In Argentina, football is a religion. If the derby between Boca and River Plate is Easter Sunday Mass, then the Bombonera Stadium, Boca’s home, is a Holy Trinity of the Vatican, Lourdes and Fatima – a sacred theatre of dreams, miracles and, depending on the score, extravagant benedictions.
The other day, I made my own personal Camino to this place of worship. A procession of the faithful moved slowly through the streets towards the tabernacle, repeating incantations, bonded together by the low murmur of repetitive chanting. In the same way as medieval monastic orders from Franciscans to Jesuits distinguished themselves with different coloured habits – the outward signs of inner differences – Boca’s devotees are a sea of yellow and blue.
Like all religions, this congregation is bonded together by their own sacred scriptures, myths and mysteries, passed down from father to son. They have their Boca creed which they profess openly, each fan trying to out-do the next in the intensity of their devotion. Tears are not uncommon.
Nothing prepares you for the Buenos Aires derby, the noise, the colour and outlandish drama that this most dramatic of races brings to even the most innocuous challenges on the pitch. In this city of mass psychotherapy, we can only speculate the extent to which the collective hysteria of the derby contributes to making Buenos Aires the world capital of psychology; it has more shrinks per head than New York. Is it any wonder they are highly strung?
After all, the canon of Argentinian football deity is impressive. Think about all the players who have worn the blue and white: Maradona, Messi, Batistuta, Caniggia, Passarella, Zanetti, Mascherano and Di Maria – this is a roll call of world talent. These are all mesmerising players, but apart from being Argentinian footballers, what else do they have in common?
Look again at the surnames. Notice that all these giants of the beautiful game, in this Spanish-speaking country, have Italian names. Indeed, come to think of it, so too does the Argentine Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio and that most infamous of locals (for the British at least), General Leopoldo Galtieri.
Why are there so many third generation Italians in Argentina? What prompted these millions of Italians, the grandfathers and great grandfathers of Maradona, Messi and the Pope, to move from Italy to Latin America in the later part of the 19th century?
And, as we try to understand our world in 2015, what lessons can we learn from the mass migration of people in the late Victorian age? Could the experience of Europeans just over one hundred years ago be repeated, in a different form, today? We know that economic history rarely repeats itself directly but – to paraphrase Mark Twain – it does tend to rhyme.
In particular, I would like to focus on today’s secular stagnation and explore whether this has occurred before. If it has, what happened?
The thesis argues that the global deflationary and offshoring shock from globalisation in general and the opening up of China in particular, is undermining the wages and sustainability of Western workers and is having a once in a generation impact on Western productivity, incomes, welfare and growth.
This deflationary shock at a time of high levels of debt, is dragging down Western growth rates and this lack of growth is making western and European politics more unstable.
Much of the evangelical talk about globalisation presupposes that it is a new phenomenon, but is it? History suggests not.
The first great period of globalisation was between 1870 and 1914 and Argentina was the epicentre of this development. Its story is both instructive and cautionary.