I have been absent from these pages for seven months (except for one entry, in May). My wife Cathy and I traveled 37,000 miles on a ship, visiting seventy ports in thirty-eight countries on five continents in 180 days. Naturally, you would hope we learned from that experience, so today I would like to share some of those thoughts as my first column in such a long time.
■ Most people are friendly and eager to learn from strangers. Most people want to do right, at least on the level of society where we live.■A free and open economy brings prosperity to those who educate themselves and work their buns off. A socialist society — and there have been many attempts at it, especially in Africa and South America — is a breeding ground for permanent poverty and individual complacency.■ There must be a balance between an individual’s right to impact his government and the ability of government to get something done — like building roads. If China had as many lawyers as the United States, they would be twenty years behind where they are now.■There is incredible poverty throughout the developing world and few, if any, “safety net” programs in place. Even in some very developed countries in Asia, a person is pretty much on his own to make his way.■ We talk constantly about income inequality in the United States, but we have no idea how much more unequal poor people have it elsewhere. In every developing country, the economy cannot produce anywhere near the jobs needed to form a viable middle class; so the few rich get richer and the majority, who are poor, cannot get onto the first rung of the ladder of upward mobility.■People are inherently entrepreneurial. We saw that in country after country: Hundreds of tiny shops selling whatever. Benin in West Africa was a real eye opener — hundreds of little shops competing with one another; dozens of vendors hawking t-shirts, fruit, shoes, etc., on street corners, many of them women with a baby on her back. In Guatemala, tiny convenience stores attached to tin-roofed houses. In Cartagena, Colombia, swarms of irritating vendors.■ The Chinese people, for thousands of years, have resigned themselves to having an authoritative form of government, and the communist government keeps a lid on information to keep it that way.■South Africa is a powder keg. It is practically a first-world economy, but apartheid created so much poverty, illiteracy, and human beings unprepared for a first-world economy that it will take generations to correct. We are afraid that the understandable resentment at the unequal ownership of the economy will result in radical attempts to speed up the spread of opportunity that will do just the opposite. These efforts to confiscate property based on white ownership will bring the country’s economy to its knees. The great Nelson Mandela is gone; in his place have been a series of crooks “getting theirs” and “getting even.” It will take another Mandela to keep South Africa from going off the rails.■ We cannot fathom how a country of organized, educated, intelligent, entrepreneurial, neat, polite people that is Japan can have committed the breathtaking and horrific atrocities throughout their empire that culminated in World War II.■ The colonial powers of the 16th through early 20th centuries operated from a set of assumptions that eventually were their undoing. Their condescension toward the native peoples of any of their colonies, the one-way exploitation, the looting of the local economies without any outside investment could work only so long. Eventually, people will fight back, and they did.■ The American people still believe that our place in the world allows us the luxury of arguing about everything, throwing sand in the gears of any and every attempt at improving the economy, and generally having a food fight or a conniption fit about everything anybody does or says. We don’t. Our competitors are not within the United States. They are all around the world, and they are eating our lunch. We fiddle. They build. We argue and stall. They compromise and progress.
Most of all, we learned what a wonderful community we are blessed to live in. Cathy especially remarked repeatedly — during the trip and when we got home — about what a neat, clean place we live in, surrounded by people who work to keep it that way. Central Connecticut has a culture of friendliness, concern for one another, and active civic involvement that we cherish. We had a wonderful experience meeting other people from around the planet, to be sure, and we were privileged to take the journey. But, more than anything, we learned how good it is to be home in Wallingford.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.