some vaguely economic observations from a trip to Europe

Apropos of my recent 18 day trip to 5 European countries as my rock band made a fairly poverty-stricken attempt to rock the EU, here are a handful of comments about what economic indicators I could observe without too much digging (wasn’t much time for sleeping, let alone digging).For those interested, here is the rock highlight of the trip at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival. I’m the guy who had to tower on a riser in the back, I’m not supposed to come off quite as “featured” as all that.

Observations on Europe, in no particular order:

1) Germany must be the most expensive country of the trip, though my experience there on this trip was the most limited. However, prices like €2.50 to refill a my bottle with fizzy water and €7 beers at the airport would certainly make many a euro user blush. Seems kind of at odds with their export heavy economy, but maybe it’s the small things that are expensive. Perhaps not coincidentally, AirBerlin has far and away the most punitive of the discount airline extra baggage charges we encountered.

2) Slovakia seems like a rather unlikely country to be on the euro currency. I met a school teacher (at a private school no less) who makes €480/month. This is apparently enough in Slovakia to pay for rent and food and leave about €100/month for drinking (as he chose to put it). However, it would just barely get you a cab/cheap flight (with extra baggage)/cab from Barcelona to Madrid (€480 that is, not €100). Kosice (Koh-sheet-sa), Slovakia is also the second home to Gary, Indiana’s own US Steel which has a GIANT plant on the outskirts of town and also the naming rights to the big (I think) hockey arena in town (also home to an upcoming Roxette gig). My friend Victor, the aforementioned schoolteacher, apparently teaches a bunch of the children of US Steel officials for his €480/month. Consumables at least are cheap in Slovakia though, which is really a vote against a common currency area which includes so many richer countries and Slovakia, but it’s nice for some travelers coming this way from Germany. Beers were under one Euro, a sandwich at the gas station was maybe €1.25, fuel was cheaper, etc. etc. Slovakia seems to be also one of the most geographically isolated countries on the euro in terms of being surrounded by Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. A little, tiny shared border with Austria is as close to a euro-using neighbor as they get.

3) Poland is very cheap on the US dollar. If you want to take a vacation that feels like a real good deal, head to Poland. It’s about 3.25 Zlotys to the dollar and, to use my previous metrics, beer costs about 4 Zlotys per glass, a sandwich is maybe 5. Gas is quite a bit more though, about $8 USD/gallon (as it also is in Spain). This price is near the middle of prices across the European Union though. Poland also seems to do a raging business in roofing materials judging by the fact that in about 600 miles of driving through Poland we probably saw well over 1000 of these types of ads (I’m not exaggerating either).

Crap picture I know, but we were moving fast and my camera is pretty poor. Anyway, this and lace curtains were a constant in rural Poland. Also a very cooperative highway culture out there, with almost all 2-lane highways and a high degree of cooperation between vehicles for passing related moves. Another place where the US seems astonishingly anti-social.

Next time (very soon), I am going to dwell on Spain for a while.



About theunlikelyeconomist

theunlikelyeconomist is in the midst of the long slog to attain a PhD in economics.
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