The New Inquisition

Every once in a while countries, just like people, go through a confidence crisis. In our globalised world, bad news moves very rapidly: following the colapse of Lehman Bros. just over a year ago, the economic house of cards came tumbling down. All it took was a blast of ill wind from Wall Street, and in the true spirit of chaos theory, the flutter of the butterfly wing duly caused a global hurricane.

Now the US appears to be recovering, there are promising signs in the EU, but the UK seems to be an exception to the rule. China, flush with cash from exports and double digit growth, simply boosted public works, which are in any case a huge internal market, and stimulated consumption. Now it waits, knowing that the old rules still apply when it comes to the relative role of social pressures in east and west. Mao once said that “the killing of one US soldier was a tragedy, whereas the death of one million Chinese was a statistic”, which put the Korean war into perspective.

That comment is of great relevance in Afghanistan, as President Obama prepares to unveil a plan which will boost the US presence there. An article in the English Spectator magazine a couple of weeks back quoted a Taliban fighter as saying that more soldiers only mean more targets. My father used to tell a similar story: Before the start of the First World War, Kaiser Wilhelm visited Switzerland, where he was treated to a demonstration of superb marksmanship by the armed forces.

Impressed, he asked “What would happen if you were invaded by a force twice the size of the Swiss army?”

“Each of our soldiers would have to shoot twice.”

The Prussians never invaded Switzerland. Of course, all that neutral banking policy can’t have done any harm either.

In Portugal, the world recession hit on top of an already fragile economy. Just as in the aftermath of the events told in The India Road, and the decades that followed, the country has shut in on itself. EU convergence subsidies have moved east, to the former Iron Curtain nations that have recently joined the Union. By 2013 those subsidies which have been paid for a couple of decades to Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain will end. The country is going through a huge confidence crisis, and in the process, wealth creation is being targeted. As a consequence, those who are able to build businesses and create jobs, the only way to earn our way out of recession, are more and more reticent to do so. Many of the very best are going abroad, a new diaspora.

In a recession, when people are short of money, jobs, and hope, discussions often arise about the relative merits of tax policy changes and public sector cuts, as a means to boost the economy. The perception in most people’s minds is that a few high salaries make an enormous difference.

At 230, Portugal already has the lowest number of MPs per capita of any country in Western Europe. Even if each one had a monthly salary of 10,000 € (they don’t, even MEPs only make two-thirds of that), making them work for free would redistribute an extra twenty cents a month to every person in the country. Or, to put it another way, if one in three people in Portugal work, each wage-earner contributes sixty cents a month to the parliamentary pay packet. Except that tax brackets scale to wealth, so poorer people pay less anyhow. Those on minimum wage pay nothing.

What kills this once-great nation is petty jealousy, the same thing that led to the Jews being denounced and persecuted by the inquisition. Here is an excerpt from The India Road on that very theme, from texts which are 500 years old:

The edicts of the Inquisition allowed a good citizen to denounce a Jewish family. All property would be confiscated, with a proportion reverting to the snitch.

… If they light candles on a Friday evening
If they wear bright clothing on a Saturday
If they eat celery during Easter Week …

The list went on; the sweep was so broad that a small neighbors’ quarrel
could easily become damning “evidence.”
 

Of course there are moral issues about salaries, and it makes no sense to distribute large bonuses to a CEO who is responsible for sinking his company. But the same people who clamour for reductions at that level are quite happy to pay the salaries of the Portuguese soccer superstars. Even when, as we recently saw in the World Cup qualifiers, the team only made it by the skin of its teeth.

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One Response to “The New Inquisition”

  1. WeareeRhizisa Says:

    Truthful words, some truthful words man. You rocked my day.

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