When, at the end of the 19th century, the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío wrote that “Colombia It is a land of lions”, many found in the verse the description of a brave country. Others, on the contrary, recalled some of the traits of felines: solitary, stealthy predators, dedicated to hunting and with collective commitments that are limited only to their respective pack.
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Although the discussion of what we are like will never end, there are elements that will help establish the way we see ourselves and why we act in certain ways. That is precisely the contribution that comes from a study of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)a charge from a series of researchers headed by the economist María Angélica Arbeláez.
The publication, whose title is Perceptions and subjective well-being in Colombiaforms part of the effort made by the entity to understand the high level of inequality that characterizes us In this regard, there are periodic periods that define objective parameters, which demonstrate the existence of a great disparity in income and opportunities.
But this reading needs to be complemented with the view that people have regarding the environment in which they live and their level of well-being, something that conditions aspirations or feelings of dissatisfaction. Part of the usefulness of the exercise is that it allows you to distinguish between the things that are really essential to people and those that are nice to have, but not essential.
Ultimately, what it is about is adapting remedies that can be more or less effective, if they adjust to the ‘personality’ of a specific people. As the work points out, one of its purposes is to «understand the relationship between inequality and trust and how this affects the capital construction and productivity”.
Among the starting points for this type of analysis are surveys in which people from the most different latitudes are asked about their level of satisfaction with life. According to the most recent World Values SurveyColombians ranked third in a sample of fifty countries on five continents, with an average rating of 8.2 on a scale of one to ten.
Said figure exceeds that of any developed nation and even stands out within a Latin American region that stands out from others for being happier. In this regard, several analysts have pointed out that the strength of affective relationships —that is, family and friends— more than compensates for adverse economic and social conditions.
Having done that reading, a record of the trends shows some deterioration that should not be overlooked. For example, the Quality of Life Survey prepared by the Dane and whose next report will be released in May reveals a slight but continuous decrease in the Satisfaction with life since 2017, the emotion of happiness or purpose, referring to how worthwhile what is done is.
The experts will underline a greater presence of negative emotions, which will include feelings such as sadness and worry. Among the hypotheses that are put forward are issues such as income, employment or health, something in which the pandemic had its share of responsibility.
Additionally, it is clear that subjective well-being is not the same for all Colombians. In general, “older people, whose marital status is widowed or divorced, with a low level of education and who belong to an ethnic or racial minority” present lower figures.
In turn, money matters. Thus, 61 percent of people who believe they are in the poorest 20 percent report being satisfied with their lives, a proportion that rises to 94 percent in the highest quintile. In the territorial scope, the Coffee Region reaches the highest marks, while the departments of the periphery, the lowest.
Some more, some less
Immediately afterwards, the UNDP document focuses on how Colombians perceive poverty and inequalities. Beyond the cutting lines that are made by what each individual or family group earns, in addition to the multidimensional perspective that involves other elements such as access to education or the quality of housing, what counts is the way in which people see themselves and in relation to others.
Without going into detailed descriptions, citizens considering that poverty in the national territory is higher than what the objective measurements show: 62 versus 39 percent. Even more surprising is that those at the bottom of the income pyramid think they are less poor, while those at the top think they are less rich.
Apart from the above is the vision of the possibilities that exist to achieve the aspirations of each one. Here comes a warning light, because in 2020 80 percent of Colombians thought that equal opportunities are little or not guaranteed, the highest level in Latin America. The worst grades were seen in access to health, education and work services.
Still, hope is arguably the last thing to go. According to the Dane Social Pulse Survey released last year, 49 percent of respondents expect their children to be richer than they are when they are their age. There may be cultural differences, because while 98 percent of Cartagena think their offspring will be the same or worse, for Pereira that proportion is 30 percent.
Although indicators such as Gini coefficient, which measures the concentration of income, shows Colombia in the worst places in regional or international classifications, the United Nations report maintains that there is «a tolerance» in this regard, higher than that of neighboring countries. This verification does not ignore that 69 percent of people consider that inequality is totally unacceptable.
However, when it comes to assigning the responsibility of correcting the situation, Colombians give much more weight than the rest of Latin Americans to individual efforts and less to the role of the State. This is important because when it comes to paying the bill, the willingness to accept more taxes ends up being very low.
And it is that, in the abstract, a high percentage of opinion agrees to support transfers to the most vulnerable and is in favor of a progressive tax structure. The problem is that it is believed that this obligation corresponds to others and in particular to the richest and to companies. Specifically, the middle class considers that it is not their responsibility to assume the account.
believe and disbelieve
This apparent dichotomy between the need to do more without contributing is tied to another characteristic: lack of confidence. Multiple studies show that certification in others or in institutions is key to the advancement of a society, since they are the basis of prosperity and democracy. Clear and predictable rules, for example, encourage investment and the search for moderate returns in the long term.
In this field, Latin America occupies the worst places in the world. On average, only three out of ten inhabitants of the region say they trust their government and only 11 percent trust other people.
Colombia is not far from those numbers, although there are deep differences between reference groups. So, the 2021 Political Culture Survey showed that 95 percent trust their family a lot and that the proportions decrease if they are friends, work colleagues or neighbors. The lowest figures correspond to people of another nationality and strangers, against whom distrust is 78 and 93 percent, respectively.
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In this case, regional differences also appear. According to Dane, 86 percent of Payaneses do not trust others at all, while in Quibdó the figure is 11 percent.
Such ratings extend to public entities or political parties. Contrary to what one might think, this was not always the case, since in 2008 60 percent of Colombians said they had confidence in the Government, a level that by 2021 fell to 26 percent. Institutions such as Congress receive low marks, while the Church or the Police do better.
At first glance, one might think that the cost of such attitudes is restricted to ideological issues or interpersonal relationships. However, it is not so. For María Angélica Arbeláez, «the more trust, the greater the chances that a society will be organized cooperatively, something that is expressed in coordination to achieve common goals.»
Said achievement translates into very low levels of associativity, barely 13 percent in 2021. That of each one going their own way leads to productivity issueswhich are cause and effect of the increase in individual work and microenterprises, in addition to relatively modest growth rates.
Such a picture is not encouraging at all. The economist Arbeláez maintains that «the country is prisoner of a trap of poverty, inequality and low confidence.» Thus, «the first two influence the third and the latter hits growth, making it more difficult to reduce poverty and inequality.»
Faced with such a reading, it is imperative to react. Eduardo Lora affirms that «generating trust is a collective task: it starts with the family environment and goes through school and work.» In addition, he stresses that the goal «requires leadership, commitment to the public good, and interaction with those who are not part of our closest group.»
Following the usual path aims to perpetuate known men. Back to Rubén Darío, the figure of a land of lions in which each one looks for a prey to feed his pack is not the most encouraging.
Obviously, in the country there are multiple commendable examples of people who are part of teams whose work leads to progress in the business, economic or social fields. The problem is that this Colombia coexists with the other one in which, as Eduardo Lora points out, «the segregation in which we live does not help to create trust.»
And although everything is related and feeds off each other, it ends up being obligatory to examine the way in which the vicious circle can be broken. Otherwise, subjective perceptions will continue to weigh on the indicators, which show us to be relatively satisfied individually, but with great shortcomings collectively.
Unless we show real signs of cohesion, the lyrics of the poem according to which ours «will always be the land that spills the sap of great hearts» will continue to turn yellow. So that the rhyme is not dissonant, there is no other option than to break the links of the distrust in order to advance once and for all in the fight against poverty and inequality.
RICARDO AVILA PINTO
Special for EL TIEMPO
On Twitter: @ravilapinto