An outcome can be said to look like a glass half full or half empty. So are you an optimist or a pessimist?
In one of Mexico City's leading newspapers, El Universal, sociologist and economist Jorge Zepeda Patterson says a pessimist is really an optimist, but one who is well informed.
Take Charles Hurst's opinion in the Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune railing against NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Hurst, who offered a reader's view in the newspaper, interjects that if not for it and other trade agreements the jobless situation would be fixed and manufacturing jobs would all return home like a flock of sheep.
"These laws don't work and should be repealed," he wrote.
This popular, quick fix reaction is seriously mistaken. It is part of an isolationist "half-empty" perspective but a good one to review on New Year's, NAFTA's 17th anniversary.
I think Hurst really meant to say something like, "Our economy must be transformed into one of more and higher-standard products than we produce. For it, innovation requires a better trained and educated populace. An economy like that provides better income and job stability."
Otherwise, who wants a lifetime of work in a factory making cheap paper flags for every country in the world or logo headgear at below minimum wage? Who wants hand-me-down jobs?
But one error on our part is how our public-education investments (the highest in the world) have not gotten us what we paid for and rank us far behind other industrialized nations. I really don't think Hurst meant to say the people of the United States don't know how to compete anymore, or that the only solution is to roll back time and pretend the rest of the world isn't advancing ahead of us.
The problem is not NAFTA but a non-production strategy we have pursued. Blaming others with jealousy and greed is called "relative deprivation," and we don't want a lifetime as shallow little people trapped in a half-empty glass.
There's also another blame-game sinkhole to avoid in hard times. It's about failing to learn from history and facts. Nearly 78 years ago, when Europe faced a devastating economic decline, average people tolerated the goose-stepping thugs, who said basically the way to become better off was through scapegoats and continuing the 500-year-old pattern of invading, warring and brutalizing neighbor countries.
After World War II, and until the 1950s, Western nations sought answers, then formed an economic community, and now have the 27-member European Union with a currency stronger than the dollar.
Europe today faces similar economic challenges equal to or greater than those of the United States. But they don't seek to undo European free trade, nor to go back to shock-and-awe war among themselves.
Why not? Because better integrated, harmonized nations, allowing free movement of people and goods is the handmaiden of economic stability.
Similar economic structures can be seen in the making in South America (Mercosur), while a major trade agreement is being negotiated between Mexico and Brazil, and Asian nations are advancing similar plans. None of them seeks a go-it-alone, leave-me-alone isolationist path like the one that U.S. rhetoric slingers like so much. Canada and Mexico are not part of our problem but part of the U.S. solution.
JP Morgan, the financial giant, expects Mexico's economy to increase 4.7 percent this year. This is good news because Mexico not only sells and co-manufactures with us but it is our third largest trade partner. Canada is first. The U.S. recovery -- hard as it may seem to many in the United States -- is being helped by Mexico.
As we come out of our national recession, the crucial question is whether the lingering malaise results from spent ideas by dream-killers who whack optimism. They make other people's successes sound like they come at our expense.
It's okay to be pessimistic but not to be a misinformed or ignorant pessimist.