If there’s a patron saint in my family, it’s Rick Steves, whose travel books and shows have gotten us around Europe more times than I can count. In fact, we call him “the Rick,” if that’s not too embarrassing to admit to a wider audience.
I’d like to think that we were big fans of Steves before he went big time, but who knows. Perhaps we caught the wave at the right moment. In any case, I’ve been aware of Steves’ internationally-minded politics for awhile now (it would be hard not to be if you’re a hard-core fan; his books and shows are chock full of good liberal-minded diplomacy chatter), and Salon has a great interview with him out today, on that very topic, that’s worth a read.
I think my favorite part of the interview is totally unrelated to travel, though. When asked if Americans can still afford to go abroad in this economy, Steves answered:
These economic times are scary and who knows where we’re heading. But it’s dangerous to measure where we’re at today by the unrealistic high a year ago, which was the result of years of goosing our economy to make us believe we’re wealthier than we are. I could say our tours are down 30 percent. And they are. But that’s not really true. Our tours are below the impossible height they reached last year. But they shouldn’t have been that high anyway. We’re taking 8,000 people instead of 12,000 people to Europe this year. And that’s OK.
A headline today said, “Americans lose 18 percent of their wealth.” Well, no, it wasn’t real wealth, it was a bubble. You’re down 18 percent? You’re not. It shouldn’t have been up there in the first place. So get over it. Shut up. Go to work, produce stuff that has value. I really think the days are gone, I hope, when people can rearrange the furniture and get rich on it. You got to produce something.
That’s well put, and unfortunately not repeated enough these days. You’ve got idiots on CNBC saying that Wall Street wouldn’t function properly if executives only made $250,000, apparently missing the statement’s inherent irony, given that Wall Street didn’t function properly while executives were making gazillions of dollars.
The problem is our country has become so accustomed to out of control wealth that we think it’s okay for people who live in Manhattan to make $2 million+ bonuses. We say, oh, they need that money so they can keep up the mortgage on their multi-million dollar home in the city and their summer place in the Hamptons, and to send their kids to private Kindergarten, to pay the housekeeper and the nanny, because the hired help needs to make an exorbitant of money too in order to survive in New York City. If everything cost less they wouldn’t have to make as much! Scale it back, people.
You bought two-hundred shares of Google at $10 a piece a while back, they jumped all the way to $450 a piece and now there down to $100? But you didn’t lose any money at all. You lost imaginary money. In fact, you made money!
A few years ago all you heard about my generation (then dubbed Gen Y, now more catchily called the Millenials) was griping. We were spoiled, we were indulged. We were wearing $200 jeans to high school and carrying Dooney & Bourke bags to middle school. Everyone wanted a cellphone and a car of their own. And now? Those same kids are scraping by to get through college, or patching together part-time jobs survive after graduation. They’re going to teach English overseas, they’re joining the Peace Corps. They’re recognizing the importance of saving for a rainy day, because at the very moment the country is pulling in its collective purse strings, they’re all coming of age with a lot less options than their immediate predecessors.
I’d like to hope that the result will be positive. That we’ll try our darnedest not to repeat what the Baby Boomers have wrought. That we won’t be fooled by the next bubble and we’ll warn our children against it. But by then we’ll be old and gray, griping about our spoiled and indulged grandchildren, I guess.
In any case, like the Rick said — go travel. It’s good for you.