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​A tiny island and a huge country

by Ed Raymond | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Gadfly | March 28th, 2018

The beginning and end of two similar societies

A thousand years ago, Polynesians paddled across the Pacific to find new islands to settle. They landed on a tiny, lush, uninhabited island and called it “Te Pito O Te Henua” which means “the navel of the world.”

And over 500 years ago, three ships loaded with Spaniards crossed the Atlantic and landed on a huge inhabited land mass.

Generations passed on the “the navel,” which later was called Rapa Nui, building a culture known for its art, music, legends, and intellect. The children were taught its dynamic history back to the time when the large canoes hit the beach.

They spent much of their time in the 15th and 16th centuries carving, transporting, and raising gigantic volcanic stone megaliths, sometimes weighing hundreds of tons. The island was fertile and produced abundant crops requiring little labor. They also built huge stone funeral platforms for their leaders.

Their world changed in 1722 when Dutch Admiral Jacob Roggeveen “discovered” the island on Easter Sunday, renaming it Easter Island. At that time the island was a wasteland without trees, with a small, starving population. The Dutch sailors killed 12 and wounded many more in their first encounter. They later reported that over 900 of the huge statues, some 70 feet tall, were standing. The world now knew about the island and its people.

And then, in 1492…

When Columbus and his sailors landed in the “new world” (Columbus thought it was Japan), they encountered natives they called Indians because they thought they had reached the East Indies.

Actually, in all of his four voyages to America, he never set foot on any part of the United States. He landed in the Bahamas, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, Venezuela, and parts of Central America. But Columbus is given credit for “discovering” much of North America which led to the development of the Americas by European countries.

The Norse Leif Erickson tried to colonize North America in the 11th century, but it was very short-lived.

As a Catholic ruled by Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus also considered it his duty to bring the Catholic religion to the New World.

After his first voyage Columbus was appointed governor of the Caribbean islands. He was not known as a kind and sympathetic leader. His demonstrated incompetence ended in tyranny. He used torture and mutilation to put down the natives, and was accused of genocide in Santo Domingo, when he killed natives and then paraded their dismembered bodies through the streets.

He also started the slave trade in the West Indies, which then spread like wildfire through the Americas and European colonies scattered throughout the world.

Slavery even hit Easter Island natives hard in the 1860’s when 1500 and the king of Easter Island were enslaved around the world. Most ended up in Chile, working in the guano deposits or on the plantations of the rich in Peru.

The island natives had no immunity against foreign diseases, so at one time in the late 1860s, only 111 people remained on the island.

In the 1930’s Easter Island was turned into a sheep farm by Chile and British investors through a 50-year contract. During this half-century 70,000 sheep roamed the island eating most of the greenery.

What about the future of both societies?

Today Easter Island has about 3,000 permanent residents and we have 326 million, but we may end up with the same fate for large numbers of our residents. About 100,000 tourists visit Easter Island each year to see the huge stone megaliths with 12-ton hats in both their upright and fallen forms.

The island itself was stripped of all palm trees years ago because they were used in moving these gigantic religious art carvings. Yes, the trees were cleared for some crop space, but the demands for lumber to move statues changed the way the culture lived. The lack of trees dried the land.

There is no doubt we 7.7 billion humans with our capacity to burn up resources are changing the climate around the world. It seems the one-time tiniest nation in the world has a history somewhat like ours, one of the largest nations in the world. Both were discovered by foreigners, natives killed and tortured, thousands sent or kept in slavery, populations decimated by smallpox and other diseases, lands ruined by terrible conservation practices—and sometimes governed by despicable despots.

The most important similarity may come true if the projections about climate change by the the 22nd century come true. The oceans will rise six feet. Corky and I have driven several times through Florida to California and back through the swamps of all those border counties from Florida through Texas. Much of that land will disappear. Easter Island is in jeopardy from a rising ocean. A SACK cartoon put scuba gear on the stone statues!

We lived on New Topsail Island off the North Carolina coast for two years. The highest spot on the whole island was eight feet above sea level. When the waves come in the future our favorite home will disappear along with a very long barrier island.

In a 2005 book entitled “Collapse,” Jared Diamond wrote about the demise of Easter Island: “Easter’s isolation makes it the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by over-exploiting its own resources. The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious.”

So we had one society destroy itself by erecting huge megaliths to its religion, and another one where plutocrats erected huge 100.000 square-foot mansions as monuments to themselves and their wealth, acquired by over-exploitation.

How can you be happy paying the highest taxes in the world?

Each year since 2012, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network evaluates 156 countries and publishes The World Happiness Report. The report this year includes the results of evaluating 117 countries on the happiness and well-being of their immigrants. You have one guess which countries dominate the top of the report.

Yup, it’s the Nordic countries again -- and in this order: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia.

The United States fell to 18th place from being 14th last year. It has never been higher than 11th.

Professor Emeritus of Economics John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia, the co-editor of the report, writes: “The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born. Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

CEO Meik Wiking of the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute says, “The Nordic countries that rank high are doing something right in terms of creating good conditions for good lives. We have healthy amounts of both personal freedom and social security, even if we pay the highest taxes in the world. We are good at converting wealth into well-being. The happiness of immigrants shows the conditions that we live under matter greatly to our quality of life, that happiness is not only a matter of choice.”

Famous for high taxes, they are also famous for the generous social welfare systems they provide: free college, universal health care, long and well-funded parental leave, heavily subsidized child care, and long vacations from work.

More than 90% of Finnish workers are represented by union contracts, compared with 89% of Swedish workers, and 84% of Danish workers. Currently only 11.9% of American workers are represented by unions—and most of them are public employees, not private.

Under this democratizing system, demoralizing inequality of income cannot exist because workers’ lives are basically under their own control. None of these top ten countries are socialistic because the governments do not own all of the means of production. Economists say they are capitalistic countries with various degrees of “redistributionist tendencies.”

Some have single-payer health care while others have combinations of private, public, and market-based insurance. But most health care prices are controlled by governments instead of by individual whim, greed, and obscene charge lists.

Americans have two major issues that continue to inhibit them on any happiness scale: income inequality and unaffordable health care. It takes a minimum annual salary of $75,000 to make an American “happy.” With a median annual salary of about $55,000 we have a big unhappy majority.

While all other developed countries have some kind of universal coverage, we continue to have about 30 million without health coverage. Besides that, we spend almost twice as much as 10 other high-income countries on health care, according to a Harvard University study.

When we compare data collected from Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, we learn we spend 17.8% of our Gross National Product (GNP) on health care.

Switzerland is the highest of the other nine at 12.4%, Australia the lowest at 9.6%. We spend an average of $9,403 per person while Germany spends $5,182, the Dutch $5,202, and the mean spending for all countries is $5,419.

Our life expectancy is the lowest of the top 11 countries, at 78.8 years. The other countries range from 80.7 to 83.9 years. We spend 8% of total costs on administration while other countries range from 1% to 3%. We spend $1,443 per capita on prescription drugs compared to a range of $466 to $939 for the other nations.

If we cut our prices for 25 high-volume surgical procedures to those of the Netherlands we would save a whopping $137 billion a year. The prices we are charged for surgical procedures are way out of line compared to other countries.

Trump and Trumpistan have given me a new occupation: psycho-proctologist

In his article “It’s Time We Rethink The Devil For The Modern Era,” Jeremy Sherman discusses the role of the devil in ancient and modern times. He concludes that the devil is ultimately a modern man that is “someone so full of themselves that they do such a thing without regard for others. Someone with extraordinary powers who uses them solely for selfish gain.”

Gee, I wonder who he has in mind.

Sherman then says he is actually a psycho-proctologist because he studies assholes, buttheads, jerks, pigs, and people who do way more harm than good. As I have been doing this for many years, I believe my experiences with that list qualify me to be certified as a psycho-proctologist practitioner.

As for the happiness scale, I think it’s interesting how two Roosevelts felt about what makes a country a happy place. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “This country would not be a good place for any of us to live in if it is not a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”

Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

By the way, this is how to make a country great.

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