Friday, July 17, 2015

Not missing Starbucks

Image result for coffee images

A cappuccino at the bar (think small restaurant or cafĂ©, not what the word connotes in the US) nearest the apartment I rented in Florence costs 1 euro, i.e., a little more than $1.10. Not only is it about a third the price of a Starbucks’ cappuccino, they serve it in a ceramic cup and with better coffee and foam than at Starbucks. Admittedly, it’s smaller, though I suspect that the shot of espresso is the same size in both places.

After having walked dozens of miles in Florence, I have yet to see a single Starbucks or other American restaurant or coffee franchise. There are US retail outlets as well as retailers from elsewhere in the European Union. I don’t know if there are legal barriers to entry that keep non-EU food franchisees out. However, if such legal barriers exist, I doubt that they are necessary. I don’t know why anyone would want to spend more and get less.

Vienna has lots of US fast food outlets and several Starbucks coffee shops. I ducked into one of the latter for a brief look. My impression is that most of the customers were tourists, especially from the US, willing to pay exorbitant prices for the familiar. I did not buy anything, having discovered that Viennese coffee was both better and less expensive.

Traveling without experiencing the local culture seems a waste of time.

Florence has an extensive system of parks. Sadly, the parks all need more attention. The government that could afford to build the parks can no longer afford to maintain them (or, alternatively, the government that built the parks could not really afford to build them, much less to maintain them).

The park system here reminds me of the transportation and utility infrastructure in the US. The governments that built what were often the best roads, bridges, parks, utilities, airports, ports, etc., in the world no longer properly maintains those facilities. Unless the US substantially increases its infrastructure investments, the US will continue to lose its global economic competitive edge and suffer from a diminution in quality of life. The first signs of the latter are already evident: bridges with warnings about diminished load capacity, parks with closed or inadequate facilities, unrepaired pot holes, etc. In other words, US roads may begin to resemble Italian sidewalks!

Instead, the US spends exorbitant sums on national defense. In fact, much of the money is wasted, either purchasing advanced weapons systems that the US will probably never use in combat or funding operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere that have little realistic chance of success. Terrorism poses a real, but limited threat. Unfortunately, US counterterrorism efforts are generally ineffectual and unethical (to read my proposals for effective, ethical counterterrorism against non-state terrorists, read my book, Just Counterterrorism, available through Amazon).

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