|I'm a sweet little bird in a gilded cage.|
One can imagine Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a quasi-latinate name to be sure, toga, laurel leaf crown, creeping up beside some public Palatine latrine under light of moon, sharp implement in hand, to express his frustration with the pronouncements of some contemporary economist who has drawn his ire. The sun dawns on the scribbled words -- what was the Latin word for "wogs" again? -- but, alas, who cares, the media reacts, from any hill one can hear the diapason of the city state's echo chamber. Scandal! Twittergate! Panem et circenses!
Maybe such scenes really did occur, but if they did, they were just as meaningless then as they are today and forever will be, not to mention shameful. Paul Krugman's visiting and revisting of Estonia was just a play in the larger game of economic heads smashing themselves against each other. It has little to do with Estland or its people. GDP numbers and other metrics of scoring international gymnastics do not reflect the true health of this country, they cannot, for a man can be an excellent employee in fantastic shape and still blow his brains out at the end of the week.
At the eye of the swirling storm that is the Great Recession is a question of soul, that is, America's ailments are not caused by Wall Street but by sheer gluttony, that blight of the American soul, that metaphysical corrosion that manifests itself in malaise, lethargy, obesity. Estonia's crisis of the soul will not be navigated by men with charts and graphs, but will end when the common man or woman abandons his envy for his or her neighbor -- the large, moose-like neighbor, in particular -- and moves beyond the ideal of catching up to one of achieving simple excellence.
Consider this. Even in the darkest days of Tsarist rule, the Estonians bred like rabbits. But in today's online world, they can barely find time for sex, what with all the late-night Twittering and Skypeing. Yet Estonians in the mid-19th century were pumping them out, Jüri, Mari, Jüri, Mari. It was a demographic deluge. Today there's barely enough new citizens to break even. The Estonians of yesteryear wore rags, spent candlelit nights chewing leather to soften it for future shoes. And this was the context in which the country's people became awakened, not in spite of the poverty, but because of it, because the people knew their land and loved it for what it was because it had made them and it was theirs.
So, my fellow Romans, put aside your Twitter and your Huffington Post, extinguish your flame wars, discard your graphs. If Paul Krugman wants to write about Estonia, that's fine, but he must come here first, he must walk its fields, shoulder its timber, swim in its lakes, dance with its widows, and, above all, be barred from conversing with its political leaders and Ministry of Finance functionaries. Every nation has its problems, sure, but shadow boxing on the Internet is no way to solve them. There must be better ways.