España, la OCDE, el precio de los pisos y la crisis de Occidente

May 23, 2006

Comida en el Quai d’Orsay. La OCDE presenta unas perspectivas pasablemente negras. “Aumentan los riesgos para la economía mundial”, afirma Financial Times.

Sobre España, la OCDE advierte de los riesgos emergentes y crecientes: petróleo caro, falta de competitividad, tipos bancarios al alza, endeudamiento masivo, sonambulismo gubernamental, amenazas sobre el mercado inmobiliario, etc. Pedro Solbes no desconoce esos riesgos: “Los tipos bancarios europeos evolucionarán a la alza”. “Tenemos que acostumbrarnos a vivir con un petróleo caro”.

Según el Forum abierto por Financial Times, a ese respecto, los expertos están divididos entre apocalípticos e integrados. Los integrados estiman que vivimos una coyuntura en curso de “corrección”: todo se arreglará a corto o medio plazo. Los apocalípticos se dividen entre apocalípticos a corto y a largo plazo.


Entre estos últimos, Richard Koch y Chris Smith acaban de publicar un ensayo inquietante, El suicidio de occidente (Institute of Economic Affairs), del que Financial Times ha publicado este resumen:


Western civilisation faces a stark choice
By Richard Koch and Chris Smith
Financial Times

Published: May 17 2006 18:37 | Last updated: May 17 2006 18:37

In 1900, most westerners were confident and optimistic, full of pride about their civilisation. Since then, the west has made enormous strides in economic, scientific, military, political and social terms. Yet the earlier confidence has gone.

We have stopped believing in the ideas that drove earlier generations to improve the world. Six main ideas made the west, century after century, progressively successful, powerful, and attractive – Christianity, optimism, science, economic growth, individualism and liberalism. Are these ideas past their sell-by date?

Christianity: western secular values, above all the gods of consumption, have trumped Christian ones. Doubt is rampant. And Christians today are deeply divided. Yet perhaps we need not worry. Christianity transformed the west. It was the world’s first individualised, activist, self-help movement. Ordinary people were encouraged to clean up their act and given God’s help to do so. Everyone had a “soul”; individual human dignity and responsibility were greatly enhanced.

Today many of us do not believe in the soul or Christ. In a way, however, we all still believe the Christian message. We believe we have a self, just like we have arms and legs. With the idea of the soul safely transmuted in the idea of the self, Christianity has permanently changed the west. The modern self-help movement best exemplifies the central Christian innovation – personal responsibility. Christianity’s crisis does not threaten the west. But the attacks on the other five ideas do.

Optimism: the importance of optimism in driving success – of individuals, of whole civilisations – has been greatly overlooked. Optimism comes from three Greek and Christian “myths” – the myth of autonomy, the myth of progress and the myth of human goodness. Creation is ultimately good. So, too, are people – God’s creation.

We have stopped believing people are good. After 1760, our stories began to feature bad heroes – egotistical people, amoral or immoral. The last century confirmed a dim view of human nature – Freud’s ideas, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, two world wars, horrific and hateful societies. A diminished view of people facilitated these horrors.

Optimism and pessimism, however, are fancies, not facts. Only if we recover belief in human goodness can we resume building a better world.

Science: science is pre-eminently western. It arose through belief in a perfect, rational Creator, and in our ability to figure out the perfect universe that God created.

Since 1900, we have lost our faith in science. Superstition and mumbo-jumbo abound. Science seems to have become weird. It portrays a baffling and inscrutable universe, ruled by mystery, uncertainty, random chance. Also, the dark side of science has emerged. Monstrous weapons. Poisoning the planet. Yet science is still fundamentally benign and rational. The microworld might be weird. But scientists still follow the scientific method – reason and investigation. The challenge to understanding is greater, but logic and research still hold the key. We cannot give up our trust in rationality and science, for the best forms of civilisation depend utterly upon them.

Growth: the west’s stunning economic advance over the past 1,000 years, and especially the last 200 years, has made mankind an ecological success and the west dominant. Victories over hunger and disease are unprecedented. Yet, if non-western countries eventually reached western consumption levels, the damage to the environment would be multiplied 12 times. The planet cannot cope with that.

Happily, a new factor is emerging – the “personalised economy”, driven by imagination and intellect, not capital and hierarchy. Growth today can be increasingly “weightless” – we consume software and services rather than hunks of metal. In the last century the US economy grew to 20 times its earlier size, but the weight of output stayed roughly the same. Averting ecological suicide requires growth using far fewer finite resources.

Individualism: this has always been the west’s most striking characteristic. Now many inside the west are worried by individualism. Our highly atomistic society makes it easy to feel a failure. Every civilisation has had self-made people. Ours is the first to foster millions of self-destroyed people. Yet selfish individualism is a recent heresy, a contradiction. Historically, individualism has advanced higher standards of personal behaviour, with community building, with leadership. We have stopped requiring that.

If we do not demand truly responsible individualism, from our leaders, role models and ourselves, our civilisation will disintegrate.

Liberalism: the greatest threat to the west comes from liberalism’s decline and from the “liberal imperialists” and neo-conservatives so influential in America. Also from the “ultra-liberals”, the relativists who see nothing special about western liberal society, who deny personal responsibility and incubate the “victim mentality”. But the greatest threat to liberalism is that few still believe passionately in it. Liberalism’s successes have blunted its appeal.

Western civilisation has reached a fork in the road. Down one road lie cynicism, aggression, indifference, neo-conservatism and ultra-liberalism. Down the other lies a recovery of nerve, confidence in ourselves and our culture, unity within and between America and Europe, a society of individuals held together by self-improvement, striving, optimism, reason, compassion, equality and mutual identity. The road chosen will determine whether our civilisation collapses or reaches its destiny.

Richard Koch, an author, and Lord Smith, former UK culture secretary, are co-authors of Suicide of the West (Continuum)




3 Responses to “España, la OCDE, el precio de los pisos y la crisis de Occidente”

  1. […] ● “España, la OCDE, el precio de los pisos y la crisis de occidente”. […]

  2. […] “Decíamos ayer..” que Le Magazine Littéraire consagra un número indispensable a George Steiner, que tiene un tema recurrente: el melancólico ocaso de Europa, topos clásico de este Infierno y Európolis: “España, la OCDE, el precio de los pisos y la crisis de Occidente”. [ .. ] Magazine agrupa documentos y análisis muy pedagógicos, y publica un inédito de excepción, “De la traduction comme condition humaine”, prólogo a la monumental “Encyclopédie internationale de la recherche sur la traduction” (ed. De Gruyter). Sobre Europa, Steiner comenta: “Mais l’Europe est peut-être fatiguée de ses deux mille ans d’histoire. Pourquoi se remettrait-elle des deux guerres mundiales, des tueries de la Première aux massacres de la Seconde? Dans le passé, des empires immensément doués ont disparu! Et puis, il est posible que les cultures qui tuent leurs juifs ne revivent pas”. Hace poco más de quince años, Claude-Leví Strauss me declaraba: “Los valores de Occidente comienzan a estar amenazados”. [ .. ] CLS sobre Cataluña: “Rechaza el concepto de nación y propone euro regiones que difuminen los Estados”. [ .. ] Európolis. Balcanización de Europa y España. […]

  3. […] Le Magazine Littéraire consagra un número indispensable a George Steiner, que tiene un tema recurrente: el melancólico ocaso de Europa, topos clásico de este Infierno y de Európolis: “España, la OCDE, el precio de los pisos y la crisis de Occidente”. [Continuará..] […]

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