/Developing Countries Showing America Up

Developing Countries Showing America Up


A cynical school of thought holds that one reason America makes borders so unpleasant is to deter US citizens from traveling so as to preserve our sense of exceptionalism in the face of countervailing evidence. For instance, one colleague, a former city planner, came back from a vacation in the south of France and raved about how terrific the roads were. The Gilet Janues would assure him that in rural areas, they were neglected, but my contact’s point was that even in affluent parts of the US, you couldn’t find ones on a par with the ones he drove on his holiday. And I suspect that even the roads that are impediments to safe, fast driving in the depopulating parts of France are still better than those in Michigan.

But America is slipping even further. It used to be that it would come up short in infrastructure and social well being indicators compared to most European countries. We now have readers who are looking at what they see in the better parts of the developing world and are finding America coming up short.

Costa Rica has admittedly long been depicted as the Switzerland of Central America. It has become more and more popular with expats for at least the last 15 years. I visited there briefly on a client project in 1997. While the downtown section of San José looked worn, even there, the people on the street were neatly if modestly dressed. And when you went out to the suburbs, the country looked comfortable to prosperous, and it seemed as if citizens made an effort to keep their neighborhoods well kept, even in non-tourist sections. Oh, and the food was terrific, particularly the fish.

A more recent sighting from Eureka Springs:

Just returned from deep southern rural Costa Rica to rural N.W. Arkansas. Peace and quiet almost everywhere I go now. Unless it’s my own noise (music) which could not bother another.

The entire trip was quite the reminder of just how third world we the peeps are nowadays.

Internet was so much better there. No satellite dishes, except as modifications to them for use as roadside trash receptacles. Still no rural wired net in the U.S.. Cell signals were strong everywhere, yet I never saw people glued to a phone.

Public trans, brand new buses all up and down the countryside. Even many miles down dirt roads. Fantastic bus stops. No such thing as public transit in rural U.S.

A lot of people drive efficient 150cc motorcycles. The large bus stops seem intentionally oversized by design to co-serve as a place to pull under during rain. How civilized.

Grocery stores with real food everywhere. No chain stores best I can tell. Unless in larger cities. And a shockingly smaller amount of trash packaging. I would say for the same amount of weekly grocery consumption I generate at least three if not five times more trash in the U.S. Seemingly every few hundred people, never more than a mile, usually much less, have a store with produce and meats. I’m seven miles from a dollar store, two more miles to actual groceries. About the same population density in both places.

And then there is health care for all vs give me all you got, we don’t give a fk.

Don’t know but would wager their water tests much better across the board as well. Nobody consumes plastic water bottles. Even very remote beaches had little shards of plastic all along the water line though. No escaping it.

Schools did not look like prison at all. Kids were kids, with cookie stands, a work ethic, bicycles, laughter, no apparent phones, lots of soccer, some dirt on their fingers and toes. And laughter.

Poor to middle working class people did not look miserable, unhealthy, guarded and or afraid.

The chickens, dogs and cats were abundant though not overly so, well fed, healthy, roaming free.

Police were calm, not dressed to kill with body language fitting the peace officer description. CR has no military.

We have a choice and we are making so many bad ones. I feel like so many of my fellow US citizens don’t get this fact. And it’s a shortcoming of Sanders types by failing to paint this vision/picture. Even they are trapped in the downward spiral, knowing no other way from experience.

And Expat2uruguay seems to have adapted well to her big relocation. Ironically her big lament seems to be the cuisine isn’t terribly inspired and fish is hard to come by, but other advantages of living there seem to more than make up for it. From a recent report:

Since relocating to Uruguay I was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer. There was no bill whatsoever for the surgery. The entire cost of my entire treatment, including my monthly membership fee of $60 a month, was under $2,700.

That total includes 16 months of the monthly fee and all of my treatments, including six months of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of daily radiation, co-pays for medications and tests, $7 co-pays for doctor visits, and additional testing and consultation for heart damage caused by the chemotherapy. I also had a couple of problems during the chemotherapy that required visits to the emergency room, a four day hospital stay because of ultra-low defenses, and consultation in my home a couple times. They did a really good job, and they’re very good at cancer treatment here.

But the very best thing about Uruguay is the peacefulness, the tranquility, the laid-back approach to life. My stress levels are way down from when I lived in the US.

Several factors are likely at work. One is, as we’ve pointed out from the very outset of this site, that unequal societies are unhappy and unhealthy societies. Even those at the top pay a longevity cost due to having shallower social networks, having a nagging awareness that most if not all of their supposed friends would dump them if they took a serious income hit (can’t mix with the same crowd if you can’t fly private class, can’t support the right charities, can’t throw posh parties) and having to think about or even building panic rooms.

Another is the precarity even at high but below top 1% levels: job insecurity, the difficulty of getting kids into good colleges and then paying for it when they do, along with attempting to save enough for retirement. Even with steering clear of costly divorces and medical emergencies, the supposed basics of a middle or upper middle income lifestyle add up in light of escalating medical, education, and housing costs. And then some feel they are entitled to or need to give their kids perks in line with their self image of their status, like fancy vacations.

And we don’t need to elaborate on how hard it is for people who are struggling to get by. But it’s not hard to see that the status and sometimes money anxiety at the top too readily translates into abuses of those further down the food chain to buck up their faltering sense of power and self worth. Anglo-style capitalism is often mean-spirited and that tendency seems particularly strong now.

Specifically, which developing countries that readers know well give the US a lifestyle run for the money? And I don’t mean for for US expats bearing strong dollars but for ordinary people. And where do they fall short?

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