By Paul Kennedy, Tribune Media Services, Posted 01/23/2009 at 4:00 pm EST
"Four legs good, two legs bad!" That quotation, as many readers will know, comes from George Orwell's great political satire "
Having four supports ensures that things are much more stable, balanced, assured; it is hard to knock a four-legged item down, whether it be a table or a carthorse. Two-legged critters are far less sturdy and reliable. (Of course, once the pigs gain absolute control and learn to walk on their hind legs, they reverse the slogan, as any good Leninist would. But that is a different story.)
Still, there may be a lesson to glean from this tale as we look at today's battered world economy, with no countries really escaping from the international financial credit crunch and the dramatic slackening of demand for goods and services, but some looking better than others.
If, as is the case, certain economic sectors have been hurt more than others, surely it is better to have one's national welfare based upon various sources of income, rather than just two, or even one.
I was provoked to this question when recently clearing away some older statistical data, and recalling how my interest in what makes for a healthy economy had been piqued some 20 or so years ago when I came across a
Now, there are another 175 or more countries in the world that would have loved to have had
The first, to which we pay less attention, is the way in which a gushing new source of wealth has an insidious way of driving out, or weakening, other sources of national income.
Men no longer wish to work for traditional industries (fishing, farming, forestry) but for the oil industry. The vast inflow of oil income dries up prices, but, hey, that can be afforded. Foreign-made items -- automobiles, electronic goods, hotels, airports -- sprout up, but oil pays for it.
There are no gasoline taxes, and prices at the pump are artificially low. Unless national governance is strong and responsible, corruption reigns and the economy is twisted; just look at
The second risk is one we are more familiar with today: It is the peril of a sudden collapse of the world-traded price of your precious commodity. This was not just the case of the plunge in oil prices this past year but also of the value of almost all raw products -- bauxite, copper, timber, rubber and so on.
Many developing nations, their hopes raised by higher commodity prices, are now reeling backward. One might be pleased that such uncomfortable nations like
Those nations whose economies rest upon four or more legs, and are inherently more stable, should also pay attention to the "Animal Farm" chant, though for a slightly different reason.
Even more sobering is the dramatic reversal of fortunes of the
But it has squandered much of its gain by a disproportionate tilt into reckless investment banking and a grotesque expansion into untenable property mortgages. In other words, one leg of
Neither George Orwell, nor the rapacious pigs of "
What does this say to the world's most powerful economy, America's?
Yet it is also true that the pace of that shift has been increased, unnecessarily, by years of excessive military actions abroad, a blatant disregard for sensible fiscal policies, and unbelievable stupidities in the real-estate/mortgage markets, all of which leave President Obama with an awful lot of smashed china that has fallen off America's twisted table.
But Obama also inherits a nation with a lot of residual strengths, if he can activate and orchestrate them. America is not a country with a singular dependency like
Of course, it has many domestic sores: the twin curse of poverty and under-education; blighted cities and weakened infrastructure; sclerotic, interest-influenced politics; and a landscape presently choked up by half-built McMansions and foreclosed condos -- not a pretty sight. The prospect is not grand. It is, also, not hopeless.
How any country, its leaders and its people respond to today's challenges will depend upon themselves, their insight, resolve and determination to make hard choices. Whatever they do, they might recall Orwell's pigs: having four (or more) supporting pillars is a better framework for a national economy than resting upon two legs, worse still, upon only one.
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