[lit-ideas] Eastern Europe (Re: Re: US Immigration policies)

One of the saddest things about the "Polish plumber"
fears aired during the EU constitution referenda is
that by any reasonable measure the Eastern Expansion
has to be one of the biggest success stories as of
late by any measure. If that is EU being bad, what
exactly would be good?


I drove from Estonia through Latvia to Lithuania
couple weeks ago. I had been to the cities, Riga and
Tallinn quite often before, but I had never really
seen the country side and actually understood the way
these nations basically missed fifty years of
development. And the Baltic nations are among the
wealthier ones in Eastern Europe.

The poverty is still considerable. People are not
starving, but it is still materially way below
anything in the West particularly outside the big
cities which have received most of the benefits from
economic growth. In Baltics, what makes this more
worrying is that the large Russian minorities are
worse off, and the Estonian plumber Simon runs into in
UK may not even speak Estonian.

Take the roads. I drove Via Baltica, or E67, and while
it is being improved all the time (with EU funding) it
is still basically a village road with some of the
worst holes filled. The positive thing about people
having relatively few cars is that there is a bus stop
every half a kilometer and service seems regular in
even remote areas.

Or the buildings. There are few Soviet style concrete
suburbs, but pretty much everything else is pre-war or
brand new. And often pretty eccentric, you've got
everything from glass and steel Scandinavian
functionalism to Swiss alpine houses side by side with
the old wooden houses.

On the strictly positive side, the food. EE missed the
joys of chemical driven agriculture thankfully slowly
being phased out elsewhere too, and you can literally
taste it. Also, I don't think your average Latvian
would understand the whole concept of micro-brewery.
The Estonian lagers are good, if bit boring, but the
Latvians and Lithuanians produce a wide variety that
ranges from good to excellent. (The author stopped to
get a bottle of Svyturys Extra Draft at this point.)

Now where was I... Oh yes the business and retail.
Simply looking at bank or shop names, you'd think you
would be in Sweden or Finland. The Nordic businesses
have cash to spend and have been investing heavily
here. Best known example of this kind of co-operation
would be Skype, owned by Swedes and coded by
Estonians.

Something the commies were quite good at was
education, and the population is putting their skills
to use both home and abroad. Brain drain may
eventually be the problem in the East, but the rapidly
rising efficiencies mean that for now on they've got
workers to spare. Some of the nations have both near
double-digit economic growth and unemployment at the
same time.

Instead of outsourcing activities that do not add
enough value to justify say German wages to some place
oceans away, companies have a relatively low cost
destination right next door. Labor standards are
improving, and these were no sweat-shops to begin
with.  And this trade is mutually beneficial, for
years to come former Eastern Bloc nations have genuine
demand for infrastructure of all kind, consumer goods,
that helps the western industry too.

One thing that has been keeping German economy afloat
in recent years during a domestic slump is the
exports, Germany recently took over for USA as the #1
exporter in the world, and that has more than bit to
do with having cost-effective and high quality
suppliers at Poland, Czech republic and Slovakia. (If
you want a good European car, get a Skoda, it is
basically a VW with a considerable discount.)

What EU does have to do with this is that it first of
all provides a liberal democratic framework, which
does considerably improve the legal rights of
minorities and keeps corruption at check for example.
Second, it quite effectively stops the old EU nations
from raising all sorts of barriers to trade and
movement of labor, which is to the benefit of almost
everyone in the continent. If this on the whole is a
failure, I'd like to know what exactly qualifies as a
success.


Cheers,
Teemu
Helsinki, Finland

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