I'm been travelling the past few days to various cities in Europe for meetings. I'll be back in Singapore on the weekend.
I had half a day off the earlier in the week so I had time to walk around. I had a heavy breakfast at my hotel that day. When it was time for lunch I bought a small piece of pizza but couldn't build up an appetite to eat it. I took a seat at a bench to check my map and put the uneaten pizza on the bench. A few people came by to as me if I still wanted the pizza and I told each of them I still wanted it. When the 5th person, a woman with a toddler, came by to ask me for it, I got tired of saying no so I handed the pizza to her. She said thanks, took the pizza, walked away and was eating it about 20 meters from me. Another woman came by and joked, "she's eating it all for herself ...nothing for the toddler". I told her that the woman could have fed the kid earlier but can't afford food for herself. She told me that is unlikely. The welfare state there gives out more than enough for food and housing giving more to those who have children, She cautioned me against giving food or money to people who approached me because they were likely to be unemployed who receive enough from the state but have nothing to do all day so they attempt to supplement their welfare checks by approaching foreigners for money or food.
All over Europe you have unemployment in the double digits with Spain having 20% umemployment. The high unemployment is due in part to the structural problems with the global economy ( I was writing a posting about this before I had to go overseas and it will be up over the weekend). See the solution to the unemployment problem in Europe is very simple ...you can call this solution (CBF)"Cheaper, Better, Faster". European workers where I'm at have a minimum wage of 1300 Euros a month (S$2.2K). All the govt needs to do to get the unemployment down is to to eliminate the minimum wage and create millions of jobs by asking workers to be CBF and accept pay of S$1000 a month. You might think that the cost of living in Europe is exorbitant so workers need much more to survive. I think this is a myth. This may be true 20 years ago but our cost of living has cost up. Cooked food at a restaurant is still expensive by Singapore standards but supermarket prices of uncooked food is about the same. Housing outside main cities which is a real viable option for many who commute to work costs less than public housing in Singapore. Singaporeans pay the 2nd highest electricity rates in the world. You will see advertisements for cars under $10K Euros ($17K). Yes, World Cup 2010 will be shown free in most places here.
While European countries appear to have saddled themselves with large sovereign debts which will require govts here to implement harst austerity measures. Even when they implement the harshest measures to get back to shape, their care for the poor, elderly and unemployed will still be miles ahead of Singapore. Singapore pushes for the CBF economy with armies of low wage workers struggling to survive...they will never do this here because fundamentally they believe that a person working at a full time job should be able to live a decent life and any system that takes that away is wrong and inhumane - they could have easily pushed down their unemployment by forcing down wages and pushing their less fortunate to take up low wage jobs. But they know in the long run, they will produce an unequal divided society and that they, unlike in Singapore, they simply cannot accept.