A lot has changed since I’ve left the States. The nation flirted with economic catastrophe during the debt ceiling debacle. The Detroit Lions became a force in the NFL (with a passionate-bordering-on-insane coach to boot). And unemployed youth have set up a modern day Hooverville on Wall Street, calling for jobs, campaign finance reform, and the return of Crystal Pepsi, among other things.
In case you haven’t heard, #OccupyWallSt has snowballed into a real live political movement in the last few weeks. Protests have gone worldwide, with camps set up in such disparate places as Boise, Duluth and London. Their demands? Nobody is quite sure — one columnist equated the movement to a primal scream — but the gist of their argument is clear: Over the last decade or so, the fortunes of the middle class have steadily declined while the fabulously wealthy have become even more so. And the rich have done this not through good old fashioned hard work but through increasingly complex financial instruments that ultimately led to our current fiscal mess.
It’s a persuasive narrative, and whatever your political persuasion, I think you can agree that this is a good conversation for the country to be having. What led to this crisis, who caused it, and why is the economic reality so varied for different classes of Americans? These are all good, timely questions for us to be asking.
In terms of answering those questions, some facts are hard to dispute. Over the past few decades, we’ve gone from a country built on the foundation of the middle class to one where a typical CEO makes 475 times more than the average underling (It’s 12:1 in Germany, 50:1 in Venezuela). In the CIA’s measure of income inequality, we rank among the likes of Rwanda, Iran and the Phillipines (see the CIA’s inequality index with an explanation of its methodology here). Unsurprisingly, the egalitarian states of northern Europe leave us far behind when it comes to spreading the wealth.
In summary, when it comes to measures of raw economic might like GDP, America is undeniably ahead of the pack. Income equality? We’re a third world nation.
Which leads me to my point: the conditions on the ground in Peru. I’ve discussed it before, this country is going through an economic boom of historic proportions, but a sizable proportion of its population has been left in the dust. More than 30 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty, and just over seven percent are breadline, with incomes less than $1 a day. Granted, the condition for the nation’s poorest have improved over the last decade, but not as much as you might think given that the country’s GDP has tripled over that same time period.
So when will we see #OccupyLima? In a country with a history of popular protest, I’d say sooner than you might think. And with events moving faster by the day, anything seems possible. That said, I’ll hold out on any sweeping proclamations until I see tents outside Banco de Credito.