Playgrounds

Your landlord’s second hand storage or WHAT THE @#$% IS A GARAGE SALE?

“The Balkans produces more history furniture than it can locally consume use.”

-Winston Churchill.

The first apartment was socialist, dwarfing the living room was a massive couch, coated in half a century of cigarette smoke. The second apartment was inter-war, housing museum-like pieces so dated they were impressive, but wholly impractical. The third apartment was early transitional, Ikea-like with lots of yellows and blues, a well worn sofa with little clots of fabric ratting on the arms and the cushions holding on to the contours of someone else’s ass.

Welcome to apartment hunting in Croatia. Not only is it a challenge to find an apartment in the right place, you have to find one in the right decade with half decent furniture.

Apartment hunting with furnished apartments is an entirely new experience for a guy from Oklahoma. There our apartments are completely empty. Maybe an errant hanger dangles in the closet, but generally speaking American apartments are like blank canvases ready for you to fill with your own vision of hearth and home.

On our search in Zagreb some of the flats looked forlorn, like the back room of an antique shop or my grandfather’s garage. Others still felt so lived in that looking at them felt like trespassing. We crossed one place of our list just by the ghosts that emerged from the closets. Personal effects: children’s toys, a pair of heels, a rumpled shirt. Each item left in a disarray that suggested an unhappy story, some form of flight or eviction. I knew we couldn’t live among such visceral forms of someone else’s unfortunate memories.

Eventually we lucked out and found a place in a good neighborhood with mostly new furniture. But still, we are limited in how homey we can make this place. Only in Croatia can I feel homeless while at home.

While the landlords in Zagreb often use their rental property to store their old furniture, in the US my parents used MY rented apartment to store THEIR old furniture. The result was that each flat, house, hovel and shanty that I ever rented actually felt more like home than home. While my parents modernized their living room I filled mine up with the same furniture I had been raised. Years after moving out I continued to live with the well-known fabric and brown tones of the couch, lamp and table set that permeated my earliest childhood memories. My apartment was so familiar it was like I lived with inanimate siblings.

Transitioning to my situation in Croatia has had me asking: Why do apartments in the US come unfurnished while those in Croatia are often too furnished? While American’s seem to have more space and more um... stuff than Croatians, rented apartments are always empty. Again reality has smacked us with a counterintuitive dope slap. *SMACK* Wha?

I think one answer to this puzzle, might be another cultural difference: the GARAGE SALE. My only experience with garage sales in Croatia is my Punica’s reaction to seeing one on Everybody Loves Raymond. I was sitting in the kitchen eating a snack when she started yelling for me to come into the living room. She pointed in disbelief at the TV, exclaiming: They are selling their furniture in front of their house. Just like that! Yes, that is a garage sale. Is something lost in translation? (Probably)

Why is it that Americans have no problem piling their old, unwanted wares on their lawn and selling them? The garage sale is a suburban institution. People spend their entire Saturday’s cruising through neighborhoods looking for garage sales. Corners become crowded with signs announcing this sale here or that sale there. We even have urban legends about an art collector finding a Picasso for cheap in the back of some old garage, or the comic collector spying an Amazing Fantasy No. 15. among a pile of otherwise worthless comics. True or not, the garage sale is a bargain hunter’s paradise. They are also a great way to either furnish or unfurnish your apartment.

Now you might be saying: Cody? C-bone, how you can complain about used furniture in your apartment and the GO AND BUY a BUNCH of USED FURNITURE AT A GARAGE SALE!?! I MEAN COME ON!

Good point, but purchasing used furniture and inheriting it temporarily from anonymous owners involves an important distinction. When you hunt down that lava lamp at the garage sale you are empowered. YOU found that used lava lamp and the minute you purchase it YOU will remember it as the boss-awesome laval lamp that YOU found and got for a great price. This is very different from renting an apartment and seeing a sad sagging armchair that some old stranger might have had sex on or even died in. Your garage-sale-purchased lava lamp is a symbol of individual initiative and choice. It is rock-n-roll. The other is imposed on you. It is muzak on a really long elevator ride.

So why do Croatians seem to cling to their used wardrobes and credenzas? The only time I see used furniture is on that big trash day or at Hrelic. Is there a public shame with selling used goods? Or buying them? Is this why njuskalo flourishes? You can buy and sell used goods in the privacy of your own home. One friend suggested that the lack of garage sales could come from the power of social connections. If you have something you don’t want, then you should GIVE it to a friend, rather than try selling it to a stranger (I’m imagining that the day the secret gift cupboard is empty you then give the gift cupboard to a friend).

Or is all this a result from the fact that, though there is a surplus of furniture in Croatia, there is a dearth of garages?


Playground Love

Last year I was back in Oklahoma for a few weeks and I mistakenly took my daughter across the street to the park, or should I say the Playground of the APOCALYPSE. The park had seen better days. A patina of neglect coated the equipment. Rust and thick spiderwebs blighted the slides. One whole slide was missing. The swings were just seatless, dangling chains. And the only souls around were a group of homeless men drinking mouthwash and cheap beer on a nearby bench. After a few minutes we went back to the house and watched more TV.

Neglected parks are pretty depressing. What once held the promise of fun, laughter, and community now lies abandoned, like some monument to misspent expectations. What was even more depressing about this park was that it was in the center of the city. It should have been crowded with kids playing and with parents watching. Yet, it was more like Mad Max’s salvage yard than a playground.

The desolate playgrounds of America stand in sharp contrast to the bustling parks in Croatia. During the warmer months we spend hours at one of four neighborhood playgrounds around our apartment. Children run around, swing, slide, and spin themselves dizzy on the um... uh... that big thing that makes kids dizzy. The steady traffic of excited ice-cream-eaters flows between the park and the nearby corner store. We parents talk to each other, while sitting, standing or holding the hand of a slide-bound toddler.

Sadly, in the American midwest it is rare to see such a flurry of activity at any park, especially on a daily basis. The reason for this is the ever present backyard. Is it too much to say that the backyard is the ultimate bourgeois luxury? An unnecessary space, predicated on ownership and convenience? An instrument of Americans’ sense of alienation and isolation? Mmm... Probably. But what was once part of my American dream, a house with a big backyard, now seems an anathema to me. I don’t want a backyard. I want a vibrant park. I suppose the silliness of backyards was apparent to me when I was a kid. When I was six I even made a hole in the fence in our backyard so that my friend (whose backyard abutted ours) and I could more easily get to each other’s house. It was only with age did I start to believe in the power of fences and property lines.

Since living in Croatia, I feel, even as a foreigner, like I am more a part of this community than I have in many of the places I’ve lived in the US. And I think this is largely due to Zagreb's lack of backyards. Without our own space we are forced to use the public spaces around us. We are forced to see each other, to meet each other, and to know each other.

Though backyards may brim with life for some households, they segment the street’s social life into private units, turning the attention of each house inward, making it the very center of its own world. I prefer the playgrounds in Croatia. In Croatia, the park is the center of the neighborhood’s universe, and all of the private little apartments are just silly satellites caught in its orbit.


Those long lost places, playing on the airwaves


It is often said that Croatia is a timeless place. By this, I assume most people are referring to the fact that the middle of Split consists of a Roman palace, there is a Roman colosseum in Pula and a bunch of other really old stuff, well... everywhere! When I SAY that Croatia is a timeless place I am referring to the fact that music on the radio is ancient (or at least from the 1980s and early 1990s).

Before coming to Croatia I thought Roxette had HAD one hit song: Joy Ride. Turns out, over here they have several hits. I say HAVE because you can still hear Roxette in heavy rotation on the radio. Joy Ride, It Must Have Been Love, Listen to Your Heart and Fading Like a Flower were the soundtrack to my summer in Split IN 2011! Now you might be thinking that I was grooving on the only station that plays the 80’s hits, and you would be wrong because EVERY station plays 80’s hits, and then some.

Listening to the radio in Croatia is like opening a box of chocolates that fell behind the secret gift cupboard sometime before 1989: you never know what you're going to get. Last week my drive to work was synchronized with What a Feeling from the film Flash Dance. FLA-SH DA-NCE! The radio play list today was filled with early Madonna, Sting (from his first solo album), R.E.M., Mike and the Mechanics, and... ROXETTE!

Don’t get me wrong, I love cruising to Wild Boys (windows cranked down, hair blowing in the sea breeze) just as much as the next guy.

There is a special weight that comes with living abroad and hearing music from that bygone ME decade. When you live away from home you become removed from the time stream and the space in which it exists. Your whole being is constantly grasping for the familiar: that street you drove down day-after-day: gone. The familiar silhouette of your hometown’s skyline: a mirage. The scent of a lost love: just a dream. Those map-like sidewalk cracks, the shrieking squeak of your backyard gate, each infinitesimal piece of the mundane that made you who you are is now slowly being replaced by new streets, sounds, and sights. So when I hear a song from the 1980s it is more than just a happy piece of nostalgia. It is a Proustian trigger to those spaces and places slowly slipping from my mind. It awakens long dormant images: a lamp on a hall table casting the light just so. Random, but no less revealing. Images and pieces of the past that carry with them some salvation in that they remind you, just fleetingly, of where you come from and who you are.

I have to wonder if that’s why the 1980s live on in Croatia. Are all these listeners and players hearing the music from the fading memories of a lost time in another country? Is Roxette also the sound of lunchtime, trips to Trieste, Cocta, and gondola lamps?

OR is it just because Roxette, earlier Madonna, Sting, R.E.M., Bronski Beat, New Order, Duran Duran, Queen, GNR, and the soundtrack to the Warriors can kick the crap out of everyone on the radio today?

The Dark Side

In America I was never really one for luxury cars. Not that I could ever afford one, but I never even dreamed of owning one. Never wanted to. Luxury car in the US means a big, bulky SUV that annoys me more than it impresses me. Cadillac Escalades, Ford Excursions, Mercedes M-class, Cayenne, Humvees, I used to see all of them as a form of overcompensation for deficiencies in their drivers’ character and personality. I was satisfied driving in my fuel efficient, small, toyota.

Then I moved to Croatia and for the first time felt the power of the dark side.

There is a power emanating from Croatia’s Holy Trinity of automobiles: The black Mercedes, black BMW and black Audi. While in America these cars may reflect prestige, they do not surround themselves with the same aura of enigmatic dominance as they do in Croatia. Here it is a strange force coming from these cars, both terrifying and alluring at the same time. A power that says beware and in the same breath, behold.

In front of my Zagreb apartment the black BMW parked crookedly across three parking spaces, abutting a spot for invalids, gives me the same feeling of apprehension as a proud black panther waiting to pounce. I know the car is in the wrong. The car knows it is in the wrong. It knows I know, and it silently dares me, in a low and ominous growl, to do something about it. I don’t. I won’t. No one will. Such is the power of the dark side.

If that same car was a Yugo (OK, it couldn’t take up three spaces) or a Hyundai you might be tempted to say something. If you saw the driver you might suggest that they not park like that, that they be respectful of invalids and other drivers. If you don’t say anything, well at least with these lesser cars you feel like you could. They do not command the silent obedience as the mysterious Holy three.

Walking past the Mercedes sedan parked on the sidewalk I feel like Luke Skywalker at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. The car beckons to me like Darth Vader. In a deep, sonorous voice it temps me to join the Dark Side.

Just look at how this car breaks the rules with careless abandon, obstructing half the sidewalk with impunity. Its value is nearly 30 times what the average person in Croatia makes a year. To me it says the person driving this car is important. It is someone who may very well be above and beyond the law. In any case, the driver certainly lives out of the bounds of my mortal world.

In the US, rightly or wrongly, we still live under the impression that anyone who works hard enough can afford a luxury car. In America wealth is not yet a mystery. In Croatia, however, no such illusion exists. Rather, wealth is shrouded in impossibility. I cannot understand how someone in Croatia affords a BMW (Mercedes or Audi) and to me this is the source of theses cars’ mystique and power. Of course not everyone who drives a German luxury car is a scoundrel or a rogue. Yet, in Croatia these vehicles are more than mere symbols of success. They are symbols of someone who has defeated an impossible system, used the system, and dominated the system to their advantage while the rest of us just putter along in the distance. In a society where our lives appear to be increasingly subject to vindictive and arbitrary forces, unresponsive bureaucracy and indifferent politicians, the black BMW is a symbol of dark triumph.

What makes the gods divine is the unrevealed source of their power. We cannot fully understand why the gods are more powerful than us. Nor can we comprehend the full extent of that power. Though the origins of the Holy German automobiles’ symbolic strength may be part of the very forces we hate (unfair advantage, better connections, crony capitalism), just like the gods we curse, the Promethean part of us would give anything to be one of the divine. If we only knew how. If only we knew the power of the dark side.


Birthdays!!!

Croatians its time for a change!!!

Now I spend a lot of time talking to Croatians about American culture (its actually my job) and usually after telling people about the USA, they are like: “Yep, we like our customs better and we will just go on living right here in good ol’ Hrvatska” (that last word is what Croatians call Croatia).Some of the biggest differences between the US and Croatia (actually the US and MUCH of the world) involve how people drink and dine together.

Let me relate one story. The first time I was ever invited to dinner with a Croatian we went to a local neighborhood restaurant in the middle of Oklahoma. This guy started ordering almost every appetizer off of the the menu. He kept telling me to order whatever I wanted. Meanwhile I was getting fumed, thinking: Man, this jerk is ordering all this food that I DON’T want and I’m going to be stuck paying half of the bill for an order of Queso con carne and some BBQ chicken wings. To my chagrin my friend picked up the entire check! Yep, that’s how it is in America. Even when someone tells you to order whatever you want you can still think that you will pay for it yourself, unless they specifically tell you: I WILL PAY FOR ALL THIS, which is ridiculously forward. In Croatia on the other hand, it is always assumed that the one who does the inviting will pick up the check.

This generosity is further extended when you are invited to someone’s house. Among my Croatian friends I’ve heard horror (actually normal in America) stories about going to a dinner party in the US and having to bring your own food and alcohol. Apparently this extends to Australia too, where a friend was shocked that each family invited to the BBQ had to bring their own food and no one shared. In Croatia, being the host is very important. The quantity and quality of food provided by the host is always impressive. The rule is basically you have to provide anything that your guest may possibly want at any time. When we have guests we always buy too much beer, too much dip, too much wine, too many cookies... from my perspective. Whereas from my wife’s perspective we buy a barely sufficient amount.

So what needs to change? For the most part nothing. I would contend that we Americans could loosen up a little bit and buy each other coffee, a beer or some chicken wings a bit more often; however, the one thing that Croatians I talk to actually think that Americans have one up on them involves birthdays. Here’s how it works in Croatia. On your birthday you invite your friends out for food and drinks. You eat. You drink. They eat. They drink. Then YOU pick up the tab! If you’re popular that could mean buying the meals and drinks of 10+ people (its also normal to invite ALL of YOUR friends) which can easily reach into the couple hundreds of dollars in a country where the average wage is around $1,000 a month. So what happens? You don’t go out. You sit at home, save money and have a sad, lonely birthday watching Dancing with the Stars.

In the States it is the friends of the birthday person that pay for that person’s drinks and meal. You know, its like a gift ON YOUR BIRTHDAY! Plus it makes a whole lot more sense (economically at least). A meal and a few drinks divided by ten people is much better.

So,
IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE! My faithful Croatian readers (all 3 of you!) you can be the vanguard of this bold move! The next time you go to someone’s birthday celebration conspire with their friends to pay for the birthday boy’s (or girl’s) meal. America has already invaded your country with our McDonalds, pop music and catchy sayings like “Super Duper,” so what’s one more change? Come on! Start the revolution and there will be inexpensive birthdays for everyone!!


Cursing, culture, and friendship.

One of my friends told me she was sick of my posts about economics, so this post is about culture. It will involve some neighbors, cursing, and generalizations --for anyone offended, my apologies.

Question: In Croatia is it better to tell someone to “f*** their mother” or use the word “no?” The answer is of course its much better to indicate some impolite form of fornication involving one’s mother than to say no. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first let me give you an example of the appropriate context for telling someone that you want to have intercourse with their mom. This kind of potty-talk can actually be used to enhance a compliment. One time a neighbor (in her 50s) came over to our house while Mara was eating. She saw Mara and said: “Ti si najlepša cura na svijetu, jebem ti mater!” Which basically translates to: you are the most beautiful girl in the world, f--- your mother! In Croatia this a huge compliment!

Now on to why “no” is more offensive than mentioning sexual relations with one’s progenitor. Its all about friendship. Wha? I know sounds CRAZY! Croatia is a country with what we could call “THICK” relationships. Whereas in America we make friends willy-nilly. Par example:

Person A: Hi, what’s your name?
Person B: Dave.
Person A: Hi, Dave. I’m John.
Dave: Nice to meet you John.
John: Say do you like stuff?
Dave: Stuff? Sure do!

And both are now friends. In Croatia, on the other hand friends are not something taken as lightly. Friendship is something earned and respected. After John and Dave are friends, if John asks Dave for a favor, Dave can easily refuse and say: “no.” Not so in Croatia. Part of being one’s friend means you need to be there for them whenever and wherever they need you to be, and if you can’t, you need to come up with a really good excuse that makes it sound like the only reason you couldn’t be there for them was due to EXTREMELY extenuating circumstances (this is basically why I have no friends in Croatia).

Once when I was giving a talk about cultural differences between Croats and Americans in Split (which is on the Adriatic Sea), I mentioned how I know that when you live on the sea everyone always wants to come and stay with you. My audience nodded. Then I related how sometimes this can be a big inconvenience, like when you have a four month old baby and are not quite ready for a bunch of houses guests booked into your very living room for an indefinite stay. Again an audience of nods. I finally added that in America, under such circumstances you could say no to someone wanting to come and stay with you. Afterwards a lone hand went up, its owner looked at me with this gaze of disbelief while asking: “and they would still be your friend?” See, THICK relationships.

Why the differences? I don’t pretend to know (oh wait I do!), but I have some theories. One, we Americans move around all the time. Its hard to keep strong ties when you are always on the go. You also need to be able to make friends easily in all the new places you live. I’ve lived in three states, attended three different universities and lived in three different countries, and I have made numerous, casual, friends. In Croatia on the other hand, most people only move to Zagreb, if they move at all. And even then there is a connection between people who are from the same place as you. (Ask someone from Croatia about Imotski). Second, here (in Croatia) you depend on people more than we do in the states. Calling someone your friend means you need to know you can depend on them. Apparently it also means you can tell them “f*** your mother,” but not tell them no.

Good night.
I’m here all week.


A headfirst dive off the Fiscal Cliff

So, in my last post I complimented Croatia for its lack of crime and strong community norms (i.e. nosy neighbors). In this post I am less in awe of Croatia, in fact I’m down right disgusted in disappointed. I’m not too worried about offending my Croatian friends because I’m pretty sure most of them feel the same way. So what’s leaving me dejected and pessimistic about living in Croatia? Is it the neighbors? The dreaded propuh? Nope, its still tax policy.

At a time when most Americans feel like our political system is entirely broken, its even worse in Croatia. And here’s why. Let’s look at the Fiscal Cliff facing the United States in the coming month. Without a deal taxes will go up on everyone and automatic cuts will go into effect halting government stimulus across the board. Most, no every, economist has explained why this will have horrible consequences for the US economy. Wow, really bleak huh? And yet, still better than in the current state Croatia finds itself. Because despite all of the doomsday talk and the extreme partisanship between the two political parties the positions of the two are at least sensible. The GOP doesn’t want taxes to go up on anyone, understanding that tax increases will drain money from the hands of consumers who would otherwise spend it, which will result in a drop in demand and trigger another recession. Meanwhile the Democrats don’t want to see a cut in spending because they know that a cut in spending will result in massive layoffs, which will also result in less money being in consumers’ hands, resulting in a drop in demand, triggering another recession. So here’s where I see some good news: both GOP and Dems understand a drop in money among consumers = a drop in demand and another recession.

So while Congress and the President are scrambling to avoid falling off of the Fiscal Cliff, Croatia’s government has jumped and is diving headfirst off of their cliff. Last Thursday the teachers and nurses went on strike over the Government’s proposed pay-cuts. Other civil workers are also facing pay cuts. No lie, the Government needs to trim the number of civil servants (its estimated there are 200,000 civil servants in a country with 4.5 million people), but they are cutting wages while also raising taxes. The value added tax has gone up 2% since this Government took office and they’ve just proposed introducing a new, higher, property tax. That’s right, while Democrats and Republicans may disagree on which is worse for the economy, tax hikes or budget cuts, the Croatian Government has decided to implement both! Both!! This is in an economy with 20% (or higher) unemployment, 3 years of zero growth, and a drop in the average wages by several hundred dollars. Worse still, is that given the last Government’s unprecedented corruption (the PM is heading to jail) there is no real opposition to these incompetent rubes. So they can apparently keep designing poor policy with impunity... .

And that’s the source of our frustration. Few people here understand why the Government has chosen this course of action, and fewer still think there is much we can do about it.


GUNS! GUNS! GUNS?

One of the reasons I’ve elected to live in Croatia is the absence of random, violent crime. While some of the US’s biggest cities have annual murders topping over 400, homicide in any Croatian city is almost unheard of. In 2009 there were 23 murders by gun in the entire country. The annual rate of homicide by gun per 100,000 people is 0.52. While in the US the same rate is 2.98.

Now I thought that all of this was a result of Croatia having tougher gun laws than the United States. I assumed that criminals couldn’t easily obtain guns and so there were less murders and violence. Owning a gun in Croatia is an arduous process. Not only do you have to obtain a license, but the police actually come to your apartment and interview your neighbors about what kind of person you are. They can even interview your friends and family. Obtaining a gun in Croatia is more like working for the Federal Government in the US and having to pass the Secret Service’s security clearance. But then my Croatian friends would laugh at me and say, “No, lots of people have guns in Croatia, we had a war you know.” I thought they were just being dramatic. Then I looked at the statistics on gun ownership in Croatia. I was bit surprised, of the estimated 960,000 guns in civilian hands in Croatia, 576,000 of them are unregistered. This means the police do not know who has them. Which means they should be perfect for criminals to use. Not to mention that in Serbia the number of unregistered firearms is 944,000 out of 3 million. If you were enterprising criminal it wouldn’t be that hard to bring some of these abundant weapons from Serbia into Croatia. And yet, the murder rate and overall rate of violent crime in Croatia is low.

Maybe you’re thinking Croatia doesn’t exhibit other elements that we associate with crime. Well its certainly poor and getting poorer. GDP per capita has dropped in the last three years. Unemployment is around 20 percent, and even higher among young males. The country also suffered through a war not too long ago, and yet Croatia as an entire country is relatively safer than any major city in the US.
So, where I used to want to explain the difference as a result of the availability of guns I’m now more likely to believe the old saying “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Once when I was talking to an American friend about this he said he just thought people here (in Croatia) were socially different then Americans and that this somehow led them to be less prone to violence. I’m not entirely sure I believe this, but I am beginning to believe part of it. Here are a few possible explanations for Croatia’s low crime rate:

1) Preschool. Almost every kid in Croatia attends at least 1 year of preschool. It is cheap and has a good quality. To be a preschool teacher you must have a bachelors degree in education. According to the Perry Preschool Project, young boys who attend one year of preschool are half as likely to be arrested than those that don’t.

2) Nosy neighbors. There is no easy way to put this. In Croatia everyone is up in your business! And their not afraid to to tell you when your are doing something wrong (or at least gossip about you to the other neighbors). When it comes to my child rearing skills old ladies will tell it to my face that I’m putting my daughter in jeopardy if she is barefoot or hatless. While this used to bug me to no end I now think its kind of nice that there is such a concern for the well being of my kid by my neighbors (and sometimes complete and total strangers.) There is very much the idea that people will see and hear what you do, so you better be on your best behavior. I imagine this is a deterrent to quite a few would-be-criminals. The person you might be robbing might also be your cousin’s sister’s neighbor, and in that case, you aunty, grandma, mother, and the other neighbors will all hear about it!

3) They’ve had enough violence. My first time in the Balkans was through Sarajevo. Before that trip I was like any Oklahoman, a gun owning one. I thought owning guns and having the ability to “defend” yourself was an important part of being an American. Then I saw Sarajevo and East Mostar. Almost every surface in sight was riddle with bullet holes or damage from exploding shells. Scorch marks still marred the ruins of buildings that burned down almost twenty years before. Any need for firearms in Oklahoma was now, in my mind, imaginary. Here in the Balkans there had been a need, but as many of the region’s residents expressed to me that need had also been invented. The bigger point is that after such violence, after Sarajevo, Mostar, and Vukovar people weren’t clinging to their guns, they weren’t paranoid about bumps in the night, they were tired of violence and tired of guns. So maybe the legacy of the last wars has left the populace with a tragic appreciation for violence that people in the US fail to grasp.

Any other explanations would be appreciated.


What's a Scandal

The other day a friend in America asked me if I was paying attention to the Patreaus Scandal. I told her that I was, but I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. She agreed and asked if “we,” meaning us Europeans thought the whole thing was over blown. After pausing to reflect on me now being a “European” and thinking about what was recently happening in Croatia, I replied that yeah, most people here probably think the Patreaus Scandal is overblown. I then mentioned that on that particular day the Deputy Prime Minister in Croatia had just resigned for killing two people. Moreover, he actually only resigned after he was sentenced to a few years in prison. This raises all kinds of questions. Is the Patreaus Scandal a scandal because Americans are so puritan that sex still embarrasses us? Or does are media just love to sensationalize the most unsensational events involving important people? I assume the radical perspective would argue that the airtime devoted to a General’s trysts deprives airtime to actual news like the plight of the polar bear, starving children somewhere, and other things that we should actually be concerned about. At the same time, what about the situation in Croatia? Is it the media or a politician’s indifference that explains why the Deputy PM can politically endure a trial for killing two people and not be forced to resign until he is ordered to go to prison? Or is the public THAT indifferent? It seems that in any case the American public might’ve been fed something labeled scandal that they didn’t really felt warranted that label. Meanwhile, the Croatian public might have thought the Deputy PM’s continued time in office was both shameful and scandalous. Finally, maybe I am giving both Americans and Croatians too much credit.


More taxes? NOOOOOOOO!

Croatia experienced zero economic growth in 2011. Per capita income was stagnant at $18,400.00. Same as 2010, down from $18,600 in 2009. The economic picture in Croatia is bleak. I know this, Croats know this, now you know it. But what does the government do? They raise taxes! The value added tax was increased from 23% to 25% in 2012. Now they are proposing to raise property taxes. The Finance Minister is saying that the goal of raising taxes is to increase revenue to a point where the government can lower payroll taxes, thereby making Croatia more attractive to foreign investment. Really? Taking more money out of the economy should result in lower spending, and lower growth. Why do this now? Why not cut payroll taxes first, increase consumer spending with the excess stimulus, attract foreign investment and THEN raise taxes? What am I missing? If anyone out there in the blogosphere can explain why the current Government is set on this current path as opposed to the one I, and I assume many other (actual) economists have proposed, can you please enlighten me?