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.