I just returned from a trip to Panama City, Panama about two weeks ago. I was very impressed by the progress the country is making in regards to infrastructure, and organization (things Panama is not known for). I tried the new subway system for the first time; it was organized, clean, and cheap. The roads in the city are still racked with traffic and aggressive drivers, but at least there is an alternative. The airport construction is moving along. The pace of sky scraper construction continues to blow my mind and the designs are awesome. The new canal construction is moving again.
The thing that most impressed me is the growth in the middle class in Panama. The first time I visited Panama, in 2006, I was shocked at the poverty and the disparity in wealth; this time it was evident that not only is there more to go around, but it is in fact being spread around. In fact, the Panamanians I spoke with, from taxi drivers to restaurant owners, called Panama “the land of opportunity”. That phrase sounds awful familiar, doesn’t it?
When I flew back into the Denver from Panama City, I was sorely disappointed at how Denver, one of the fasted growing cities in the U.S. was not nearly as impressive. While there is indeed some prosperity in the Denver region, it is mostly ugly sprawl with creeping suburbia, consisting primarily of slapped up last week crummy houses that will no doubt dilapitate quickly. I did not see a single “wow” building on the Denver skyline; nothing stood out, no personality. All of the houses in the surrounding sprawl could have easily been in Kansas City, Atlanta, or Detroit….blah.
The people I spoke with in Denver seemed happy, but not optimistic. There was talk about the new light rail, which is progress, but nothing earth shattering. Most of the talk was complaints involving too many people and too few good jobs. The Denver area remains a good place to be young and entrepreneurial, but it doesn’t have the heart beat that Panama had. It lacked something.
Returning to my home base of Bozeman, Montana, the feeling was more upbeat than Denver, but maybe only because our problems are smaller due to a much lower population. We share the same issues as Denver in that most of the new construction is awful and lacks quality or personality. There is no permanence in the suburban sprawl that continues to attack the former farm and ranch land.
Bozmanites are happy to be here (myself included) because we are spoiled with amenities of much larger towns while still being closer to our natural surroundings than most people can dream of in the U.S. However, there is a lingering weariness of chasing the “dream”. Most people in their prime working years are not saving as much as they would like, and many are just scraping by paycheck-to-paycheck.
It is now common when I talk to young people to hear them say that they are screwed, and in a sense, they are. They have been sold a dream that is becoming less and less attainable by “normal” people. In the U.S. wealth is becoming more concentrated in the hands of a few, while the middle class is shrinking, and the chance of getting ahead is getting smaller every year.
When I visit the east coast of the U.S. the picture is even more bleak, and the reasons come into focus. The aging population is very evident on the east coast. It is also very obvious that the money is controlled by the baby boomers. The houses, the cars, the advertisements on the radio, T.V., and in newspapers, all point to the market changing. The demographic the marketers target is no longer the 20-40 age group – they have no money. The marketers chase the baby boomers; this is the segment that has the money.
Without going into statistics, I can tell you from direct observation that while the United States population is aging, and shrinking without influx of Latin Americans, the Latin American population is young, hungry, and growing.
I guess my point is the U.S. appears to be in a downward spiral and Panama seems to be moving forward – quickly.
This was just my observation from my recent visit to a “third world country” that seems to have more growth, excitement, and a genuine positive vibe about its future. I think that it is an interesting experience to visit countries that are supposed to be worse off than we are here in the States – only to come away with an impression that somehow the people in these “poor” countries are more happy and feel as they have great opportunities on their horizon.