Surprising Cities

Here’s a question someone asked me recently: What city that you’ve visited surprised you the most?

My answer was Santiago, Chile. Based on all the terrible things I’d heard from people like Naomi Klein about the horrors inflicted on the economy by the “Chicago Boys”, I was expecting to see a lot of poverty and a little bit of wealth. Instead, I saw a vibrant city with a large and prosperous middle class. Also, a great little jazz club.

I learned two important lessons there. First, ideologues like Naomi Klein will lie flagrantly to advance their agendas. Second, an economic policy that tries to “get prices right” by reducing distortions (in Chile’s case, slashing and equalizing tariff rates), using sound cost-benefit analysis to evaluate government projects, and otherwise being generally inclined toward “free-market” policies can bring prosperity to a vast majority of the population. And the wealth created can be used to help the few who don’t otherwise share in the benefits of liberalization.

Most surprisingly of all, it seems that ordinary Chileans hold economists in their highest esteem, presumably having seen what that profession has done for them when given a major say in public policy. Lawyers? Not so much.

Anyway, that was my answer to the question. What’s yours?


Filed under Economics, Social Justice

10 responses to “Surprising Cities

  1. trooper york

    A city that surprised me?

    Elizabeth New Jersey.

    It was even worse than it smelled.

  2. LouiseM

    Good, I was here yesterday to pick up the question and needed someone to help set the tone and break the ice, if not wind with a pungent surprise. The word “most” threw me off, requiring time to sort and process, with my answer turning serious as if I’d been tasked with writing an essay instead of a response. All that to say I liked the question and enjoyed thinking about:

    The one city I visited that surprised me most?

    Caracas, Venezuela. Not a visit, so much as a remembered view of the thousands of ranchos/ranchitos covering the steep mountain hillsides leading down to the water. I was in my mid 20’s, standing on the deck of a ship in port when I saw them; as physically removed from the reality of life going on there as I was from poverty back home. What I saw appeared to be a strange mix of squalor and beauty, chaos and order, stagnation and ingenuity, brokenness and unity, affliction and survival, mirroring the best and worst of human experience. Years earlier, I’d seen a similar looking single structure called Habitat at in Montreal at Expo 67. I wonder now, if the designer may have seen those ranchos himself or if the idea itself is as old as man? Another surprise: This was the first time I looked up either of those places on google, and I was surprised to see how faithfully the memory of both places hand been held in my mind through the years. The word to describe both created structures, one put up to house the poor, the other built to house the wealth, is amazing!


    • A lyrical description, LM, and engrossing links. Thanks.

      I’d bet the story of your travels on that ship would be well received here.

      • LouiseM

        I had to look up the word lyrical, as it sounded airy, but its a full bodied word, one I’ll gladly accept and put next to “humane”. Honestly, my memory of Caracas, is the one that stayed with me as most unusual.. I was on the Carla C, a Costa Cruise ship out of San Juan, 6 ports in 7 days and the bustle and excitement of entering and leaving port was something I also remember enjoying. The ship was one of the old style cruise ships, an ocean liner (SS Flandre, commissioned in ’51) refitted for cruising in 1967. According to the wiki it was later refurbished again (after I was on it) and was the place where a set of producers hatched up the idea for the TV series Love Boat while aboard, with the first scripts written on the ship. It also lists her fate as: Destroyed by fire 23 March 1994. Apparently “the fire suddenly developed badly and spread quickly”. The pictures at the link show the original “Love boat” in full glory and later (lower corner) in ashes as an era ended.

        Is there a way to set your site for comment preview prior to reply? If so, I’d find that reassuring. I’ve appreciated this harbor as a place to drop anchor and ride out the storm!

      • Thanks for the enhancement to your story, LM. And yes, you can feel safe here. The system is that any commenter’s first comment must be approved by me. After that, one can comment unmoderated.

        So you only need to worry about Spinelli. šŸ˜‰

  3. ndspinelli

    Vancouver was an unpleasant surprise. They have a horrible heroin and homeless problem but try to be all things to all people. It’s like San Francisco w/o the great restaurants. Pleasant surprise was Louisville. But, man do people still bang heaters in that tobacco town.

    • Hah. The question I posed was asked of me by someone who’d just returned from Vancouver.

      I had a great meal once in Louisville at a place called the Mayan Cafe.

  4. ndspinelli

    Trooper, I’ll give you Elizabeth and take Patterson.

  5. This sounds like that Yankee wife swap in the ’70s.

  6. ndspinelli

    Mike Keckich and Fritz Peterson

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