Today is my cousin Maja’s birthday and a number of guests came to her home to visit and celebrate. And when they are all together like that, they like to call me so I, too, can feel like a member of the tribe.
We laughed and talked and delighted in seeing each other’s faces on the computer screen. How wonderful technology is sometimes, and how deceptive. We felt so close and yet so far from each other.
Across the icy distance of the Atlantic Ocean we chatted about the weather, about each other’s health, about the children, about what’s going on in the world.
Then they asked me to explain some finer points of Obama’s State of the Union Address. And they wanted to understand better the differences between the Republican and the Democratic visions for this country.
I explained how Republicans mandated smaller government, lower taxes, less government regulation of any kind.
“They should come to Serbia,” my uncle Jova said.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how right he is. Serbia is a country of very small, weak government. Capitalism is growing rampant, with very little oversight. Taxes are low.
It would seem like a perfect environment for healthy economic growth. And some business are flourishing and some people are getting very rich.
But most are not. Most of the rights that workers had won in Serbia (while it was part of Yugoslavia) have been swept away in the last few decades. Most people work for ridiculously low wages, in fact I don’t even think they have a minimum wage requirement. Some people work every day of the week (and on weekends) for long hours and no holidays. If they complain, they can easily be replaced.
Because the government is so weak, inefficient and powerless, the taxes so low, the infrastructure is in terrible shape. With roads, bridges, rail and public transportation in decline, businesses have trouble attracting the rest of Europe and the world to invest. The excellent Yugoslav education system has greatly deteriorated because of lack of funding and collective support. Young people feel helpless and abandoned; old people, too, for the pensions as well as the once universal health care system are in shambles.
In Serbia, for decades now, it’s been every man for himself.
And I can tell you this – most Americans would not hold that kind of unchecked capitalism as a utopia. Before American society comes any closer to the Serbian reality, it might make sense for members of Congress to take a little field trip. Be careful what you wish for.