My life story and how the US can learn from it - brnd.ws
I want to tell you a story. This is a true story; it’s about me, my family and my country, and it’s not pretty. This story starts in the fifties. In the 1950s Portugal was a poor country, on par with Romania, the Philippines, and Ghana to give you some examples. We were ruled by a dictator and my family remembers stories of hunger and very difficult times to live a decent life.
Two decades later, in 1974, Portugal lived a revolution, became a democracy, and all of the sudden we thought we were a modern Western nation. My family recalls 25% annual salary increases, free everything (apparently I was fed on a lot of free baby food), and an overall feeling that “we have the right to be as rich as Germany”. Nonetheless, we were still a poor nation, so for some time we kept playing the role that China played in the last decade (and still does) – cheap labor. That kept us going.
Then came the European Union. Portugal joined the European Union (then ECC) in 1986 and we had our “drug dealer” moment. If you’re not familiar with the drug dealer life story (don’t ask) here’s a long but realistic portrait. From 1986 through the early 2000s we spent all we were given and more. Money was endless so, as good drug dealers, we bought Ferraris, big houses and luscious vacations. Unfortunately I’m not exaggerating a bit. Our politicians did the same, and we built freeways to nowhere, world expos, football (or futbol) stadiums, and even tried to host the Olympics and the America’s Cup.
Because we were a fucking Western nation!
Now I’m not playing the saint here. My family wasn’t left behind. In 1977 my parents had an old Citroen and a 2-bedroom apartment in a poor suburban neighborhood in Lisbon. That’s how my sister and I were raised. In 2000 we had 3 houses, a vineyard, 5 cars (no Ferrari), and I was eating foie gras and drinking fancy wine. We weren’t selling drugs, we were just riding the wave. It was the Euro wave and we made the cut.
In 1998 I left Portugal, first to study, then to start my own company. I left my country thinking we were a fucking Western nation (no shit!). That sentiment was reinforced after living in Paris and Madrid. Our living standards were definitely not inferior to those of my friends in France and Spain.
Then all of the sudden I started feeling something was changing. I was living in Madrid and my salary kept increasing while my friends talked about trouble in Portugal. I thought that was the typical Portuguese whine. But then the economy tanked and everyone started talking about recession. At that point I thought that was serious but thankfully our government came to the rescue and we kept buying fancy cars and spending vacations in Brazil and Bora Bora (that was popular in Portugal 10 years ago).
Then came 2008 and the mother of all recessions (at least for my generation). I was in the US already and I thought that was really bad but thankfully our government came to the rescue (again!) and kept things going. Ok, maybe we weren’t buying Ferraris and going to Bora Bora but BMWs and Zanzibar weren’t that bad after all.
Then came 2011 and you can read my last post to understand where we are right now. Let’s say we are a step away from being under the bridge begging for a piece of bread. That’s the unfortunate life story of another drug dealer (again, I highly recommend this link). Not only we spent all we were given, we spent thinking the inflow was never ending.
If you’re American, it’s up to you to discern whether or not the US are headed in the same direction. I was too young in the nineties to understand the implications of what our decision makers were doing. When I see the US economy I can’t help but thinking about the drug dealer story. China can bail you out now but no one will bail you out indefinitely. Either you quit early on or you’ll end up under the bridge.