Of course the answer, we’ve been hearing, is supposed to be simple. Change your economic settings. Free the markets, privatize, open the borders, unfetter the invisible hand and let all the boats rise.
For many years it has been regarded as all but heretical to question this wisdom in many political and economic circles. This argument has been blunt: get these macroeconomic settings in place, stick to them and you will soon be on your way to first world prosperity.
Perhaps the turmoil of the past few weeks in the First World might persuade everyone to reconsider. Perhaps simple recipes may not be enough. Perhaps we ought to look more closely at the human beings involved in the economy.
Let us ask what motivates them to work hard and contribute, and what discourages them from taking part. Let us ask what work we can all do, and how we might better share the proceeds.
Let me put it this way: the person who stands on the South side of the border can look like a lost cause: lawless, disaffected, unwilling to work, unwilling to contribute.
Move him just three meters forward, across the border and into the United States, and witness a transformation that is quite remarkable.
No longer does he have his hand out for money; he has it out for work. He toils, he applies himself, he does – all he can – to embrace his new life. He flourishes. Sends money back home.
Who is this man who changed fundamentally by moving just three short meters?
The answer is obvious: Most human beings are not innately bad or lazy, or incapable, or lawless. Given the right circumstances and an opportunity, given the hope of a better life, they respond.
I know this. I have seen it with my own eyes. Forty some years ago I came north to Austin, Texas as a young man to learn about journalism.
I learned about freedom of the press, I learned about transparency, I learned about Thomas Jefferson, I learned about democracy.
I went back home to Monterrey, to our family newspaper, then number two in a provincial city, and applied everything I had learned.
Our people there had been shackled and corrupted by the prevailing system. We would print only what people with power and money decided should be printed. Right across the country, reporters and publishers took order.
We changed all that/ Wed educated our reporters to report the news without fear or favor. We banned old practices. Changed paradigms. And the people changed. They came alive.
The same people who had been taking bribes and cutting corners became dedicated reporters and principled citizens. We went from number two in the province to number one in the nation.
It was the beginning of a revolution in my profession, in my city and country.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need three other revolutions: one that respects merits, one that respects property rights, one that brings public trials and the rule of law. And I have no doubt we can bring them about.
A colleague once shared with me the story of a shipwrecked sailor, who spent three years on a deserted island. He is overjoyed one day to see a ship drop anchor in the bay. A small boat comes ashore, and an officer hands the sailor a collection of newspapers. And this is what he tells the shipwrecked sailor:
Sir: “The captain suggests that you read what is going on in the world. When you’ve read it, let us know if you want to be rescued.”
In all the time I have been a newspaperman, I have never stopped believing that tomorrow’s edition could bring better news, no matter how discouraging the stories might be today.
I have seen enough in the capacity of human beings to make each new day better; to convince me that there is always hope.
We are – all of us – members of communities and there is not a community in the world that cannot be better protected by a good newspaper who speaks out.
And ladies and gentlemen, there is not a criminal alive that can scare us silent.