Is foresight knowledge? Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez commences his classic novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” with a scene of mourning for the central character Santiago Nasar. The author then takes us back in time to chronicle the events that led up to Nasar’s demise. As the day in question unfolds, one discovers that almost the entire occupants of the town where Nasar lived knew of the plot to kill him. Nonetheless, no-one forewarns Nasar: some don’t believe the murderers will carry out their threat, many are distracted by the imminent arrival of a Bishop to their island backwater, a few encourage the perpetrators of the crime, and yet others try to warn Nasar but cannot find him.
Throughout all this, the reader realises the inevitability of the final outcome, but at the same time feels frustrated over the innumerable missed opportunities to prevent the death. Coming as I do from the west country of England, I feel the oppressive fatalism of Thomas Hardy. We understand that what we do is wrong, but we are fated to do it anyway.
Looking at Japan’s burgeoning public debt, I feel that I am peering down on Garcia Marquez’s fictional town. Everyone knows that public sector liabilities are ballooning, but there is no common purpose over what to do. Indeed, most are too occupied with the distractions of popular culture to pay the debt much heed, while some argue that the debt is harmless since the country has remained prosperous though the years over which it has accumulated. A few utter Cassandra-like warnings, but the fact that disaster never strikes blunts the message. (Of course, the accusation of being a Cassandra is a strange smear: it ignores the fact that Cassandra was eventually proved right; her true curse was that no-one believed her.) Continue reading