Friday, December 5, 2008

La Dolce Vita

Suppose you wanted to be a pharmacist when you grew up and you had the misfortune to grow up in Europe somewhere, let's say Italy. You'd go through school paid for by the government on a promise that you'd get a pension and no charge for the schooling if you worked until you were 66 (men) 62 (women) though as budgets shrink those numbers are subject to change. You have your degree and you complete an apprenticeship period in a pharmacy and you get the position because your father knows the pharmacist that owns the shop. Suppose you then want to open your own pharmacy, like all good ambitious young people are wont to do. The thing is the government won't give you a license because all the pharmacy licenses planned for your community are full. It doesn't matter if you see an opening or believe you can undercut an inefficient operation already on the ground. The government has planned X number of pharmacies for your area and they are taken. That's that.
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To an American that sounds crazy, but welcome to the world of social democracy Western Europe style. I kid you not, the land where central planning rules. It used to be a bit looser but even when the seminal French Revolution hit the streets central planning was the objective. The French Republic has always been about the state, with the people, in liberty, fraternity and equality, working together to benefit the central government which then takes care that no one falls off the apple cart. The American Revolution was also about liberty etc... bit it posited a system of free will and minimal central government to allow individuals to grow as they saw fit. The American system took a hit with the Great Depression when actual live suffering swept the land and regulations were laid down to prevent such catastrophes re-occurring. The French system got a nice reinforcement when World War Two brought catastrophe to France thanks to the weakness of government and the central planning and firm direction of France's perennial enemy Germany.
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After World war Two Western Europe, a smoking ruin was rebuilt thanks to central planning and introduced cradle-to-grave welfare to prevent a repetition of such horrible suffering in any one's lifetime. In the US cheap abundant oil and a n industrial base untouched by war time bombing created wealth aplenty for everyone carefully regulated by the New Deal still in force.
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The youth revolutions of 1968 created a demand for freedom in Europe that went largely unanswered so the War leaders were slowly discarded while in the US the civil rights riots slowly forced an unwilling and wealthy white population to yield. But the Depression was a long way behind us and people had forgotten starvation and catastrophe and the Reagan/Thatcher combo came to power and respectively dismantled the New Deal and the Inheritance structure of their countries. And so the house of cards grew in an atmosphere of fake wealth and the Ponzi scheme of useless regulation and no oversight. And now, here we are.
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I have long held the opinion that short historical memories are what caused Americans to embrace Reaganism, a theory of economic freedom that would only work in limited fashion if overseen by tight government oversight. Instead the mantra that "government is bad and big government is worse" has brought about a catastrophe that is going to equal that of the Great Depression. On top of the conomic failures we have climate change still underway and the low cost of oil is likely to shrivel up the search for alternatives. If petroleum is being sold at $45 a barrel how can solar wind and geothermal compete? Will they need to? Will total economic collapse postpone climate change? I hope not because I don't want to suffer that much, thanks.
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You know we have reached the end of the economic rope when the health insurance companies in the US are proposing their own national insurance scheme incorporating all those features that we have demanded for so long and have been stymied by them. My wife had wrist surgery last year brought about by the deterioration her rheumatoid arthritis. She has excellent health insurance through the school district yet our share of her bill was almost $7,000. And we still get paperwork and bills and and questionnaires a year later. My step mother died in England a decade ago of throat cancer after a lifetime smoking. She had her jaw surgically removed and when that failed she had round-the-clock home nursing and home visits by her doctor to administer pain medication until she died. Not only was there no cost, there was NO paperwork. So, as you stare into the abyss of economic destruction, which way do you want to go? Central planning or free market economics? Low taxes or VAT?

Schippens Lane

There is something very fetching about the fact that the city of Key West hires sign writers who can't spell. I always get a grin out of Galvaston Lane, and Carsten is in the singular at one end and in the genitive (or plural for all I know) at the other end of its lane. Schippens Lane is to be found off Fleming Street near Margaret and even though city sign writers disagree with me over the placement of the vowels I'm pretty sure the sign has it wrong:And on the subject of signs there is this, which hardly seems necessary considering the width of this particular lane. However...It wasn't really parked as the owner was doing clean up work and the truck was actually just waiting, or standing or something. Schippens is tiny and ends ignominiously in a gate and a dead end:Ignominiously I say because I wanted more, some mysterious curves or corners, an extension of the half block of canyon land that is Schippens:That last is I think the backside (so to speak) of the Island House for Men, a raucous place by reputation whose entrance I have never sullied being as I am rather uninterested in the goings on among more or less clad men of my gender. On the other hand Schippens was quiet and peaceful that afternoon as a tiny Key West alley should be. Schippens (or Scheppins for those more pedantic than myself) is short straight and mysterious for all that. It offers glimpses through the trees and around the corners of the massive buildings that dominate it:I look for signs of Art or something offbeat when I take photos in these lanes but in this case I was pretty much stymied. This was the best I could do. A tropical egg on a knife edge (and I didn't pose it):So by way of compensation I have appended two views of Fleming Street, outside the lane, one looking east towards Margaret Street:And the old sponge warehouse on the left which merits a photo of its own. And to the west, towards the setting sun and the library:Key West really is quite lovely and these daylight hours foreshortened by winter give us an opportunity to enjoy the effects of the lowering sun on it all.