Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Communistic States of America?

The other day I watched Australian born comedian, Jim Jefferies, doing some stand-up shtick. 

Jefferies joked and talked about the U.S., mentioning that although this country is ranked about 27th in the world in terms of education (literacy, math and science), it is still ranked #1 in confidence.  Now, let’s think about that for a minute… wouldn’t it perhaps be better the other way around?

A little humility can sometimes go a long way to make up for stupidity.  I know this from personal experience.  I’ve also tried both, and humbleness trumps stupidity almost every time!

I currently live and work in San Francisco, but my home is in Florida.  On Saturday, July 6, I am going to see Jim Jefferies live at Cobb's.  Once again - I'm sure - he will get me thinking and laughing all at the same time with his hilarious thoughtful insults, and psychological body blows! 

During the last five years, I have lived and worked in Toronto Canada, and four U.S. States: CA, CT, NJ and FL.  I probably therefore have at least a little standing when it comes to global mobility; especially as related to general work and play.
Top L to R, clockwise: Prague Castle, Prague street scene, Budapest street scene, Budapest city view down the Danube
Last week I returned from a trip that included a visit to some Eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic, formerly known as Czechoslovakia.  For 41 years following the 1946 elections this country was under communist rule.  This extended period was characterized by lagging behind the West in almost every aspect of social and economic development.

I also visited Hungary.  Following the fall of Nazi Germany, Soviet troops occupied all of the country, and Hungary gradually became a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union. It was a communist state from 1947-1989.

Given the information above, one would automatically assume that these two countries mentioned immediately above are somewhat ‘backward’, can perhaps be viewed as developing nations, etc.  This would be entirely correct, subject to one’s benchmark or measurement in this regard.  To support this hypothesis, I can offer that the average annual wage is around US$ 20,000.  That’s about 1/3 of the wage of a sanitation worker in New York City, just for some perspective. 

For better perspective then, a sanitation worker (or garbage man) in NYC may be ranked about equal (or below) the level of education of the people from these recently converted communist countries.  But, Mr. U.S. sanitation worker would be way more confident, as described above. Yes, it's a generalization, but I'm sure you get the point I'm trying to make.  

 Is artificial U.S. confidence still justified… or, was it ever?

The Eastern European countries – in addition to the stunning architecture, charm and character of hundreds or thousands of years of history – are actually not only on par, but perhaps even ahead of the U.S., in some general terms.

The technological automation and general cleanliness of Prague, and especially Budapest, easily trumps the crumbling infrastructure and visual dereliction that can be observed in San Francisco, for example.

The latter features rampant homelessness complemented by all its related social ills, miserable - but highly compensated - toll booth operators, ‘rapid transit’ desperately in need of an upgrade, etc.  This despite a recently announced $7.9 billion city budget – arguably a high cost for running a small city with less than 1 million inhabitants!

Comparatively, the two ex-communist cities are clean, feature modern trams, technology far more advanced than what can be found in most U.S. states or cities (e.g. bank machines featuring 5 or more languages, electronic toll vignettes that displace people and transponders, etc.).

Visiting these Eastern European cities was an eye-opener for a city slicker from Silicon Valley!

Has the U.S. slowly lost its edge… or are we about to witness the greatest macro-economical comeback story in history?  I sure hope it will be the latter!