Iwas talking to someone on Twitter and then they revealed that they were homeless. This was confusing to me because… how are we talking? Homeless people in Sri Lanka are not on Twitter.
The usual idea is the Sri Lanka is poor and America is rich, but this isn’t quite true. Americans are poor with consumer goods. Sri Lankans are poor with public goods. It’s just different, and in many ways America is worse.
Broke With An iPhone
When we watch American TV it’s confusing because everyone has iPhones and cars but their lives are grindingly shit. They have individual debts that would crush entire villages. Then, being movies, they’re hustling and doing crimes.
In Sri Lanka if you make enough to afford an iPhone, you’re rich as shit. You’re eating seven curries for lunch and someone else is cooking them for you. If you get hit by a bus, that’s the problem, not the bill. You don’t have that much debt because no one will extend that much credit.
The average America is over $90,000 in debt while the average Sri Lankanhousehold debt is $400. While Americans might have higher (inflated) assets, in reality most American people are themselves assets to banks.It’s a nation of debt peons, distracted by trinkets and toys.
America has a much higher GDP, but what is that even measuring? All those crushing interest payments show up as revenue on some bank’s book. All those $100,000 healthcare bills show up as revenue to some private company. All these increases to human misery show up as increases to GDP. And none of it actually increases productivity.
It’s like burning your house down to increase the temperature. Technically it works, but your fucking house is on fire.
The country has all the appearances of wealth with none of the comfort or securty. It’s not just public goods like healthcare or education that even poor socialist(ish) countries like Sri Lanka has, it’s also basic stuff like family.
Home For The Holidays
It’s confusing watching American ‘home for the holidays’ movies because A) do they only have two holidays? and B) this seems to be the only time they see their extended families. We have holidays every month, including ever full moon, and cannot get away from our families.
In the west the only relevant unit is the individual, ie the consumer, but in places like Sri Lanka the relevant unit is the family. People live with their parents until they’re married, often after, and almost certainly once they have kids. Multi-generational households are the norm.
While this is obviously terrible if your family sucks, for many people this provides some basic level of stability. Food is shared, resources are shared, as are your highs and lows. With American individualism you get freedom, but at the price of loneliness. You get control, but at a price. Hence you can end up rich in money, but somehow poor in time and human connection, ie missing the point of being alive.
I’m not saying that being poor in Sri Lanka is somehow good. While there’s free healthcare, major problems still require major cash. While there’s low levels of debt, people still get ensnared in crushing loans. And while there’s family support, that also means family abuse, with nowhere to go. God knows a lot of Sri Lankans would still migrate given the chance.
I’m simply saying that America’s higher numbers do not mean necessarily better outcomes. All they’re really measuring is how rich their rich are, which often comes at the expense of the poor. When you look at how the American poor live, it’s grinding and desperate poverty like anywhere else, just with more gadgets. But sometimes even less.
A friend of mine went to San Francisco once and he was shocked. He said he saw tent cities of homeless people and he said “Machang, we don’t have anything as bad as that.” And we don’t. While I talk about the beggars I meet in Colombo, we don’t have entire encampments like San Francisco. We don’t have an open defecation problem like there.
San Francisco is really a picture postcard from American Hell because you have the richest people in the world next to poverty that shocks the ‘third world’ to tears. On paper San Francisco is a rich, liberal, town, but on the street it’s poor and brutally conservative. People aren’t even allowed to build affordable housing by law. So yeah, homelessness.
Americans are used to thinking poor is over there, but no, poor is everywhere.Poverty is not some thing in the ‘third world’ that you see on TV. It’s the fact that you have a big TV and no healthcare. It’s the fact that you have high GDP built on high misery. Americans are too used to looking across the world for poverty and not out the window.
America’s really just a poor country in a Gucci belt. This is actually worse than being poor in a sarong. The sarong at least lets the air in and can cover you when you sleep. The belt is uncomfortable, bought on debt, and keeps you tied to the idea that everything is Gucci when it’s really not.