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Episode 201 Rich and Poor

An open trough ran just in front of my hotel. The trough or ditch was also part of the city sewer system. You can imagine what one saw floating by. A little bridge spanned the open sewer. It took the edge off my entire visit. I was in Lammu; a coastal city in Kenya. I had been told it was a place off the beaten path and had some great snorkeling. When on a trip I always like to range out to some place I have never heard of before. Most any place will do. Just so it is “off the beaten path”. I had taken the train from Nairobi to Mombasa and then a short flight north to this city. But the open sewer system had thrown me; the stench in the air was hard to stomach. The room might have been okay and the mosquito net didn’t have holes but the visit was not pleasant. It’s not good to have money in your pocket when you’re in an impoverished city. We don't retire with the hope that the neighborhood turns into a ghetto.

This is retirement talk. I’m Del Lowery.

It feels good to walk down a street that is clean, that is filled with people who are busy shopping, walking, sitting in coffee shops or lingering over a glass of wine. My mind drifts to the square in Salamanca, Spain. What a place! No cars, Moorish architecture, tables and chairs, music from buskers, young lovers holding hands and leaning against each other laughing and trying to impress each other. There were older couples strolling slowly around the plaza. The men had on suit coats, hats and vests. The women wore long coats and colorful hats. They were in conversation with good friends who were dressed similarly. Then there were young children dressed in shorts, white shits and ties chasing each other. The odors were of chocolate, steaks, coffee and fresh baked goods. Rich and poor can enjoy this plaza.

What’s my point? Poverty isn’t good for anyone. When the least fortunate suffer we all suffer. Who would want to live in a mansion that is surrounded by squallier? That’s why real estate agents always talk about location, location, location. What is outside the door is so very important in evaluating how nice your place is. No one wants to live in or around poverty. 

We bought a very small condo in Vancouver several years ago. It is very small. However, it is right downtown; an area called Yaletown. What’s outside the door makes our condo a great place to be. All of fine features found in the plaza at Salamanca can be found at our door step - and then some. For the same money we could own a big house with acres of ground and a swimming pool in much of America. But it would not have the same amenities just outside the door.

My point is, “We should not be so quick to seek lower taxes”. We all  profit by making sure our neighbors do not live in poverty. As a matter of fact it would seem to me that we need to find a way to increase our taxes if that is what it takes to eliminate poverty. Not that I want to increase taxes just for fun.

I know there is a moral reasoning that requires we help the less fortunate members of our community but I want to make this argument based on what the moneyed class of people gain by raising the income level of all.

Years ago I found myself en-route to Katmandu.  I was flying out of Alaska and knew that I would be severely jet lagged by the time I arrived. I told my travel agent to book me a hotel somewhere along the way so that I could rest up. She booked me into The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok for five days. I had never heard of it but I couldn’t believe how luxurious it was. Movie stars and kings and queens sometimes stay at The Oriental. The swimming pools were clean and empty. The dinning room was elegant; the food unbelievable, the serving dishes sterling silver. I remember very well the smoking dragon dish in which my ice cream was served. Dry ice lay hidden in a false bottom that kept it cold and mysterious. White coated wait staff stood at attention everywhere to cater to my every need or wish. I was very uncomfortable. A big wall ran all the way around the hotel and grounds.

I left the enclosed walls each day and was amazed at the city outside. Poverty was every where; narrow streets, noisy/busy alley ways that were lined with cloth booths where merchants squatted on their haunches smoking something.  The wealthy might be served well inside the walls, but outside they were noticeable absent. I saw no other tourist lingering along these streets. It was crazy. Who would wish for such a world?

Election time in America always pushes my thinking towards existing economic inequities. Middle class America is disappearing. Poverty in America is on the rise. Higher education is becoming so expensive that only the wealthy can afford it. Empty houses are popping up in all neighborhoods. All political candidates talk of lowering taxes. There is no talk of helping out the less fortunate among us. I just don’t understand it.

What kind of world do people want to live in? Our economic system allows for super wealth to be held by a few and massive poverty to engulf the masses. Something is wrong. I know some people want to keep accumulating wealth at the expense of everyone else. I just can’t understand why. What are they thinking? Retirement shines another light on what is to be valued in life. At least it does for me.

This is Retirement Talk.