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Findings from America

July 23rd, 2003

I’m on my annual visit to America. Although I’m literally inside the Beltway as I type this, I might as well be back in Brisbane as far as contact with the centres of power are concerned. (Actually, except at the very top, most of the powerful seem to live outside the Beltway, and commute). So I’ll just give some general impressions of how my slice of America seems on this visit:

1. Friendly. I made good friends when I lived here nearly 15 years ago and have kept them. In my experience, America is a really friendly place. Of the Australian cities I’ve lived in, only Brisbane has been friendlier (YMMV).

2. Fat. Even on the shortest of visits the prevalence of severe obesity is striking. Australia is said to be catching up on this respect, but on my unscientific sample we’ve got a long way to go.

3. Philanthropic. Visiting the Washington Mall and the National Gallery of Art, it’s striking that the building and all the paintings in it were donated. And of course admission is free, all in striking contrast with Australia. As Tim Dunlop observed to me when we had lunch (in person!), philanthropy has its limitations. It’s much better at providing ‘club goods’ enjoyed by the relatively well off than it is at transferring resources between social classes. I may post more on this some time

4. Fading flush of prosperity. The effects of the big boom are still evident but are fading. Beggars had disappeared from the streets last time I visited, but are now coming back, though still in small numbers compared to the early 90s. At the University of Maryland, where I’m visiting, spending cuts of the kind familiar to Australian academics are being imposed for the first time in years, but buildings commissioned during the boom are still going up.

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  1. twh
    July 23rd, 2003 at 12:20 | #1

    Welcome to D.C. As I write this we are experiencing a Washington staple: the summer evening thunderstorm. Today’s edition isn’t very strong here in Arlington, but it will still save me from watering my new plants for a day or two.

    The boom may be fading, but housing prices continue to go up. In Arlington the average price has reached $493K, which is shocking given that the median household income in the county is only about $80k. Prices do drop off dramatically for homes more than 20 miles from the Beltway.

    Also, if you think we’re fat here, you should visit the heartland. I’m shocked when I visit rural Ohio where some of my relatives live.

    It would be interesting to see any inital reactions you have when you get back. Have fun in D.C.

  2. July 23rd, 2003 at 13:00 | #2

    donated art

    not enough Bilbaos to go round

    not enough corporate HQs in Hobart

    oh well

  3. Mork
    July 23rd, 2003 at 16:39 | #3

    The last time I visited D.C. was in spring, 2000 – the very last days of the bubble – but even then I was struck by how many vagrants there were compared to NYC.

    On philanthropy – there is also a ton of philanthropy in the U.S. in the areas of education and health, a lot of which either directly or indirectly benefits either lower income people or society generally.

  4. July 24th, 2003 at 07:06 | #4

    American friendliness depends on where in America you are. Up in New England, we’re proud of our unfriendliness (and quite disconcerted by southerners’ friendliness). When I was down under, I found Aussies to be at least as friendly as Americans.

  5. John
    July 24th, 2003 at 07:10 | #5

    Well, it is called New England, after all.

  6. July 24th, 2003 at 12:54 | #6

    And of course admission is free, all in striking contrast with Australia

    Actually entry to the Art Gallery of NSW is free. It’s just some of the exhibitions you have to pay for. There is, however, plenty of other rubbish to look at without having to fork over the cash, and just as well too cos if I had to pay to see some of the crap the AGNSW has, I’d be angry.

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