If there is one fundamental difference between the US and Europe that one experiences from Day 1 of landing in either one of the countries (but only if they are there to stay, not as tourists!), is the difference in the way people sell their goods. Commerce is so fundamentally different, that I have been trying to articulate for years what precisely makes it so different, and it’s actually hard to put it in words.
The first thing that comes to mind is the level of noise. In Europe, it is utterly uncommon for a business to place cold calls or to try to “funnel” their customers towards accepting a service. I don’t know why that is. But what I know is that I have never been confronted with so much white noise produced by the market living back in Europe. In the US, everyone has something to sell, and everyone tries to wrap their product in some sort of compelling feeling that will encourage the buyer to buy. In East Europe especially, whoever walks in a store is most likely decided to make a purchase; impulse buying is not at all common, because people don’t have the finances or the access to credit lines in order to satisfy their impulses. Hence, the walk-ins are not merely bystanders who need to be converted in buyers, they are buyers for sure.
The second difference that comes to mind is the imagery that is used in selling products. Beyond the obvious “sex sells” principle, which is applied both in Europe and in the US (although in Europe it is probably less obvious and a little bit more polished, but definitely present), most US ads of the products are not to scale. The scale and characteristics difference between what the real product is depicted as being and the actual product is mind blowing to me. Yet again, I have never been “duped” by a European brand to buy their meat grinder because it looked all made out of steel, and then when I got it to realize that it is plastic. In Europe, the imagery is always accurate, to scale, and the characteristics of the items that are available for purchase are clearly stated.
Another difference is the false “sales” ads. I never came across this sale technique in Europe. It’s basically when a store advertises an item for $4, and when it doesn’t sell, they post a “$10, reduced to $4 today only” type of ad. I have never seen that done before. Granted, when the only store you can buy food from belongs to the government, and they don’t need to make a quota because you have no options – you either buy it or you starve – no one needs to use this technique.
Prices advertised without tax are another mind-blowing concept to me: I have never seen that before either – except for Africa. In Africa everything is sold like in the US stores: the price advertised is the price without tax. In Europe, from the UK to the Black Sea, all prices advertised already include tax. The price listed is the final cost, out the door. No hidden fees, no hidden taxes.
And last but not least, I will mention the way accounting software is designed and the way people work with banks. Whilst in Europe (particularly East Europe!) working with credited funds requires an intentional decision, taken after going through a personal financial analysis – and without the bank sending you constant mailing that you are pre-approved – in the US you can’t set foot out the house without someone trying to sell you money. The accounting software used in the US are designed in such a way that the line of credit available to you seems to be merely another pocket that you can have access to whenever you want. It is less valuable money, but nevertheless, yours. – Or so the bankers would like you to think.
It almost seems, at a first glance, that Europe is less motivated to sell, and that the US does not make a collective effort to prevent people from making bad purchases.
You might find these remarks to be critical at the expense of the US. But the question begs to be asked: what causes different types of commercial transactions in these two cultures? Why is it that the European (especially east European) culture seems to have in-built some sort of stupid-proof speed-bumpers that are meant to prevent people from making bad financial choices, whilst the US is so focused on personal responsibility, personal research and the individuals are left to fend for themselves? Last but not least, should we change the face of America into becoming a second Europe?
Before I came to the US, I was exposed to a market that offered uncensored access to tobacco and alcohol. I have never been tempted. Proud to say I’m getting close to my 40s, and I have never been drunk and never smoke even one cigar puff. (I actually can’t remember ever holding a cigar.) But I have never been exposed to recreational drugs or substances that give dependency, and even coffee was a luxury that most people wouldn’t afford to serve other than on special occasions. (Of course, coffee is now available everywhere even in the former Soviet bloc and its anchor states like Romania.)
The children of the free, in America, grow up in a culture that has open-access to substances.
So where is it easier to make good choices? In a place where the wrong choices do not exist or in a place where you can have and be anything you want?
And an even more thought provoking question, if I may: where are people truly free? Does America still want freedom these days, now that it starts to become quite obvious that freedom without moral principles and without watchdogs will end in tears? Or does America prefer what seems to be a “superficial” lack of freedom (there is no such thing…) in exchange for some sort of promised safety?
I can’t say that I would have been tempted to smoke or use drugs had I been born and raised in the US. But I also cannot say for certain that I wouldn’t have. I don’t think the “nature vs. nurture” debate is meaningless. (There are reasons to entertain conversations debating this topic.) But what I know is, had I been raised in the States, my options in life might have tested me in a different way.
So what does freedom *really* mean? Coming from a socialist country, where freedom is not even a concept, and experiencing (whatever is left from the) American culture of freedom as an adult, I often asked myself that question.
Freedom is danger; it involves no speed bumpers meant to slow you down on the road to financial debt; bankers offering you bad deals; fake advertisers; spamming; cold calls; white noise from the sellers; incapacity to hold others accountable to the teeth, like you could in a totalitarian regime (and that’s actually a good thing – I’ll comment later on this).
What freedom leads to is either a way deeper sense of personal responsibility and self-consciousness – or slavery. (There’s no third option merely because time is a continuum. What that means is that our today’s choices are not isolated from tomorrow, but they cause consequences that can lead to good or bad times.)
And that’s what the great American experiment was all about, actually. Self-governance is merely a fancy way of saying: let’s see what people choose.
And all is not lost from this great experiment!
The commercial market safeguards that Europe has in place, as an unspoken code of conduct, although it might sound so inclusive (even if you’re not prepared for life, chances are that you’re not going to make too many poor financial choices because there’s no bank available to offer you expensive “free money”), it is actually designed to accommodate people who are ill prepared for life; it is not inclusive – it is built with the idea that you and I are dumb. People who have been deemed by other people to be too stupid to make the right choices, they are the ones who need protection. The root of this “accommodating” and “inclusive” system is nothing else but the remnant of the generalized totalitarian regime that was spread across Europe.
During the socialist, totalitarian regime in Romania, the tyrants decided that Romanians are too stupid to know how to use banking systems. Also, Romanians were too stupid to run their own small businesses. So there were no private businesses allowed to exist – not by law, but by regulation. As such, there were no private banks. Cash was king.
And although yes, a free person should ALWAYS choose to pay with cash and stay away from going into debt, if there are no banks available on the market (and so, the danger of experiencing debt is missing), how will that individual know the real reasons why going in debt is a bad idea?
(A very interesting phenomena that I have witnessed since moving to the States is that once an immigrant from a third world country comes here, they are either charmed by the glam and riches of the Western world and go in debt way more than even the locals – or they shrink back from using credit cards, understanding the traps and dangers of the unregulated commercial and banking system; they keep living on cash like they used to back at home. You can either see the traps, or you don’t. Those who see the traps of unregulated financial systems, unregulated commerce, who take their freedom seriously and stay clear from temptation, end up doing very well for themselves and leave a good legacy behind.)
There is a famous “Playground Study” that was conducted on a group of kids to discover the effects of a fence around the playground and the consequent impact it would have on preschool children. Teachers were to take their children to a local playground, in which there was no fence during their normal recess hour. The kids were to play as normal. The same group was to be taken to a comparable playground, in which there was a defined border designated by a fence.
In the first scenario, the children remained huddled around their teacher fearful of leaving out of her sight. They did not use the full playground space the later scenario exhibited drastically different results, like the children feeling free to explore within the given boundaries. The overwhelming conclusion was that with a given limitation, children felt safer to explore the playground. Without the children were not able to see a given boundary or limit, and thus were more reluctant to leave their caregiver with a boundary in this case, offense that children felt at ease to explore the space. The fence is a visible reminder that they are safe from objects of harm. Such as stray dogs, cars, strangers. As long as they remained in that secure environment, they were able to separate from the caregiver and explore.
This study was used to develop really powerful social engineering tools, both for good purposes and bad.
I fully support the idea of boundaries, both in my life and in the life of others, on both micro and macro scales. The idea of those boundaries being set in place by humans through the means of regulation, not so much.
The idea that there is a divinity out there that had created us with some obvious limitations is, indeed, reassuring. The reason why we don’t have kids falling off the roof in their attempt to fly is because we have figured out where our boundary stands when it comes to flight: no wings, no flight without a propeller. That’s a natural boundary, and regardless if one believes or not in God, we all agree that natural boundaries are in place and cannot be ignored.
The idea that another person or group of people could set an artificial boundary (like say, I am “not allowed” collect the water rain that falls on my property), is slavery.
A few aspects of this experiment that people don’t seem to think about are:
1. There is a conflict of power in this example. The kids have someone *in authority* looking after them. It’s not only someone *responsible* for them, it’s someone *in authority*.
2. There is someone above the teacher. Someone who put a fence in. Those people actually have control over the teacher as well. She too is limited by the fence.
3. The kids are kids base on obvious criteria: age, height, occupation, role in the group.
If we were to transpose this example in real life, who decides who the person in authority is? Certainly, the kids did not decide who their teacher is. The kids also did not decide that they are kids, they simply are, based on their identity. So if we were to apply this example to our society today, who would be the teacher, who would decide who the teacher is, who would be the ones putting in the fence, and who would be the kids? – Nobody thinks they would be the kids; everyone thinks they would be the teacher, don’t they?
So, as utterly comfortable as I am with the idea of a deity who truly is above our human condition, someone who is made out of something that we are not, who is more powerful and more knowledgeable than we are – as utterly uncomfortable I am with the thought of humans fencing in humans.
If we want to be whole, we should not attempt to eradicate evil (or rather, what we perceive as being evil) in our society, with the thought of preventing our kids from being exposed to evil. Rather, we should teach our children how to steer clear from evil, and how, if they have encountered evil, to part ways with it, heal and not join in with it.
This little story comes to mind; I once knew a woman whose son was allergic to peanuts. From what I understand, his allergy was severe. So she went on an anti-peanut crusade. Peanut products were banned at the church gatherings; any products that were commercially prepared and not labeled free of peanuts and peanut oil were banned. The summer camps her kid was attending were peanut-free. She would personally contact the parents of the kids going to this camps and demand that whatever snacks they pack for their kids, they double check with her the labels and make sure nothing peanutty makes into the camp.
Meanwhile, her son didn’t know to ask about products that he was eating. He was partially unaware of the severity of his allergy. But because his mother was on a mission to destroy all peanuts in the world, he felt comfortable enough to eat anything in his sight, because anything in his sight was peanut proofed by his *loving* mother.
I wish this wouldn’t be a real story. But it is. It is the story of a woman who I am happy to have written off from our circle of connections. It is also a story of Europe, as it is now, and a story of what America is trying to do by banning catching rain water, and guns, and right to choose who you bake a cake for. What seems like a loving, thoughtful gesture, is actually depriving people from their responsibility to explore, learn, and improve.
Is freedom dangerous? Of course it is. But what’s the alternative?
Is freedom fair? Never. The incapacity to hold others accountable to the teeth, like you could in a totalitarian regime, stems from the fact that in a free world, there isn’t too much human authority to appeal to. There is still some, because we can’t live completely without structures, but the amount of structure is limited to minimum necessary in a free world. I prefer lesser governance, hence lesser authority to appeal to – I prefer this to a great presence of corrupted authority; because power ALWAYS get corrupted, regardless if it’s power in capitalism or socialism. There’s just no human made law that can be invented that can prevent authority from becoming corrupted. (There is a moral compass that could prevent authority from becoming corrupted; but we live in a society that applauds abortions, same sex marriages and on its way to openly endorse paedophilia… so I am afraid that we’re not naturally inclined to embrace tools that operate based on a moral code…)
I prefer to pay for my own stupidity – should it come down to having to pay a price – than to never know who is going to *make* me pay for some insignificant rule, concocted by a bored bureaucrat, that I was unaware of.
I want to make sure that I make this very clear: I am not an anarchist. Anarchy is equally dangerous as tyranny, and both need to be prevented.
Having said all this, what I wish for America to do today, is to unplug. I wish people would understand that freedom means that some people might be wiping up emotions and cause either purchases motivated by fear or panic. It happened during the pandemic. It is happening again now.
The number of podcasts about the food shortages that are coming are again, baffling to me. If you don’t spend time in the house listening to the radio or on YouTube, but you’re outside, planting your garden, you won’t experience a food shortage, unless there’s a food shortage similar to the one during the Great Depression.
What we need to understand is that “the market” is not something out there, but we are it. We are the market. When all the TP was gone off the shelves during Covid, it’s because all the TP was IN OUR HOUSES, not stashed away somewhere by “the market”.
For the last 3 years, America had constantly reacted with fear to whatever the great salesman are telling on news. In America, everybody wants to sell something, so everyone is a great YouTuber overnight. No one is saying that we need to be unprepared, but what exactly are we preparing for?
If we think about the situation realistically, here’s the truth about agriculture, at least in Washington state: we have not had a more rainy spring than this year’s, at least in the last 13-15 years. We had a LOT of rain, and a lot of the grass is growing way faster than it should. Without fertilizer, that is. So why is the grass price going up? There’s so much running around, that people are not sure how to graze their pastures. If you look on the sheep raiser’s forums, you will notice that one common issue is that there’s just too much grass growing too fast. And the crops, as well, are growing.
At the same time, soil that had been sprayed against varmints, every year, that had been fertilized and planted for decades, even if no one touches one grain of dust in that field, will produce an abundance of harvest merely due to what it already contains; the scraps of plants from the past years, the seeds and roots, will produce a harvest at least for one more year. In fact, this is such a known fact, that in the Jewish Orthodox communities, land is cultivated for 6 years, and in the 7th year, I has a Sabbath year – a year of rest. During that 7th year, the land still produces some harvest – not as much, but there is still some harvest produced.
Yes, the gas prices are going up, and they are skyrocketing, but are they truly justified? Or is this just another panic-inducing tactic that the great sellers of America try to use to trick people into voting for them?
So here’s my plan: let’s keep America free. Let’s put un with the white noise and the non-sense and the spam culture by unplugging from the stories of the great salesmen. Go plant your field and worry not about not having fertilizer; let the soil produce what it can, and you will be surprised at what riches the land has; just plant your seeds and wait. It is better to plant and not harvest than to not plant and at harvest time, to look over your shoulder at your neighbor’s field.
Just because one year America won’t have fertilizer – or, rather, not as much as it is used to have – it doesn’t mean that there will be no food and that the land will not produce anything. Remember that new fertilizers only started being used in1909, when Fritz Haber discovered that the chemical reaction of N and hydrogen-produced ammonia—the main component in nitrogen-based fertilizers. Until then, farms fertilized their soil with manure; and it’s not like all farms had thousands of animals to produce thousands of pounds of manure, and yet humanity survived!
Remember, in America, because we want freedom, people are free to lie: they will lie to you about stock availability, about resources, about shortages coming. People are free to be evil.
But in order for people to be free to tell the truth, people need to also be free to tell lies. There’s no way around this. Don’t let panic and fear rob you of your finances, of your life, or your sleep. Be wise, make smart decisions, but don’t panic. Don’t buy all the survival kits that someone wants to sell you, don’t expect the government to send another economic relief check and don’t expect our government to pay your bills. That’s not what the government exists for. By asking for free food from the government and expecting them to come with a solution for your financial situation, you become a slave.
Take responsibility for your field. Plant it. With fertilizer or not, plant your field. Just because someone tells you that your seeds won’t grow, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true. Do everything you can to keep your family safe, and even if war starts tomorrow, today go out and plant a garden. That is one war lesson that we had well learned in Romania: never stop planting.
Last, but not least, isn’t it funny how, for very different reasons, both the left and the right movements in America are now talking about food shortages? We couldn’t get them to agree on something as basic as a virus just a few months back, but now, as if both can clearly see the future, everyone is talking about food shortage. If we’re so certain that there is a food shortage coming, it’s because we’re the ones creating it.
My hope for America is that this year, without any kind of fertilizers, there will be SO much food in America, that we won’t be able to eat and store it all. Just so that it is clear that the playground boundaries are not established by a party or a movement, nor are humans able to control nature. I pray for an abundance like the world had never sen before. An abundance that will put every single Christian who panicked at shame, and every evil human who worked at destroying America on a spotlight.
Maybe then we will have eyes to see why this great experiment is failing…