Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union

A couple of years ago I read a piece on one of those expat websites warning against buying a house in Costa Rica. The neighbours were invariably friendly, but, if you left your house vacant for any length of time, you were liable to find it burgled – a hole smashed in the wall, and your TV relocated to a friendly neighbour's living room. Or so the story went.

A recent Bloomberg report makes it clear that such problems are not confined to developing countries. In the last few years, the percentage of homes in the United States without complete plumbing has risen for the first time in at least five decades due to roving gangs of thieves who strip vacant (often foreclosed) homes of their copper pipes, water heaters and much else besides. Many such houses become worthless, in effect, and have to be demolished.

The percentage of homes without full plumbing has risen by more than 10 percent since 2008. The stripping problem is worse in certain areas, of course. Detroit and Flint, Michigan, for example; Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York.

But the number of fully plumbed homes declined in all fifty states.

Trends such as these have an impact on the image – and self-image – of the United States. They contribute to a sense that the country is becoming less unified, less intact and less clearly differentiated from the rest of the world. The vision promoted by the Pledge of Allegiance ('one Nation under God, indivisible...') is further undermined, and there is a loss of confidence and trust.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, China continues its inexorable rise. London's Telegraph reports that China has overtaken the United States as the world's biggest trading nation. The total value of Chinese exports and imports last year was $3.87 trillion, versus $3.82 trillion for the US.