19 October 2009

Money & Self-Image: Prelude

Here's a shorthand version of what Puerto Rico was like in the 1930s: "Using a physician's estimate of how much food various types of workers needed each day for basic nutrition, a study was done of purchasing power in Puerto Rico. It found that the weekly cost of a minimal diet was $3.19 per person in 1932. But in most industries, the average weekly wage was $3.00. Even before paying for housing or clothing, workers were falling behind."

In the same article, it is noted that roughly 94% of a worker's annual wages were spent on food. 

Ninety-four. Percent. And about 82% of Our people were below the poverty line. Then the Great Depression got worse.

Get the picture? Puerto Rico was a deep pit of economic despair, physical misery and political vacuity. The haves had practically all and they weren't "Us," they were "U.S."

Fast-forward nearly 40 years, to the fateful elections of 1968, glossing over a political alliance forged between a former Socialist and a wartime president's cabinet, the emergence of a new post-war investment attitude and the creation of an economic compact for short-term growth that worked beyond all expectations. By the late 1960s, Our economic situation had gone from the pits to the patio, consumption had ceased to be a lifestyle malady and had become a lifestyle and although the "U.S." still had Us lock, stock and over the barrel, We had begun sharing in Our very own pie.

The ex-Socialist leader had become Our first elected governor and had won again and again and again, and though clearly capable of winning several more terms, he stepped away from power, only to be dragged back as Senate President. And the party he forged started to split, then cleaved apart, as practical idealism inevitably descended into populist greed.

Into the breech stepped the statehood party, offering up a candidate with business experience and a streak of art patronage, a man who waged his political campaign as if it were a hobby for not even the most bitter of the ruling party's critics gave Ferré a big chance at victory.

But win he did, by a very slim margin. And suddenly, the man for whom the political campaign had taken a back seat to his business interests was thrust into the position of running Our Island. Unprepared for such a role, aware that his victory was due more to a split in the opposing party than a true mandate for change and seeking to position his unsteady party on a new visionary path, Ferré pushed the concept of statehood as hard as he could, ran a loose ship that packed the government barge with political rats, tried to buy votes with the concept of a "Christmas bonus" that fills the eye while undermining the economy and proceeded to get his butt handed to him in a thunderous defeat in 1972.

And yet, if you want to point your finger at the person and time that forged the Puerto Rico We have today, as the prelude to the present, you'd be very hard-pressed to choose another person and another time.

A discussion to come.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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