The Greatness and Decadence of the United States

A Honduran family fled to the United States because gangs threatened to kill them one by one if they did not submit to extortion. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami | 17 September 2018 — A humble Honduran lady came to Miami to visit her family. All had fled their country in order to save their lives. One of her sons, a hardworking and decent young man, was assassinated with 38 stab wounds. In Honduras, her daughter was a good teacher and her son-in-law was a high-ranking official of a credit institution. Her three grandchildren were (and are) magnificent students. The gangs threatened to kill them one by one if they did not submit to extortion.

They decided to escape to Miami. The teacher today works as an aide in various homes. The accountant works in construction. It is a variant of the beginning of the American dream. Fortunately, the United States granted them asylum. This happened before Jeff Sessions declared that his country would not take into account the risk of losing your life as a sufficient reason to request asylum and protection from Washington. To me, frankly, I can not think of a more valid explanation to flee from a nation in which you were comfortably installed.

The Honduran matriarch admired the economic picture she found. “We live here like the rich live in Honduras,” she said. And then she explained why. They rent a comfortable house (in a clean and modest neighborhood) with three bedrooms and a bathroom that has hot and cold water. The house has electricity, telephone, TV, air conditioning and internet. They are paying for two small used Japanese cars, also with air conditioning, because they need them to work.

Everyone eats and dresses reasonably well. They have cell phones and, as they know how to save, have even gone on vacation for a week inside the country. The boys study at a good public high school and the girl, who is the oldest of the youthful trio, does so at Miami Dade College, where she has not gone unnoticed by the educated eye of educator Eduardo Padrón, President of that enormous state university, the largest in the country with more than 160,000 students. She is one of the best. She wants to be a doctor and she will achieve it someday. She has a surplus of talent and tenacity.

The United States was already the largest economy on the planet at the beginning of the 20th century. How did it do it? There is no other secret: it is a country of laws and institutions and not of people. The independent nation surged with the industrial revolution and has grown and expanded little by little, at the rate of 2% per year for two and a half centuries, with the exception of the four years of the Civil War. The thirteen apprehensive states that declared independence, with just under 4 million inhabitants, today are 50 states and have 327 million people unequally distributed in a territory that is 6 times larger than the original.

Never has humanity lived better. Never has it lived longer and with more comforts. It is worth reading Steven Pinker’s books to contrast the data. All the reasoned information is there. The hard-working Honduran family participates in the accumulated American wealth (buildings, roads, sewers, bridges, parks, etc.) and the potential wealth that depends on intangible factors (institutions, rule of law, values and shared principles).

Someday, of course, the United States will no longer be at the head of the planet. It has always happened like that. The history of Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany and England proves it. China will probably replace the American nation. It is all in combining military power with technological and economic power. It’s possible it may discover a more efficient way to kill human beings than nuclear war. If this happens, maybe they will use it. It will happen in the middle of this century. I hope we old ones won’t live to see it.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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