a cry towards the absurd

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.Camus
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On the U.S.

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Posted by Joe on Friday, December 20, 2002 at 18:39:55 :

In Reply to: Re: I do. posted by trablano on Wednesday, December 18, 2002 at 02:20:02 :

Odd how displaying conservative views even when done in a very moderate tone causes treblano to feel ďuncomfortableĒ whereas Anitah expresses her quite predictable anti-americanism with the zeal of an old testament prophet and she is open-minded, or some such.

I donít buy treblanoís premise, anyway. Self-styled sophisticates like to amuse themselves and bolster their own sense of self-righteousness by dismissing those who defend America as narrow-minded, blindly jingoistic, unfamiliar with differing views or some predictable shop-worn label. In fact, the idea that I am unaware of differing views on the subject would be laughable if you knew me. If there is one thing I very definitely know, it is that there are differing views of America. I sometimes feel like I hear them for a living. What I think makes people uncomfortable is nonideological discussions of economics or politics. They sound so dry and rational as to be boring.

Much of this post has been posted elsewhere, so this isnít as time-consuming as it seems, but here are a couple of points about my views on the US vis-a-vis the rest of the world. There are many areas that the US is weak. I clerked in England for a number of barristers many years ago, and I spent a good deal of time discussing English and American history, two of my favorite subjects. It is a sad fact that just about every British person I met knew more about American history than most Americans. The same goes for the Netherlands. The breadth of interest in literary and historical topics was very impressive as compared to many college-educated Americans. I donít have much experience in Germany, but I do think Americans undervalue their liberal arts education for reasons that may have to do with the lack of a long history and the geographical fact that many Americans never see another country until quite late in life (if ever).

That said, on the political and economic front, no country that I have visited can compare with the US, despite its flaws. I visited Gharda Chemicals, an international chemical company outside Bombay, India (Indira may know it) a few months ago, and I recall asking the Indian equivalent of a CFO why Bombay was so poor when India was a democracy, and Indians who emigrate to the US do so well. With a roll of his eyes, he delivered a long speech about how difficult, if not impossible, it was to open a new business, how difficult it was to maintain a work force, how poorly contracts are enforced, etc. If one isnít born into money, your prospects are extremely limited largely because the country doesnít respect and encourage entrepreneurship the way we do here. I know there are numerous religious and social issues as well, but from an economic standpoint, itís hard to imagine how a country with as many layers of bureaucracy as India could ever not be poor. He assured me things were improving in this regard, and I hope he is right, but my experience with their import-export officials confirmed that it is a colossal nightmare. This is a very broad topic, but I used to be involved in a fairly large amount of international trade work, and one comes to appreciate how many more opportunities one has in the US than elsewhere.

One of the statistics people like to throw at the US is the wealth disparity between the upper and lower quintiles, but what is much more distinctive is the dynamism between the quintiles. Between 1980 and 1990, 80% of the people in the lower quintile were no longer in the lower quintile. Comparing upper and lower income brackets over a period of time is misleading in the US because you are not comparing the same people. Unlike many far more static economies, there is a tremendous amount of movement up and down the wealth ladder in the US as people leave college, get their first job, increase their earnings and eventually retire. A country with relatively equal distributions of wealth would essentially be a place where you make about the same amount at age 60 as at age 20 Ė not exactly a hot prospect. Wealth in countries such as Denmark, Holland, Sweden, France, and certainly Spain and Italy, is far more encrusted even if the overall disparities are lower. Although Anitah blew off this point when I raised it, this is obviously why so many people without money immigrate here. I find it hard to criticize a country that offers so much opportunity to people who havenít a chance to succeed elsewhere.

This post continues for some time, but Iíll cut it off here so I can wait for Anitahís ďHavenít you heard of Enron???Ē insightful response.


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