Home and online after two weeks in Europe. Family vacation for the most part, but talked a little politics with friends in Denmark, Germany, France and England.
My friends there say there is little anti-Americanism, but plenty of anti-Bush sentiment. You and I are OK, but they don’t think much of Dubya and Dick.
The most interesting observations were in Britain (because I could actually read the local newspapers), where problems reflect those we have here: higher real estate taxes due to cutbacks in national spending, gang problems (called yobbing there) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (called “B-LIAR” by his harshest critics) under the gun from a new report criticizing intelligence failures.
Blair was unscathed by the so-called Blair Report, helped in part by the Tories pulling a Kerry. The party’s leader Michael Howard, who had supported the war, now say he wouldn’t have if he knew the intelligence was bad.
In advance of elections scheduled for next year, Blair, from the Labor Party, is touting conservatives credentials by calling for a cracked down on crime and blaming today’s permissive society on the culture of the 60s. (Unfortunately, some British newspapers require subscription for back issues, so I don’t have links to all the specific articles I read.) One suggestion by a national task force was to ask neighbors who there most troublesome neighbors who would then be targeted by authorities. When my 15-year old son heard about it, his comment was, “Sounds like 1984.” I’ll second that.
Though the undergrounds and subways are better than anything we have except probably in New York, traffic congestion is a problem, and in the U.K., they are proposing an expensive way of paying for it.
There’s row brewing over property taxes. As in the U.S., people are complaining about being taxed out of their homes.
Overall, the cost of living in London and the U.K. in general is much higher than I realized during previous trips to U.K. Rents in London are astronomically. And houses have appreciated substantially in the last few years. Food is high and with the dollar depressed, it’s an expensive vacation spot, but then so is the rest of Europe. The declining dollar is hurting U.S. tourism.
While I was in Europe, Siemens announced a new contract with its workers that called for an increase in the work week from 36 to 40 hours. Probably made the papers here, too. Other European companies are following suit.
Still, in talking to my friends, I sense they have it better than they would in the U.S. My Danish friends say they pay about 40% in taxes but for it get free health care and free higher education. In fact, they are paid a stipend to attend universities there. They said the minimum wage in Denmark – one that someone who leaves school at the minimum age of 16 and goes to work flipping burgers is the equivalent of $25 an hour. Costs are higher there, but my friends tell me minimum wage is a livable wage there.
In Germany, my friend tells me she pays about 500 euros a month for health care, but that the plan recently introduced a $10 maximum charge per quarter for doctor visits. She pays about $750 a month for a small flat in a beautiful old section of Essen called Kittwich.
My English friends say things are tighter there. Now making about 40,000 pounds a year and living in a small three bedroom townhouse in Bristol, they say they’re OK, but with two small children, 50,000 pounds a year (about $88,000) would put them in fine shape.
These fragments of information don’t really add up to much, but my overall impression is that these friends (all of who are in their late 20s or early 30s) suggest Europeans are comparing better against us than I’ve observed in the past. They’re giving up some benefits of their more socialist states, but overall, the disparity among the working class is less than it used to be.