching up with Africa

On public television, a reporter took a sheet of paper with him onto the streets. On the paper with three pie charts depicting wealth distribution. One circle was more or less divided in equal fifths of color. One circle had a much larger piece of pie depicting the wealth held by a smaller number. And the last circle depicted a piece of pie that was 90-plus percent of the wealth. The reporter asked passersby which circle most accurately depicted the United States.

Most respondents picked one of the first two circles. Only one black man guessed that it was the third circle -- the one with the greatest disparity -- that accurately reflected the financial distribution in the United States. And he, of course, was right. But the fact that the others were less well informed was very informative as well: In general, Americans believe (irrespective of political party) that they live in a country in which all receive a nourishing piece of the pie. The fact that they believe this allows those who accumulate a disproportionate piece of the pie to continue adding to their ever larger percentage of whatever sustenance the U.S. provides. The U.S., in fact, parallels and mimics many African (and often despotic) nations in its sharing of the wealth.

Welcome to the world: The U.S., often considered a first-world nation, is catching up with Africa, a place relegated by first-worlders to third-world status.

In the news today, China has appealed to the U.S. to get its financial house in order. There is a plea in the appeal -- it's the U.S., after all, that buys Chinese goods since it can not longer create its own -- but there is also an thinly-veiled warning to the request: China, among others, is positioned to take over the reins from countries like the United States and China does not like disorder within its borders: Its vassal states must toe the mark and the United States had better start toeing the mark.

"The United States has entered a long period of decline," wrote economist Xia Bin, who advises China's Cabinet and central bank, on his blog.
 The U.S. may posture and pose, flopping self-importantly on the dock like a fish out of water, but it has been hooked by its own carelessness and greed. If those with power and wealth had as much wisdom as they do treasure, they might revise their ways and give back as they have received. But this is not an earlier day when those who had most carried with them a sense of "noblesse oblige" as a matter of self-interest. Today the attitude is, as the pie charts demonstrated, an African despotism that is most attractive to the would-be despots. China and others await patiently as the fish flops on the dock.

I cannot get over -- with sadness but no particular criticism -- the appropriateness of the Somali security officer who, when assessing the issue of piracy off his country's shores, observed on TV: "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."

The U.S., hat in hand, awaits the rise of its new lords.

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