Seattle, America’s Europe

Seattle, America’s Europe?

Tibor R. Machan

On a recent trip to Seattle, which I visit on and off quite a lot, I found the place to have just the kind of feel I have experienced in Stockholm and Oslo and in cities, big and small, throughout Austria and Switzerland.

The main places in the city are very clean, with a lot of public facilities spic-and-span that few in fact seem to use. It is the kind of place that appears to be ruled by people with taste and class, at the expense of everyone who lives there as well as outside the central regions. And of course green rules, except that the city seems to have a greater percentage of cigarette smokers than any other I have visited recently, including New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and even New Orleans. (Maybe it has to do with how a good smoke goes hand and hand with a fine, dark cup of coffee, such as is sold in zillions of Seattle’s coffee shops.)

It is not unlike Switzerland and many other places throughout Europe, where the trains run exactly on time but are not actually occupied very much now (since people seem to prefer using private cars on roadways they know they can leave when it suits them so as to take minor or major detours, do a bit of shopping, visit grandma, etc., that cannot be done while using public transportation).

It doesn’t appear that there is much fuss about being taxed to fund all the public facilities, apart from the broad concerns about governments going broke everywhere, borrowing billions from future generations the members of which aren’t casting votes about how the money they will be forced to give up is spent.

I was especially struck by how similar the towns look, on the way to or from the airport on the train route, to ones in such places as Hamburg and Amsterdam. (I rode the train at about 7 AM on a weekday and there were no passengers to speak up along for the ride.) Of course, I was looking at the homes and commercial facilities from the outside and do not have detailed data on what the various places of residence and business look like inside. (Often some areas that look run down to casual observers turn out to be extremely well kept on the inside, something I discovered on a visit to various Chicago suburbs a while ago.)

Anyone familiar with the phenomenon of the tragedy of the commons will very likely realize how it is evident throughout some of the most attractive places around the world–Santiago, Chile; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway and the rest. Because governments can always float bonds and finance the projects of their leaders with debt and money printed for them, there is rank and massive profligacy afoot in these places. Another reason this can go on is that in certain parts of the country, indeed the world, citizens are quite happy to assume debts they are not ever likely to be called upon to pay back. Shops, restaurants, hotels and such are nicely designed and built as a testimony to the good taste of the planners. Never mind that in time there will have to be some kind of adjustment so that those who come up with the services that make all this feasible can be compensated (so they can feed and clothe themselves). The resources for the time being come from tax revenues and borrowed funds, so few care much about the burdens created, the cost that must in the end be covered by the citizenry. Sure, there are always a few who speak out and protest the profligacy but too often they are regarded as party poopers, spoilers of the fun so many are looking forward to.

The fact that most of the expenditures are carried out on the backs of millions who do not live in the places that are being spiffied up so nicely, people who work in rural areas–in plants and factories, on docks and farms and other areas where the hard work that earns some real funds is being done–doesn’t bother the ambitious planners in whose minds these beautiful downtowns around the world, including in Seattle and other parts the beautiful people like so very much live, are conceived.

The dreamers basically think, “These are such nice ideas that it would be a shame not to make a try at implementing them, never mind the ultimate cost to millions who have to give up their own plans in consequence.” It is all in support of our communities, after all, right? And elites know best what is worth being built, right, never mind who must pay in the end, right? (Kind of like in contemporary Red China where so much of what is being displayed is aimed for the foreign visitor, mostly at the expense of the millions living rather poorly in the hinterlands.)

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