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Wednesday, November 20, 2002

London Calling – Part Two

They don’t charge you money for the baggage carts at Heathrow. In fact, they kind of leave them around. (Compare with Dulles, where the carts are $2 each.) Being the cheap bastard I am, I was lugging my heavy baggage around Heathrow until my travel partner told me that the carts were complimentary.

“Not everything here is like America. Yet.”

I was reminded of an essay an Englishman wrote about trying to save the red squirrel. Red squirrels, often associated with Beatrix Potter and all that is genteel about Britain are threatened with being overwhelmed with grey squirrels, which generally came from – you guessed it – America. Grey squirrels are, or were at least depicted as being, more aggressive, more vicious, and more of a pest than red squirrels. (Having not seen any red squirrels, I wouldn’t know myself.)

You hear little whispers in the dialogue over across the pond. No, we don’t throw people out onto the streets the way they do in the States. No, we don’t sell everything to the highest bidder like they do over there. No, we don’t deny health care to those who can’t afford it, the way they do over there.

Why don’t they charge for those carts? They probably could. An economist would say they should, perhaps. I had assumed there was a charge, so I didn’t take one.

Sometimes, and it wasn’t in the article, I wonder if British and European culture are a little like the red squirrel to the grey squirrel of America.

The grey squirrel can get more nuts, more efficiently, and is predisposed to prosper. In one sense, the red squirrels can’t compete. The welfare states of Europe and the way they take care of those less fortunate is a weakness by these terms. Indeed, it some ways, it’s unsustainable in its inefficiency.

It’s hard enough for the U.S. to compete with its high wages and environmental protections against nations where you can dump anything and everything and pay virtual slave wages without worrying about what happens to our poor. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for Europe.

Soon, perhaps all we will have are grey squirrels. A globe of efficient, grey squirrels. Vicious, aggressive grey squirrels. Evolution doesn’t take no prisoners, you know.

Perhaps if we get efficient enough, we can match such legendary efficient organisms as the Ebola virus.


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