A friend of mine in Spain travels often from Barcelona to the Priorat, a wine growing region about two hours from Barcelona. On two Saturdays he experienced the horror of someone leaping onto the tracks and committing suicide. Suicides are hitting the European countries that are subjecting their citizens to severe austerity measures. Even the American press has published articles on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/world/europe/increasingly-in-europe-suicides-by-economic-crisis.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Of course, reading about a suicide and witnessing one are worlds apart. The same way that from a distance we are viewing the debt crisis in Europe from the perspective of what the media wants us to see- the result of corrupt spending by lazy wastrels. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my years in Spain, I had longer work hours and higher quality jobs than I have had here. Not to mention the healthcare. Here I was recently quoted a health insurance plan from Cobra that was $200 a month with a $10,000 deductable. Insane! Another indicator of the cost of US healthcare was a price for eyedrops I was prescribed for conjunctivitis- $460. Needless to say, I didn’t get them.
What stands between workers in the United States and the Chinese economic model (no rights, no pensions, any work schedule up to 16 hours a day) ? Europe, of course. Europe has a social safety net and workers’ rights but these are being threatened. We are fed the propaganda that the European worker is bloated by those social benefits. Universal health care, reasonably priced higher education, and pension plans are requirements for a society, not luxuries as we are being led to believe. Meanwhile, public workers in Spain are taking large pay cuts and we’re not talking about high level politicians, but teachers and office workers (some of whom earn the equivalent of 1000 euros a month which would be about 1300 dollars). That would be below poverty level here. These are the people bearing the cost of the housing and banking scams that originated on Wall Street and spread throughout the world.
The consumption that identifies life in the US is not present to such a degree in Europe. Though there is wealth in Western Europe, it is never as conspicuous or as obscene as it is in America. Sometimes I feel like I’m witnessing the decadence of the last years of the Roman Empire. Turn on reality TV and be prepared to be disgusted as the “wealthy” bicker and consume. You’ll see them rent $20,000 a month apartments in New York or take private jets to Morocco. In the Sunday section of the NY Times there was an article called, “Bridal Hunger Games” describing a woman who spent 4 days on a feeding tube so she could fit into her wedding dress. Decadent or what? http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/fashion/weddings/Losing-Weight-in-Time-for-the-Wedding.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
And, my tax rate is higher than Mitt Rommey’s.