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The economy has only one end, which is the well-being of the people. But, as you can imagine, to say welfare is not saying much, or perhaps to say everything, in any case, is to be rather imprecise. There is room for any consideration that is supported by more than one, which has fed the confusion of a discipline that sometimes considers economic growth as a good thing and at other times considers it as an enemy. It does not help to reduce the meaning of welfare to what each one sees as necessary at any given moment.
Well-being is living in truth, which in its highest degree is living in God, and its instrument is freedom. So there are not different ends for different means, as the fellows of the trade call it, but only one means for only one end, the adjacent extremes of our science: freedom at one end and God at the other. Only from freedom can one arrive at true well-being, which is to be well, , to live in what is right, in the magisterium of virtue.
Then man can only walk forward, even if he does so with his eyes backward and disregarding the shortest way. Man does not cease to be an intermediate stage between the lowest of the animal and the highest of God, and from there all progress is always crooked; nevertheless, progress in the end it is.
From the flash that makes shine in the most human bursts the capitalism; system that incarnates after a hard process of refinement of the customs, that way in freedom towards the well-being. But then capitalism can only be conceived as a phase, still immature, and not as an end in itself. Its defense is still conditioned to serve our greater purpose. Conditioned yes, but also suitable; it is necessary to pass through capitalism because only under its umbrella does man’s freedom swell, sometimes to err, but always to lead towards the best.
But what about the Latin American countries that, while calling themselves capitalist, don’t register the reduction of privileges, the legitimate establishment of violence or the guarantee of individual property rights, so essential to draw back the veil of servitude? Capitalism does not seem to rest on them before a kind of mercantile neo-medievalism with some touches of globalizing cosmopolitanism. Lack of freedom, which is lack of maturity, ends up burying the Latin people in the aftermath of capitalism that never arrives. Besides, capitalism demands self-respect to face the present and confidence to glimpse the future.
Innovation requires the security of the one who is well equipped under the reality and the courage of the one who knows how to trust in the best tomorrow. There is no trace of this where one survives suffocated by a myriad of one’s own insecurities and by the mistrust exercised against one’s peers. There can be, therefore, no real business competition but something akin to personal survival in the trail of micro-businesses that melt away as fast as they are ignited on a daily basis.
The competitive spirit with which the tastes of others make for progress through the development of new goods is instinct in a continent where tremendous inequality puts distance between productive resources and the powers of the economic actors. Thus, without freedom, innovation suffers, which ultimately feeds the spirit of competition, leaving the continent subject to the inertia of imitation, the cruel servant of the extractivist economy.
An imitating people is a people stuck in repetition and removed from any stamp of creativity. A worker more willing to obey than to risk is not in a position to offer his best dispositions to others, no matter how much skill he lends himself. Overshadowed by a trail of clichés and prejudices, the Latino occupies more energy in confirming his distrust of others than in making his way with his peers. Thus, the circle of intimacy becomes smaller and smaller, increasing uncertainty and thus the chronic aversion to risk that undermines the most productive investments in the continent.
We must pause here to remember that it is not education or the provision of good institutions, nor even a favorable adaptation to the environment, such as a kind of sympathy for risk, that stimulates the development of national productive forces. And in this, Ibero-America is far from its best version; as far as the de-vertebration of the territory and society (Gini index that coexists so comfortably with 0.5) fuels the slowing down of processable information, hinders the establishment of networks that ultimately are the true cooperators of the maturation of good ideas and the extension of high-flying plans.
In addition, there’s the informality that irrigates every activity. Poverty is characterized by being here and now, in such a way that nothing in it can be conjured in the long term. Its fragility is as corrosive as that of an ice cream that melts after the first instant. That is why informality finds its breeding ground here: it is the enemy of any action that is not resolved in the instant. The impossibility to exercise the postponement between the action and its results (typical of the lack of reliability) prevents the necessary time for the best attributes of things to appear after they have been consummated. There is no productive investment, for example, that does not come under the auspices of a time horizon where there is room for all the added value that is presupposed to good economic activity. So it is with what in man stimulates the most ardent desire for conquest and so it is with what in wine delights the taste after years of waiting in barrels.
The success of these peoples depends on opening their eyes and focusing their problems away from those that affect the more developed ones (Latin America is not only a net importer of technologies, but also of the challenges, hopes and fears of others). Only in this way will Latin America be able to face the long path that separates it from true prosperity and that, nevertheless, every day it renews every time it buries the sweat under the ground and raises hope to the heavens.
Development is a life in freedom or it is not development; and the economy cannot be other than the incarnation of that freedom exercised throughout the productive activities. That is why capitalism does not precede as a guilty enemy over the vices and evils that afflict the Latin American economy; there is no guilt in capitalism; it only serves as a faithful moral radiography of what is at every moment the weary Latin American society.
Antonini de Jiménez es doctor en economía y ha fungido como profesor universitario en Camboya, México y Colombia (actualmente es profesor en la Universidad Católica de Pereira). Trotamundos infatigable y lector sin escrúpulos // Antonini de Jiménez has a PhD in economics and has served as a university professor in Cambodia, Mexico and Colombia (he is currently a professor at the Catholic University of Pereira). He is a tireless globetrotter and unscrupulous reader.