Save the World05 Feb 2011
Thirty years ago, I entered college with a mission: I was going to Save the World! I was fresh from a summer in northeastern Brazil as an AFS student and had experienced what the difference between rich and poor really is. Coming from the richest and most powerful country on earth, I was going to have the knowledge and the power to do good, to facilitate change, to make the world a better place. I was going to study International Relations! I was going to learn Diplomacy!
When it came to the nitty gritty content, there were a lot of paradoxical truths to be learned. Like that Mutual Assured Destruction was a good thing and that nuclear weapons made the world a safer place. And that politics is a zero-sum game, so that preventing your opponent from gaining something was just as good as winning. And that a big problem in developing countries are the elite classes in those countries themselves, who either run the country corruptly or go abroad to study and never come back. And another big problem are agricultural subsidies in rich countries, which distort the entire world market for farm commodities and make it impossible for poor countries to feed themselves.
It's all quite depressing, really. I decided that the studying the relationship between money and power was more interesting and satisfying that saving the world, and switched majors from International Relations to Economics.
I mention all this now because even then the US was supporting the dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to the tune of billions of dollars per year, and in the twisted logic of Diplomacy it made perfect sense then as it did until about two weeks ago. And the people running US foreign policy today are people my age who 30 years ago wanted to save the world. Maybe they've switched to other goals. Or maybe they know that in the long run, it's a better policy to foster democracy than to prop up dictators with billions of dollars, but they just don't how to do it.
On the other hand, in Economics we say that in the long run, we're all dead. When comparing two long runs, we don't know which one will come first. It's all quite depressing, really.
No, not everything is depressing... it's quite heartening to see millions of Egyptians demonstrating for democracy. I hope they are not disappointed, and that they don't have to wait for the long run for their freedom