Eileen and I spent the last 10 days in the mid-West of the USA visiting relatives. My mom lives in Michigan while Eileen’s folks live in Indiana and has aunts & uncles in Ohio. We flew out a week ago last Friday on United Airlines from Vancouver to Detroit via Denver. United has figured out that we’d pay a bit more money to sit in more comfortable seats. They’ve invented a new section titled Economy Plus. The seats themselves are the same as the rest of the plane but you get more leg-room for $44 per seat, each flight. The trick is to check-in early – you can only purchase this “upgrade” when you get your boarding pass (we did it at the electronic check-in machines) otherwise you take your chances. Glad to see the North American airlines starting to find interesting ways to improve the travel experience as well as improve their bottom line. British Airways has been doing this sort of thing for years with good success.
The USA looks pretty much the same as I remember, but the complaints are new. We heard plenty about the outrageous price of gasoline and also about how illegal immigrants were ruining the country. Oh my. The gasoline thing is especially funny because nearly two-thirds of the cars on the road are SUVs (we counted). Eileen says the number of SUVs purchased each year in the USA continues to increase, although I was unable to find a reference that supported or denied that claim. Gasoline was something like US$2.80 per gallon, which would equate to CDN$0.82 per litre. For comparison, here in Vancouver its CDN$1.20 per litre, or about US$4.11 per gallon. We laughed so hard we snorted.
The immigrant thing was more sad than funny, its a hot-button issue that most people don’t really think too carefully about. The economy of the USA is dependent on the immigrant work force in ways that probably can’t even be predicted. For example, immigrant workers keep the cost of farm labor low, thus making it possible for domestic farms to remain competitive with imports. Food costs remain low and many people (illegal immigrants as well as citizens) are employed. The low cost of food means the general cost of living is lower for everyone. Low cost of living means higher discretionary income which is usually spent on luxury goods which further fuels economic growth. If you eliminate the low-cost labor on those farms, will it negatively effect the entire economy? Maybe. I don’t really know, and I don’t think its entirely predictable.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think illegal immigrants are preferrable to legal immigrants. It’s just that the current situation is complicated and perhaps making hasty decisions and drastic changes isn’t wise.
I’ve been reading Collapse by Jared Diamond. The subtitle is How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and it discusses (with incredible detail) a number of factors that can lead to a particular society such as Easter Island or the Norse in Greenland to completely fail. Its well written and very interesting. This book talks about how societies become entangled in their own history, location, habits, and neighbors in interesting ways that sometimes turns out quite bad. And sometimes it works out ok, but it is very hard to predict the outcome ahead of time with any certainity. I think about the current situation regarding immigration in the USA in similar terms.
The other sad part of the immigration debate is that people seem generally unaware of the need for immigration in order to continue the existing standard of living for retired people. By 2011 there will be more people retired than working. The number of people retiring each year will continue to rise, leading to a significant problem where the taxes paid by those still working will be insufficient to pay for those who aren’t. The existing population in the USA and Canada (and probably other places) isn’t increasing fast enough to offset those who are retiring, and without working immigrants to make up the difference the government sponsered retirement funds will collapse.
The trip wasn’t completely doom-and-gloom however. My sister came to my mom’s house with her two-year-old daughter to visit from North Carolina. I hadn’t met her daughter before so that was really great. My mom is doing well too, and Eileen’s folks are getting along just fine. We also caught up with some friends and spent a couple of hours walking around the campus of Michigan State University where Eileen and I met. The campus there is really beautiful and the day we went was bright, very sunny and warm.
The other thing we noticed – the place is flat by comparison to Vancouver. Some parts are so flat you can virtually see into next week. This terrain leads to tremendous wind storms and quick changes in weather. We sat on the back deck of her aunt’s house and watched a thunderstorm come in over the horizon. Within minutes the wind was whipping around and the rain was pouring down in bucketfuls. It rained and thundered for a half-hour or so then stopped. I grabbed a picture with my phone, it seems to be clear enough to demonstrate all points.
Tomorrow we’ll go back to the office and try to catch up from being away.