I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is.
But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special.
There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be.
The reality in America is different now.
Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of heavy-handed policing, equals plenty of uncertainty and plenty of reasons why other countries might now be better than America. One can't help but feel that it's all hanging on by a few delicate threads in the hands of the same psychopathic bankers who helped crash the economy in 2008.
The last 'Romania vs. USA' post, published back in 2012, is the second most read post on this blog (check the sidebar). Could be the title has something to do with it. Outrageous, isn't it? But while I kept it light the first time around, the comments section is anything but. There is a lot of emotion there.
Still, the points I made are valid even today. But with this post, I'd like to let some of the readers have their say.
Here are ten more reasons Romania is better than America, as inspired by comments from the original post.
1. Kids can have a better childhood in Romania. They have the opportunity to entertain themselves with their own imagination. It's not about socially constructed play dates and parent driven, kid-friendly activities. For children, the magic of childhood is the self-discovery that occurs at that happy crossroads of minimal supervision and the freedom to explore. By and large, it's still safe enough for kids to discover life on their own in Romania. It's not for nothing that Romanian children were found to be the happiest in the world.
2. For the equivalent of $5 USD you can get 15lbs of fresh fruit and vegetables at the market. Check it out, I calculated for a kilogram each of tomatoes, peppers, onion, potatoes, carrots, apples, and plums. I'd also have enough left over for a loaf of bread. Needless to say the fruit/veg in question is usually organic, grass-fed, homegrown, etc..whatever word you prefer for 'natural'. You can't get that anywhere in the US. While many Romanians love to say that prices in grocery stores match western prices, it's simply not true. When it comes to buying the basics in Romania, these are always a fraction of the cost in countries that use dollars or euros.
3. You don't have to live your life at the mall. One reader explains: "you can listen to classical music at the Philharmonic in most cities for $3 to $5 a ticket! Can't beat that - my son and I have been to 100 concerts in 5 years here. All superb." Don't forget UNESCO sites throughout the country. It'll be another thousand years before anything in the US has the same cultural/historical significance. As for museums, concerts, and the cinema, you'll never pay more than $10 for an entrance to anything.
Which bring me to...
4. In the US everything costs money, and if it doesn't you're conditioned to believe it's not worth doing. Simple things like reading on a park bench, going on a hike, cooking dinner with family, or working on your vegetable garden are often seen as quaint eccentricities, throwbacks to life in the early twentieth century. In Romania, these are the most affordable and the most enjoyable of activities for the average person.
5. One recent comment on the original post makes some very hard-hitting points. It's written in Romanian and translating it all could be a post of its own. This is not so much a reason why Romania is better than America, as much as it's about debunking a common myth. I want to be very clear on this: you cannot live "a decent life" in America, on minimum wage, any more than you could in Romania on minimum wage. I know Romanians love salary comparisons, so once and for all, let's do the math:
A) The average minimum wage in the US is $7.95/hr.
B) At 40 hours a week (if you're lucky enough to get those kinds of hours as a part-timer), you're looking at about $1,200/month before tax.
BB) If you're a full-timer with an annual salary, the average entry-level salary is 15k-30k/year (once again, before tax) so on the high-end that's $1,800/month, net.
C) You will need to commute to work. The term 'walking distance to work' is basically fantasy if you live in the USA. Public transport is extremely unreliable and unfriendly compared to Europe. It's also not cheap but cheaper than owning a car. You're looking at spending at least $100/month. You'll also spend a lot of time on it, so if you subscribe to the "time is money" dictum, don't forget to calculate that opportunity cost.
CC) A car costs, on average, $9000 a year. That's $750 a month. So now, as a debt ridden university graduate (or, as a Romanian immigrant just starting out and looking for the American dream), you've got $1,000 left out of which you need to pay rent, buy groceries, and live the American good life.
CCC) Okay, you've thought it over and you just can't afford the car. Have fun busing it or taking the subway, where, in addition to wasting a lot of time, you have a very high chance of being robbed or assaulted during your long commute to and from work. That's what you get for not having a high enough salary to buy the car.
D) Average rent across the 50 states is $1,117/month
(Now that we've seen this figure, let's agree that the minimum wage earner, at about $1,000/month, cash in hand, is already out of the running for this comparison. My advice for anyone in that income bracket is to get acquainted with food banks, 46 Million people in America rely on them. Also, I highly recommend you don't move to America if that's the work you're looking for. From here on in, we're going to continue with the entry level earner who makes $1,800/month)
E) You didn't buy the the car (which, by the way, on your $30k salary is only affordable after scrounging for many months and after building up a credit history) so you've got $1,700 left after paying for the bus pass.
F) Rent: You decided that you can't afford the average $1,000/month rent cost, you need to go under. If you live in a big city that's at least $800/month though, including the roommate. You won't like the way your place looks, nor the area, maybe not the roommate either, but there is grocery shopping and a couple of other things to worry about, so for the $900 you have left over you're willing to overlook the more unpleasant parts of this American dream experience.
G) Groceries: Let's say that's about $300/month, so you've got another $600 to go.
H) Connectivity: You're going to want a phone and the internet. Bad news is that the internet is going to be a lot slower than what you're used to in Romania. Your bandwidth will also be capped, so no downloading torrents please (also you can get sued for doing that). Anyway, the phone, on average, will cost you $73month, and the internet is about the same. That leaves you with $450.
I) We know you're going to be spending money for lunch. For a bottle of water here, a pack of gum there. These incidentals will cost you at least $250/month. You'll think that it's much less and that you can afford it, until you find yourself a week before payday with $20 in the bank.
J) It's not American dreaming if you're not American living. That means you're going to do after work drinks maybe a couple of times a month lest you're shunned as anti-social by your colleagues (who are going through the same struggles you are, mostly).
This was all to say that, when you compare the financial struggles faced by somebody on an entry level salary in the US and Romania, there is no significant difference. In fact, you're actually worse off if you're an American in the above scenario. You don't have an entry-level job in America, even a poorly paid one, without a university degree. Attached to that degree is a student loan that you're going to be paying for many years to come. Speaking of loans, I didn't even bring up credit card loans. Which you will have, otherwise you don't have a credit score and therefore no credibility, and therefore you're going to have a very hard time buying a car or renting a place (neither of these is a problem in Romania). Oh, and God forbid something happens to you and you need a doctor....
6. Everyone is entitled to free health care in Romania. Indeed, the rural hospitals are terrible, and if you draw up a list there are probably more cons than pros about the Romanian healthcare system, but it's there and they will take care of you. And you won't be destitute after. This puts you a step up on any American who's had to visit a hospital without health insurance. By the way, any comprehensive health insurance plan starts at around $400/month in America. I should've added it to the cost of living calculations at #5, but then I couldn't have written points I and J, and what kind of life would that be?
b) This video is a great primer on the facts of American healthcare. If you don't watch it, at least consider this: "The average hip replacement in the USA costs $40,364. In Spain, it costs $7,371. That means I can literally fly to Spain ($827 return trip), live in Madrid for 2 years ($24,000), learn Spanish, run with the bulls, get trampled (all free), get my hip replaced again ($7,371), and fly home for less than the cost of a hip replacement in the US...It's crazy, but it's true"
7. Romanian internet is better than American internet. Basically wrote about this at #5h, above, but I want it to be loud and clear. In the 21st century, unlimited, high-speed internet is just as important as highways.
8. The fear of terrorism and gun crime hasn't made the entire country go crazy. People in the US are scared of each other, scared of anything that's not made official by law or by mainstream media acceptance, and nowadays, scared of any kind of contrarian thoughts and opinions. It's a fear based society, period (and this also goes for Canada, by the way).
9. Romania is better because its schools don't need to be labelled 'Drug Free/Gun Free Zones'.
11. Intellectual pursuits are still respected in Romania. Intelligence is appreciated and stupidity is laughed at, as it should be. Intelligent people are still celebrated and their opinions are valued. This article does a good job of explaining the reverse in the US, the Asimov quote stands out, in particular: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." (Italics, mine)
What it comes down to, really, is this last point.
Everything wrong with America today follows from the ignorance that permeates all classes of American society. The poor are too ignorant to realize they're trapped in a cycle of poverty and that they're not getting out even if they get a second or third minimum-wage job, as they're encouraged to do. The opportunity to get that third job is made to look like a good deal. The middle class is too ignorant to see that the government doesn't ever have their interests at heart and that rampant consumerism and endless distractions will never get them out crippling debt. Instead of addressing these huge problems, they spend their political energy on non-issues like 'equality'. The rich, well, these issues don't concern the rich very much, do they? Best (worst) of all, many Americans think that they are still world leaders in democracy, economy, and cultural values. Is this true?
On a final note, I understand that the term 'better' is shallow. What I want to point out is that when people say "America is the best country in the world" or, inversely, that Romania is the worst, they likely haven't taken a single one of these points under consideration.