In the USA

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The USA wasn’t on my radar to visit. But my son, Jono, was dead keen to go there so off we went recently on a big adventure. We had a fantastic time on a road trip which covered over 2,500 kms of driving up the East Coast from Miami to the Big Apple. Highlights for me, were detours off the normal tourist routes visiting Savannah and Chapel Hill.  New York was amazing and we both enjoyed how far our dollar went on shopping sprees.

Driving on the right in the States was interesting (aka challenging) and you have to break habits pretty quickly; like reaching over your right shoulder for your seat belt. We did a mixture of travelling up the interstate 95 and the back roads moving from the south to the north so we were able to get a good feel for a wide cross section of the country and its people. We found the people were universally fantastic – apart from one taxi driver in LA on our first day.

Normally October is a great time to travel there but not when there is a “government shutdown.”  We missed out on a few highlights including the Smithsonian in Washington and the statue of Liberty in NY. Being in the midst of the debate over the shutdown was interesting and while no-one came out smelling of roses the Republicans got the most flack.

The elephant in the room of course is years of the country living beyond its means. The USA has done this for years and with the national debt about 1.5 times the nation’s GDP sometime soon; someone is going to have to do the hard yards.  However with the way the political system works it is hard to see them ever sorting it out.

Being in the middle of it all gave me pause. The biggest flaw in any democracy I believe is when a party BUYS votes. They offer to spend our own money back on us and that has got parties over the line. In NZ, think Labour’s “interest free” student loans and in the USA think tax cuts. It’s a bit like a pyramid scheme – at some point they all run out of cash from the tax payer and have to borrow. Our governments, both national and local (Auckland Council in particular) are getting really good at that.

Auckland City currently owes $6 billion dollars with repayments projected to rise from 19.4% of rates to 25% of total rate take in the next few years. This is already $4200 owed for every person young and old living in Auckland.  Its similar to the financial mess Kiapara District Council has found itself in over the sewerage scheme with rates jumping from $830 to $2500 to fund this – (wouldn’t an Aucklander love to be paying those rates?)

We’ve recently seen the lowest turn-out ever for local body elections. Was it complacency?  I believe there was certainly a lot of confusion about the differences between candidates and in some instances a lack of options. We all need to be wary of the snake-oil salesperson and to keep up with what’s really happening. As recent events have shown, can we ever really trust our politicians to tell the truth? So from one political hot spot to another, it’s certainly been an interesting few weeks.

Robert Mannes