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Belated European Report and Elite Disconnect

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While I’m a bit late in reporting on my trip to Europe (coastal Spain, Portugal, and France), I had thought not to say anything at all, given that I learned vastly less about the economic state of play than I expected. But that in and of itself is a data point of sorts.

One reason I wound up learning so little is I travelled in the most removed manner possible: a cruise. I’m not a fan of cruises (way too regimented) but this was a family holiday. But that means you are not only not staying in local cities, it also means if you do shore tours (which is what we did for the most part), you only see what all our guides called the “touristic” parts. You get bussed around, walked to/through certain sites, and often get some shopping time (after all, Americans must shop, right?)

The clearest evidence of distress came in the few days before the trip. We got an offer from the cruise operator to turn our cruise in in exchange for two later cruises, both in the Eastern Mediterranean, neither originating or terminating in Greece, plus a refund of $6000. This would have been way more days than on the cruise we were set to take. It seemed pretty obvious what was happening: people had cancelled out of cruises that had any stops in Greece, and they were willing to shift people into those cruises at severely discounted prices (presumably, they had wait listed people for our cruise). This thus belies a theory in tonight’s Financial Times, namely that a Euro exit would be bad for the Greek tourism business:

The main export earner, tourism, is unlikely to create much additional revenue despite a cheaper drachma. This sector might suffer a reputational setback from the economic crisis and dissolving social cohesion.

It’s a little late to have these concerns. The media has had plenty of coverage of rising suicides, garbage not being picked up, hospitals and individuals unable to pay for medicines. I’m not sure how much incremental damage would occur with a Euro exit.

We started in Barcelona (a terrific city) and the airport was an eye opener. Big, new, beautiful and freakishly empty on a Saturday morning. Our route out gave us a view of lots of departure gates, and there were no flights leaving. There were acres and acres of seats with only an occasional person in view, usually looking intently at a laptop. Maybe it was just the timing of our arrival, but it felt much worse than that.

We were in a ridiculously remote hotel (the doing of our cruise operator, natch, who wanted to upsell passengers on tours rather than put them in a lively ‘hood where they could wander around on their own). But it meant when we finally got up and about, we saw a smidge more of the city than you’d see if you were centrally located, say near the Plaça de Catalunya. And everything we saw looked clean, well maintained. Hardly any shuttered retail stores (which were pretty common in NYC in the worst of the crisis). And the entire trip, the only place I did see a high concentration of closed stores was in Bibao, near the old town.

We stumbled into one restaurant when it was quiet enough for us to grill the waiter, and he said their business was holding up well. But this was in a prime tourist area, very close to one of the Gaudi houses (the Batlló house) and the waiter said this wasn’t typical.

And this was more or less the story of the entire trip. All the tour guides (save a very lively Basque) mentioned the high unemployment rate; the one in Cadiz also pointed out that the cajas were being bailed out. But these were quick mentions, not belabored. It was hard to find signs of distress. Even in Lisbon, the one place we were affected (the cordon of a demonstration was widened, which led our bus to be diverted, delaying our return to the ship), you did see some homes overlooking the Mediterranean on sale. But even then, it hardly seemed like a lot.

This was a classic example of the Buenos Aires effect: if you have good buildings, well maintained, people will assume you are well off. I’m told investment bankers would treat Argentina as a bigger opportunity than it really was because they were taken in by the look of Buenos Aires. And that’s before you factor in that Europe has more and usually much better maintained public amenities than the US: clean and orderly parks, nicely planted medians, well groomed beaches. Look, for instance, at the lovely boardwalk in Bordeaux, with its water mirror and skateboard park.

This of course suited the predispositions of our right-leaning fellow passengers (I managed to restrain myself when I heard references to slovenly Greeks or how if people wanted to stay out of prison, they needed to quit breaking the law). And it was a reminder of how easy it is for the elites to be disconnected. For instance, Washington, DC, is awash in lobbyist dollars. New York City looks to be doing fine. Good houses are hard to find in the better parts of Boston. If you are a member of the policy or chattering classes in these cities, and have inured yourself to the wasteland you can see from the window of the Acela when you trek between these cities, the dire conditions facing many American families are an abstraction. They are literally not visible to these people. And I suspect, despite Europe having less income disparity than the US, that a similar process is at work among top Eurocrats, that where and how they spend most of their time insulates them from them from the harsh realities suffered by many of their charges. Mind you, I’m not saying I have any direct perception either, but I know this is something I don’t know first hand and I’d want a much better feel if I were making decisions that would affect ordinary citizens.

Now having said all that, I did meet some nice people on the ship: a lovely couple from Melbourne, two women from Texas who were owners of a life insurance company, and a blog reader (!). The latter was a former Apple executive out of NeXT, which meant we knew some people in common, another nice surprise. He also commented on the predominance of Republicans on the ship and the need to keep one’s views in reserve. But the bigger lesson remains: irresponsible elites are the norm throughout history. Sadly, our era, despite the world-shriking power of travel and technology, seems to hew to that pattern.

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44 comments

  1. Ignacio

    I think that the reputational setback commentary on the FT is bullshit: it is the euro what is provoking such shift!

  2. Middle Seaman

    Our experience with several summers of lengthy travels and stays in Europe that distressed countries, e.g. Spain, show very few signs or scars near major tourist areas. The pictures changes drastically once you get to roads less traveled. For instance, in Barcelona the sidewalks in the Garcia is busy and the Costa del Sol is full of life. Once you drive up from the coast into villages in the mountain areas, stores are closed, people are keeping to themselves, etc.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Americanos abroad are often confused by different urban development patterns. The ubiquitous U.S. post-WW II pattern of a well-heeled, automobile-oriented suburban ring surrounding a blighted inner city is not typical of Europe and LatAm.

      North America is also unique in its almost universal use of wood-frame residential construction. Not blessed with vast forests, the rest of the world uses concrete and masonry construction. So it don’t look like Poughkeepsie or Peoria.

      In beautiful Buenos Aires, buy a 25-cent subsidized ticket on one of the commuter trains and take a ride past the city limits into the province. De repente, the Beaux Arts facades are replaced by nondescript, hardscrabble slums, festooned with informal wiring, anti-theft grilles and drying laundry. This is where the cartoneros live — the folks who scavenge recyclables in the evening (sometimes in donkey carts), but end up leaving the remaining garbage strewn all over the sidewalks. *sigh*

      As Patti Smith used to say, ‘The transformation of waste is perhaps the oldest pre-occupation of man.’

      1. Ed

        This is an important point. Its not noticed much (though confirmed by the 2010 census data), but the US has been moving to a more European pattern of wealthy city centers and not so wealthy suburbs. So its pretty much the same thing in the US, take a tour going from city center to city center and you don’t see much evidence even of a recession. Go to the suburbs or a smaller city and the picture changes dramatically. Of course the former middle class are starting to, or in the case of New York have been, priced out of the city centers.

      2. scraping_by

        “North America is also unique in its almost universal use of wood-frame residential construction. ”

        Think of the average American house as a wooden tent.

        The materials and construction from the early 20th century will last about 150 years. The current construction, particle board and laminate structure, maybe 50. At best. Often, not as long as the 30 year mortgage.

        Which means the average American home buyer is renting a falling down pile of wood.

  3. Terry

    Interesting. I spent two weeks in Gran Canaria last month. Taxi driver taking me from airport said he was going to quit (as had many others): his monthly income had gone from 5000 Euros down to 1200. The local shopping centre had gone from 100% occupancy last time I visited in 2008 (approx 70 units, retail, restaurants) to less than 10%. Staff at the university (where I presented a seminar) all came in to work every day (rather than ever work at home) due to fear of redundancies. It was not a pretty sight.

  4. emptyfull

    Well, I hope the placid waters helped you relax, Yves. The Augean stables have been waiting for your shovel….

  5. Richard Kline

    Elites _do_ seen irresponsible as a norm historically. It’s difficult to pin down exactly why. Yes, comfort insulates, so problems are underestimated. Hard to see that as all of the issue.

    Something I’ve posited before to account for the counterproductive behavior of elites, both elsewhere and here on NC, lies in the situation that elites in a society become that way _within particular contexts._ That is, their group achieves a power and/or property advantage in a particular economic and social moment. . . . But time moves on, as it were, and the context changes.

    It would seem peripherally that elites could maximize there status by changing but that is exactly what they can least do, and separately appear to least desire. You see ‘they’ have things wired, in the old context. Advantages flow to them because of _who they are_ more than from what they do. In rewiring things, they might *horrors* lose advantage, or at least some of them might. Better to clutch the context tightly to them and try to keep it from changing at all. Y’know, ‘conserve’ the best. Elites are, by nature, conservative, and this is an intrinsic driver in that, as I see it, that the goal is to keep a context advantageous to an existing elite from changing. But of course that is impossible. So all that is achieved, in the end, is to inhibit society _adapting_. And this is why, in the end, elites underperform in crises, the goal is not to respond to the situation but to inhibit the situation changing out of their sweet spot.

    We’re better off without elites. But socially we haven’t gotten the picture on that yet, and given scale advantages and the fact that humans, as a social species, are adapted to dominance hierarchies, we look to have another x millennia of experience to go before the friggin’ lightbulb goes one. A ruling ‘them’ are bad for everyone.

    1. Ruben

      “We’re better off without elites. But socially we haven’t gotten the picture on that yet, and given scale advantages and the fact that humans, as a social species, are adapted to dominance hierarchies, we look to have another x millennia of experience to go before the friggin’ lightbulb goes one.”

      Actually, we are not adapted to the large scale dominance hierarchies that prevail today in social and economic life. We are adapted to the small-scale hierarchies of the hunter-gatherer pack. To produce and maintain the large scale hierarchies prevailing today it is necessary to invest a huge amount of effort in the form of indoctrination (aka civic education) and brute force (aka police and armed forces).

      Left to our own devices, the natural outcome would be some form of technologically advanced anarchy.

      1. proximity1

        RE:

        “Actually, we are not adapted to the large scale dominance hierarchies that prevail today in social and economic life. We are adapted to the small-scale hierarchies of the hunter-gatherer pack. To produce and maintain the large scale hierarchies prevailing today it is necessary to invest a huge amount of effort in the form of indoctrination (aka civic education) and brute force (aka police and armed forces).

        “Left to our own devices, the natural outcome would be some form of technologically advanced anarchy.”

        But these socio-cultural phenomena are in themeselves various sorts of pressure-sensitive “adatations” in the most formal and broadest (but entirely apt) species-evolution sense of the term adaptation; and the process, we should remember, is a continuous one though not necessarily one which is “smooth” in its pace or effects.

        Every important development in socio-cultural aspects of life reflects some action-reaction process in which we are, as a species “taking account” of the constantly changing physical environment in which we live. That suggests that our interpretive views of these trends, these “action-reaction” processes, are better taken over rather long-run periods–such that, for example, far outrun a single ordinary lifetime.

        To put this in a concrete example, we might very well consider the rise of formal schooling, with all its subsequent forms, including today’s prevailing dominance of a very concentrated corporate elite system of training in graduate schools (of all types, both in sciences and humanities and, most especially, in business management) as a very significant socio-cultural “adaptation”. It produces vast and highly ramified consequences which spell for some (a very tiny relative minority) huge survival benefits and, at the same time, for many others, huge costs and losses–ultimately, on a population-wide scale, this represents a kind of highly abstracted life-and-death struggle but with outcomes which are ultimately entirely anything but “abstract”–they mean the death and elimination of those who lose this competition and, conversely, the survival and prospering of others who have the place of the victors in the struggle.

        It’s within and through this very long-term struggle that all kinds of socio-cultural arrangements are found to spring up, be tried, ameneded (in a crude and hit-or-miss fashion) and endure for a time or lapse in favor of the succeeding forms. Thus, the practical sense of “left to our own devices” is not something that is readily made apparent. In one or another sense we are always or never “left to our own devices” whether as individuals or societies. An interplay is a given in human life since we are by necessity a social species. But the precise terms and workings of the “social” arrangements of our lives are very plastic and admit of an apparently infinite variety of possibilities–but they always have some greater or lesser element of species-survival pressures from the environment, both in its strictly physical aspects as “given” and as humanly-modified, and in its rather more cultural forms–arts, agriculture, sciences, in their most extened developments.

        For at least the past four centuries, in particular, with ever-increasing pace and force, the socio-cultural trends have been dominated and for all practical purposes, determined by the positive and negative happenstance of non-natural human-induced technological developments–which remain today for better or worse (and seemingly mainly for worse) the all-decisive factors in our prospects for survival as a species.

        1. jake chase

          Agreed. About the only thing an individual can do opt out. Of course this isn’t easy, entails costs, etc. For most the prevailing fantasy is that things continue to get better, although at least for the last forty years they have steadily gotten worse for non-elites. Never underestimate propaganda, particularly the feel good kind.

          1. proximity1

            You’re right, it isn’t easy to resist–and not least because the things which reinforce our daze are absolutely ever-present, in all media, in all commerce, in almost everything we do, everywhere we go.

            But there are things which people can do to resist and they are not insignificant.

            Perhaps above all are two things, applied in tandem. First is to develop a habit of mindfulness. This, in order to better recognize what is happening around us and being done to us. That means practicing being alert and aware, not allowing ourselves to fall into passively listening to, watching, the media’s assualting messages. A great aid in that is to take every opportunity to turn off mass-communications –television, which we should simply eliminate from our lives is a major part. As for radio, we should refuse to listen passively.

            In reading, on which we should spend all our TV-time and much of all other mass-media time, we should filter out commercial stuff; read books sooner than magazines or newspapers. Remain as much as possible on the “high end” of the reading spectrum. Literature, not trash novels. History, biography and essays which require of us some intellectual effort and return for that effort an enrichment.

            We should develop and promote greater and better habits of curiosity, ask (ourselves and others) probing questions. Refuse to accept the first and easiest course that presents itself –in whatever respect this may occur.

            We should be deliberate in seeking and taking more time about what we do, how we spend and occupy our time. If there is no art, no literature, agriculture, no social action, in our lives, it is because we’ve allowed ourselves to drop these things and the time that might have been given to them.

            When, where, and how we shop, travel, communicate and simply live our daily lives.

            We can and should make our utmost effort to keep our critical faculties sharp and to do this we must exercise them and take up the challenging everywhere rather than turn aside from it. In this, we can make our first effort that of re-examining ourselves, our habits of thinking and of living and ask ourselves:

            How do I contirbute, even in small ways, to a status quo which is deadly and destructive to life and to imagination? What can I do to elimintate these as much as possible and, where not possible, to minimize them?

            We can and should become what Neil Postman describes in the final chapter of his work, Technopoly “loving resistance fighters”. He sets out there a list, incomplete but a great start, of things, habits, we may all adopt even in the midst of a system which is pervasive and insidious.

            Take up that book, Technopoly, by Neil Postman and read it. It’s a wonderful step toward changing one’s way of thinking and seeing.

            You can begin now, right here, by reading short citations I’ve taken the time to post at this site–and, from them, get a taste of what this book has to offer.

            scroll down, mid-page, to the “Quotations” area.

            See also, related recommended reading (some of which I’ve proposed.)

            http://www.librarything.com/work/46821

            Then, you can join others in spreading and popularizing alternative ways to think and behave.

    2. James

      Elites are like the societies they’re a part of: they grow, they prosper, they thrive, they plateau, they decline, and if they hold on to long, they collapse.

      We’ll always have elites, at least relatively speaking. The question is: why do they have top be so *DAMN* elite. Few begrudge a social order of some sort where the rich are better off than the worst. But it seems to be hardwired into the human consciousness to resist and eventually overthrow individuals or systems that promote extreme wealth differentials. And few elites who fall under the spell of such circumstances seem to be able to resist carrying such advantages to their logical extreme conclusions.

      Ultimately, what can today’s elites possibly aspire to do with a population of billions of redundant people, especially once the resources start to run out? Elimination by all the usual means is the only logical answer. Many would conclude such as I, that said elimination cycle has already begun. Third world first of course, but those of relative privilege (if you live in the US you are by definition a person of privilege, whether you realize it or not) will get theirs in due time as well.

      1. jake chase

        Typically, they don’t want to eliminate redundant people; they want to milk them commercially and never have to notice them except when they show up as workers or in the sales figures. They are supposed to be satisfied with the freedom to make their own way, but without access to land except on usurious terms. Henry George was probably right about the problem, and about the solution.

    3. George

      “Iron Law of Bureaucracies” : every individual in the institution would rather the institution fail than the individual fail within it.

      That is one of several dynamics I know of, all of which take down complex systems administered by humans-as-they-are, rather than Progressive’s idealized human.

      The other that comes to mind at the moment :

      Voting and other behaviors : people act to support their Net Present Value of government until that becomes zero and reform can happen.

    4. Nathanael

      “Elites _do_ seen irresponsible as a norm historically. It’s difficult to pin down exactly why. ”

      Veblen spent most of his entire working life trying to explain why.

  6. Ruben

    Athens, on the other hand, does look distressed. I was there and the surrounding coastal areas recently and there were lots of destitute people, deteriorated facades, broken streets, unatended green areas, decaying buildings downtown. I was in Spain recently too. It is still holding on, especially the Basque country, whereas Madrid looks generally a bit decaying. In Madrid I saw prostitutes offering their services from early in the morning on a working day in the middle of the center. Never seen that, not even in Latin America.

    1. Robert Dudek

      In Madrid I saw prostitutes offering their services from early in the morning on a working day in the middle of the center. Never seen that, not even in Latin America.

      I saw that in Havana.

  7. mitchw

    My cousin in Germany visited the States for a tour this winter, and his lack of concern was an eye opener. A violinist and commie, he lives at the pinnacle in his field, but in my gentle questioning it seemed he didn’t quite get the dangers or the govt supports which keep the whole show going. A weird conversation was had by all.

    1. rotter

      well if hes a “commie” then “govt supports” wouldnt automatically be seen as a “danger”..Maybe he understood you perfectly and was just too polite to laugh.

  8. Jon

    Sadly, it’s not just the elites who are disconnected. I’m pretty much the definition of middle class, live in the middle of a red state, and can assure you that many of the conservatives who surround me are quite detached from the realities of anyone not like them. Rich people earn every penny they have, poor people need to make better choices, and the occupy movement is a bunch of kids who are mad because no one will pay them $90k per year fresh out of college, so they live at home and gripe. I shudder to think what 50 more years of conservative media will do to this country.

    1. proximity1

      You make a very important point. Those we refer to as the “elite” –and they are– depend on and receive the indispensable assistance of millions of people who cannot by any reasonable definition be described as fellows of the elite.

      But this happens and it happens by design, very reliable design. The process involves very elaborate socialization in which all features of our techno-entertainment society–at work, at school, at home and in commerce–play essential parts in forming a public which very early is led to “see” and “think” according to habits which perpetuate the social disorder.

      Radio, Television, film, and internet–all mass-communications– are very big and very important factors in the picture.

      1. James

        Excellent points. You see it more than ever in the youth these days who have been immersed in an ever increasingly sophisticated and pervasive media culture from day one. Most that I deal with look at you as a raging lunatic if you’re not absolutely up to speed on all the latest media generated cultural developments, never mind if you actively disavow such goings on as vapid hyperbole and a blatant attempt at mind control.

    2. Lune

      Agreed. It’s not the elites’ views that I find puzzling: they’re just looking out for their own self interest. I’m amazed by the middle and lower class Americans who vigorously share the same views.

      In the end, every elite group in history understands that their power rests on very shaky grounds. If the 99% wish to overthrow them, they can do so quite easily, whether through peaceful or violent means. The elites depend on keeping the 99% distracted, either with bread and circus, or by fanning internal divisions. In America, both methods are alive and well.

      1. Nathanael

        Actually, I think you severely overestimate the elites’ *comprehension* of history.

        Those who do comprehend history — the Augustuses — provide bread as well as circuses. Those who do not comprehend it… well, there are plenty of Louis XVIs and Tsar Nicholases whose bodies litter history.

    3. Lune

      Oh, almost forgot, let me translate your conservative neighbors’ viewpoints so you can better understand what they’re really saying:

      “Rich people earn every penny they have” = rich people are white like me, so they deserve every penny they have, just like me.

      “poor people need to make better choices,” = poor people are black / hispanic / (minority of choice) who are just sucking this country dry with their 10 babies and cadillacs bought on welfare.

      “Kids in college” = (if your neighbors are working class conservatives) spoiled rich kids who studied useless liberal majors like multicultural studies or feminism.

      “occupy movement” = dirty hippies.

      Notice how economic issues get recast to take advantage of pre-existing social divisions? Welcome to divide-and-conquer 101 :-)

    4. F. Beard

      “Rich people earn every penny they have, … “ Jon

      With stolen purchasing power via loans from the counterfeiting cartel, the banking system?

  9. Schofield

    Considering the large number of Americans who go to church very few appear to understand the central message of Christianity to think hard about how you balance ego-centric with moral-centric behavior. It seems for many going to church is largely about other things enjoying the sense of community, feeling virtuous and adding for a good attendance record the all-important bolt-on to your funeral package arrangements namely a deluxe life-after-death extension in Heaven. Working out what the best behavior balance is for particular circumstances using democracy is anathema for many right-leaning Christians since this will involve consorting with the Devil in the shape of government by the People!

    1. proximity1

      Hardly.

      “Christianity” became co-opted and made “empire-friendly” at least as long ago as imperial Rome; then, as if reinforcement were needed–and maybe it was thought to be–Jean Calvin made wordly-prosperity the very hallmark of divine recognition and from it there came the “Protestant Ehtic in the Spirit of Capitalism,” as Weber put it.

      Today those pious 16th-century protestant merchants take the form of the congregation in mega-churches of the burgeoning tele-evangelist fortunes.

      Let us Prey.

  10. jsmith

    Barring the fact that they are sociopathic monsters, the elite also seem to live a life of contradiction in that while thinking that they reside at the apex of humanity they feel no compunction about NOT helping the rest of humanity live better.

    Why is this a contradiction?

    Unlike in all the tales of superheroes and classical myths of old in which god-like persons actuallly use their talents, powers and skills to protect and nurture humanity, the elite will only do so once “theirs” is entirely secure.

    Our elite who very much consider themselves heroes, champions, god-like and all the rest, completely lack said character traits of the archetypal demigods.

    If helping/protecting humanity endangers – in even the slightest of ways – their wealth/status, the help/protection for humanity never comes.

    This phenomenon is only helped by the elite scouting out the greatest minds/talents from a young age and then filling their minds with the malignant worldview by which they are currently destroying the planet.

    Thus, from the get-go the greatest minds and persons are blinded to the truly monstrous nature of the societal echelons to which their talents and powers are being put to use.

    In this current age of rampant greed, murder and theft, is the answer as simple as not “being all that you can be?”

    Is it really as easy as telling your children to NOT reach for the heights as the heights are only inhabited by monsters that parade around looking human?

    Can we save humanity just by fostering the mindset that being famous and/or rich is really nothing more than the hallmark of being either one of the elite monsters or one of their tools?

    I don’t know but it might be worth a shot in telling people to “turn off, tune out, drop out”?

    Don’t destroy your minds/souls in raging against the machine through addiction.

    But also:

    Don’t destroy your minds/souls in being accepted by the machine for their purposes.

    Instead, set goals for your life that don’t mean anything to anybody but yourself, goals that aren’t marketable, produce a profit, make things more efficient, etc.

    Don’t help the monsters continue to destroy humanity.

  11. steelhead23

    There is a certain facade to all of modern life. We avoid entering slums, yet we know they exist. I recall as a child that while visiting southern Louisiana my mother tried to insulate us from all signs of poverty, and yes, she often correlated poverty (and its attendant blackness) to evil, as if those who harvested sugar cane for her father’s sugar factory were unfit to be seen. Elitism was alive and well among upper middle class whites in southern Louisiana in the 50s.

    My point is that the elite’s abstraction of real life is intentional. To see poverty open’s the possibility of empathy – and empathizing with those less well off than oneself can be disturbing. It is far better to hobnob with one’s peers in the Hamptons, where one can feel poor among those even richer.

  12. TK421

    Some people would say that elites need to be forced to see suffering, that people feeling economic pain need to share their pain with the people causing it. For instance, don’t camp out in Zuccotti Park, camp out in front of Bloomberg’s house.

  13. IsabelPS

    It might seem beside the point, but according to Google Earth Lisbon is some 440km from the Strait of Gibraltar as the crow flies. The Portuguese hate to be called Mediterranean. Their Mare Nostrum is the Atlantic…

  14. dcblogger

    If you are a member of the policy or chattering classes in these cities, and have inured yourself to the wasteland you can see from the window of the Acela when you trek between these cities, the dire conditions facing many American families are an abstraction.

    Not in Washington, DC. Lafayette Park, right in front of the White House, has been a hang out for the local homeless population ever since the Reagan administration. Likewise Franklin Park, right off of K Street, and the large park around the Capitol. The most destitute and wretched of American society are right under the noses of the American Political elite. They have trained themselves to look right past them as if they were invisible. With tragic policy consequences.

  15. Eric377

    In which part of Lisbon are there houses on the Mediterranean? I’ve been there many times and somehow missed these.

  16. Susan the other

    The elite are isolated? I think we should start a dialog about some new house rules. Let’s start with dinner. Everybody has to be there on Sunday night. It can be pot luck or neighborhoods take turns. The elite can treat everybody with fois g ras and caviar. The urban hippies can bring organic produce dishes to die for. Cubans and Central Americans can bring their delicious stews and soups. The country that eats together stays together.

    I don’t think this will work if it’s appropriated by the ad industry and turned into just a reality show. Every town has a city park; every big city township. New York can throw the biggest and best Sunday dinners in the world. Every city council could help set it up. It would not only bring people out of the woodwork and together in an unthreatening way, much like tourism, it would give some people at least one square meal a week. But above all it would give everyone the realization that all people are happy, tough, infinitely resourceful and constructive. If they are not exploited.

  17. Enraged

    “I managed to restrain myself when I heard references to slovenly Greeks or how if people wanted to stay out of prison, they needed to quit breaking the law.”

    Well, even if you don’t agree, they have a point. As an example, half the houses in Greece are under construction, from January 1st until December 31, year after year. You can return as many times as you want: the house is never finished. People live in it but… the windows are missing. Or you find big, wooden crates in lieu of door. Know why? Inside walls are missing. The bathroom is an outdoor hothouse because no one installed the sink and the tub upstairs. The Greek real estate tax code states that, as long as a house is under construction, people don’t have to pay taxes. So, the house is never finished. Ever. It’s interesting to look at. You get used to it. Can’t blame the Greeks: it is their tax code and no one every looked into the loss of revenue for the country. They deal with the situation as best they can. Wouldn’t we here? We don’t even have to find falty areas of law: we create them. We actively circumvent existing laws. Robot-signing is a good exemple. It is fraud, it is expressly against the law. Yet no one goes to jail over it and judges continue to give banks what they want.

    And true, if people want to stay out of prison, they need to quit breaking the laws. It is true for anyone there. The president (right Chirac?) Only reason he is out is his old age. He was tried and found guilty, though. And he is not in the public eye anymore. Unlike Abramoff. Or Keating. Sarkozy will have to do a few years… the bankers, the representatives, everyone goes to jail when he deserves it.

    Here, the most egregious the conduct and the greater the reward. Ask Jerry Springer, the Kardashian, Newt Gingrich, Jamie Dimon and Stumpf…

    But it is true too that, in those countries, you may be poor. You do not have to look poor. Spain was very poor 40 years ago. Yet, madrid was always one the most beautiful and cleanest cities in the world. Lisbon was very, very poor for centuries (eversince losing its colonial empire). Yet, the dignity and pride of the Portugese is legendary. Other countries, other values. But because they have a common history, they won’t split. they will pull through and they will survive.

    Can’t say that about us…

    1. Eric377

      More typical is leaving rebar extending from the vertical structure on the top floor. This is for the final floor which is never going to be added. From my apartment in Anno (Upper) Glyfada you could see such a rebar forest extending down to Glyfada proper. But there still are taxes to pay of a sort, as I heard from folks I considered reliable that somewhat irregular payments were still made to get services connected without interminable delays. There seemed to be no absolutely free lunch, even in Greece.

  18. shtove

    I was talking to an English debt lawyer the other day. He sees alot of the distress that goes unreported in the UK, and we often discuss what’s going on at the coal face.

    Anyway, he just returned from a holiday in north California, and we were exchanging views on the American experience. People very polite, huge travel distances etc.

    Then he said, “I couldn’t believe the amount of homeless people in San Francisco – great city, but that was a bit odd.” I made the same observation when I lived in Manhattan in the late ’80s.

    Point is that the US and Europe are very different. Plus personal observation really jars with media coverage.

    1. Enraged

      In the late 80s, right after the “Massachusetts miracle”, the state elected Bill Weld, a down to earth republican who realized that Dukakis had overspent to such an extent that there was no way out but cut, cut, cut. Overnight and in the midst of Winter, we saw thousands of homeless roaming the streets of Boston. A few psych hospitals had been closed as well. Shelters had been closed. It was a terrible sight. And some of those homeless were dangerous. No meds, no social infrastructures and no room in jail. It killed downtown in a jiffy!

      Eventually, the homeless (called “transients” in Boston’s jargon) moved west, to CA and AZ. They didn’t get much more help but misery is always easier to stand in the sun.

      Europe has known for centuries that a country’s greatest assets are its people. And when they don’t have the minimum to live on, they can become its greatest liability. Ask Marie-Antoinette…

      America has gone through similar crises but, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to want to learn. We had since 2008 to fix the situation. No one had the vision, the guts or the insight to do it. And America has much pressing issues to resolve: gay marriage, contraception, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, etc. things that really impact people’s weelbeing on a grand scale, right?

      If we put all our efforts in regulating what people do in their boxers shorts, the whole thing ends up in the toilet. Some kind of a “Live by the sword, perish by the sword” version of Karma.

  19. MarcoPolo

    For the same reason and in the same way that women’s makeup is recession resistant the economic stresses aren’t at first apparent even to those of us who feel we know the place well.  The fact that the shops are not shuttered masks the fact that they are past due to their suppliers, on their rent, and on their payrolls. People who are lucky enough to be employed are constantly checking their phones to see if their check has been credited.   Extend and pretend brought to a new level.  The tell is the lack of traffic – in the shops, the highways, the bars (people still go out but they don’t spend).  The waiter may tell you business is normal, but won’t tell you he hasn’t been paid (unless you knew to ask).   Not very observable to outsiders.  And outside the cities it’s awful. 

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