Antonio Oliveira Salazar is usually described as Portugal’s dictator from 1932-1968. Often considered to be a clone of his neighbor in Spain, Francisco Franco, Salazar was quite different. He was an economics professor at the ancient University of Coimbra. When asked in 1926 to help the military junta in sorting out the economy, Salazar stayed in Lisbon, the capital, and studied the situation. After a few weeks, he said he would only work for the government if given complete control of revenue and expenditures. The generals said no so Salazar calmly retreated to his economics chair at Coimbra.
By 1928, with the economy facing bankruptcy, the military gave Salazar the power that he wanted. Things turned around fast under his leadership and in 1932 he was named prime minister. During his entire term, the country lived as a military dictatorship with Professor Salazar the civil administrator. He was not your dictator from central casting. A lifelong bachelor, he was a quiet introvert and a serious scholar. The main similarity with Franco was that he shamefully encouraged the police to use informers and he censored the press.
Many observers said that Salazar kept on top with a cynical credo distracting the masses known as the three F’s: “Fado, Fatima, and Futbol”.
1) Fado is the oldest urban folk music in the world. It is often described as the soul music of Portugal. Salazar did not like it but it became a national craze and he went along with it.
2) Fatima is a religious shrine in central Portugal where in 1917 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three peasant children. While widely followed in Portugal, Fatima is what is known in Catholicism as a private revelation. No one is required to believe it or take it seriously. Most popes since Pius XI have been devoted to Fatima but many priests dismiss it and I have never seen a poll among the Catholic populace on how many accept it. Salazar’s “regime” played it to the hilt, however, with some officials claiming that the Virgin Mary kept Portugal out of World War II.
3) Futbol—this is simply soccer. The Portuguese love the game beyond all bounds and the regime encouraged clubs and participation everywhere. The press was said to be encouraged to extend futbol coverage even though they needed little. At the same time, Salazar, a brilliant and serious scholar himself did nothing to improve education. By some measures, literacy rates fell during his era.
Long before 20th century Portugal, regimes had their own distractions. In ancient Rome, the poet Juvenal wrote that the way that emperors retained power and control of the people was to get them involved in self indulgence and trivialities. As the empire tottered toward collapse the people seemed to hope for two things—free bread and circuses. Things reached a low point when there were nearly 100 holidays per year.
Sometimes, lately, as we face a difficult future, I wonder if we in America are getting so involved with the trivial that we lose sight of what is going on. Sports are a great pastime but for many they are now bordering on obsession. It is not unusual for an adult American male to watch 8-12 hours of football (not futbol) on a fall weekend. People have a right to do what they want during their free time but it is almost as if many live vicariously through what others do in a stadium on a weekend afternoon. Their happiness is not with what they have personally accomplished. We in the media have only encouraged this by pouring larger and large amounts of advertising dollars into sports programming.
We had what many feel was an important election on Tuesday, November 2nd. Many Americans did not bother to vote. In many European countries they vote on Sunday so that more people can get to the polls. Can you imagine U.S. turnout if we held elections on November Sundays? I think many lazy boys would curl up on their La-Z-Boys, pop open still another beer, and vote for football.
Actually, the day after the election something happened that struck me as vastly more important than the mid-term voting results. The Federal Reserve introduced QE2 which injected $600 billion more dollars into the economy. QE stands for Quantitative Easing which is employed when all other avenues are exhausted in an economy (QE1 occurred during the financial crisis when over $1 trillion was created to prop up the economy). Usually the Fed lowers overnight interest rates to stimulate economic activity but it cannot do that any longer as the rates are nearly at zero. Financial writer David Dittman put it this way: “It does not involve the printing of money. The central bank (the Fed) will, with the simple stroke of a computer key, increase the credit in its own bank account. This newly formed money will buy whatever the Fed pleases—government bonds, equities, houses or corporate bonds from banks.”
Well, I agree that there is no printing press in the basement of the Federal Reserve building where a few fellows are stamping out $600 billion in new currency. But the effect is the same. And, immediately the dollar tanked giving us a backdoor devaluation of our currency.
I was upset about the QE2 event and spoke and e-mailed with a number of people about it. The next day a friend e-mailed me that, according to Google tabulations, the number of people who Googled QE2 or the Federal Reserve on November 3rd were only a small fraction of those who checked to see the availability of the McRib at their local McDonalds restaurants. Are we maybe getting just a bit wrapped up in the trivial?
Better hurry, folks. The McRib promotion will be gone in most McDonalds by December 5th. QE2? Not to worry. If it does not work as I think it won’t, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is sure to give us QE3, QE4, and QE5.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at email@example.com