I am back from my Northern European sojourn (at least I am — my luggage is a different story). It was an interesting trip, and I plan on taking all of my notes and cobbling together something coherent out of them.
In the meantime, a few observations regarding the macro circumstances.
• I was amazed at the impact of US culture everywhere, but especially Russia: TV, movies, music, fastfood — knew it was here, but it was much larger than I expected.
• In each of the 4 countries I visited — Russia, Finland, Germany, Denmark — they think US taxes are incredibly cheap.
• My proprietary CDEM — Cab Driver Economic Monitor — noted that the economy is generally slowing, and is softer than 1-2 years ago, but much better than the crisis period.
• White Nights, with the sun setting after midnight and rising a couple of hours later — is very disorienting.
• Each European nation is so very different that it is hard to see how the populace would ever agree to a political union (like the US) as opposed to a mere monetary union with a single mandate of Price Stability.
• Tax complaints are universal: July 17th is when they start working for themselves — the first 6 and half months goes to their tax receivers, as they run about 55% taxes (plus a VAT).
• However, there is a general satisfaction with the broad social net even as they complain about high taxes. In a conversation with a Finn in Helsinki, I was told — “If you lower my taxes but I have to pay for school, health insurance and retirement, how am I better off?”
• Europeans seem much more informed about the specifics of current affairs, and can discuss politics without degenerating into a partisan squall.
• The infrastructure is decades ahead of our big cities — massive public transportation, airports, public rest rooms, cleanliness, public parks, statues, fountains, art, even information booths — it all is very impressive to a first time visitor to these countries (I had been in Berlin prior)
• The history of the Russian people is one of misery and death. Tsars, wars, communism, more wars, now crime lords. Has any nation’s population been fucked over more than them?
• We may have been the only Americans on the flight back — the plane was filled with Germans, Danes, Swedes and Finns heading off to summer holiday — some to Vegas and California, most to NYC. They have money to spend and the US is a big country that is relatively cheap (with no VAT tax).
• Nordic and Teutonic women are beautiful.
All told, it was a very interesting experience. The flight back was a bitch, but I find spending time in Europe is quite a fascinating compare & contrast to the US.
More on this later, including my thesis as to why Socialism is so natural in Europe and not the US . . .