Unemployment Iraqi Style

Let's put it all into perspective: the U.S. has an unemployment rate hovering at just above the 5% level (although much higher in ethnic populations). Iraq has an unemployment rate in the 75% range.

How on earth do they live?

We are all aware of the difficulties of being out of work -the financial pressures, the emotional trauma, the ruin of so many marriages and families, and the overall cost to society. The effects of unemployment on personal dreams of success wreak havoc with the self-esteem and self-confidence of those without work. In a society that glorifies money, power, and celebrity above all else, the have-nots carry the taint of failure and view themselves as losers. They can no longer compete with their peers, keep up with the Joneses, or live the lifestyle to which they have aspired for so long.

But if 3 out of 4 of your neighbors, family, and friends are jobless, the equation changes. You may live in poverty, unsure of when the next meal will materialize, but just about everyone else is in the same boat. Begging, bartering, and haggling over the exchange of meager basics becomes the standard lifestyle. Aspirations of success are tossed aside for the more immediate goal of survival. It is the few individuals who actually have work and a regular income who are the aliens in the crowd.

In an economy devastated by war, magnified by an ongoing insurgency, what does the much-touted western world's democracy mean: the freedom to starve?

A culture in disarray yearns for "the man on horseback." The inequities and internal struggles of the Roman Republic gave birth to a long line of debauched, despotic Emperors. The mass poverty of Russian serfs opened the door to Lenin and his monstrous descendant, Stalin. The ruined economy of the Weimar Republic brought us the order and security, as well as the total evil, of Adolf Hitler. The hedonistic excesses and widespread corruption of Havana produced Fidel Castro. The war-ravaged landscape of Cambodia hatched the Khmer Rouge.

Consider the average Iraqi. Three years ago, there may have been a muzzled press and sinister whispers of secret executions and atrocities against minorities, but the electricity and water systems worked, there was order in the streets, there were uplifting parades of uniformed troops, a leader standing up to the might of the western world, and a deep pride in being a citizen of the arguably strongest Muslin country in the world.

Three years later, men stand in line for the few paltry jobs available with the security forces, well aware of the possibility of being blown to bits for the only sin of standing in that line.

President Bush is on a crusade (that was his word) to rid the world of terrorism and convert the entire planet to Western Democracy and his version of freedom (his favorite word).

America will save the world. And if there is nothing left when the saving is over, can we wring some sense of self-satisfaction from the fact that no despots are left standing on the windswept, barren plateau that remains?

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.unemploymentblues.com or http://layoffblues.blogspot.com

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