Sunday, January 8, 2012

Comparing two Panama Cities

The easiest way I have to keep perspective on my home country versus my adopted to track the news on Google. Google has a great "news alert" system, and for a couple years now I have an ongoing news "alert" for "Panama City". Of course, what is interesting is that half of the news coming in is related to Panama City, Panama...and the other half is about Panama City, FLORIDA. Since I often get asked by foreigners how life in Panama compares to the USA...I often have a fresh perspective on this just by following Google news on the two cities.

As per today's alert summary highlighted in the image above, life seems to be challenging on both sides of the Gulf that divides them. I visited Panama City, Florida decades ago...and from my recollections, I would suggest there are many similarities. Beaches, warm weather most of the year, and broad distinctions between the "haves" and the "have nots". Most people are more comfortable "suffering" or "playing" in sunny, warm climates. That`s why Florida grew so rapidly out of the Everglades "swamps"...and that is why we see such significant development going on the isthmus that is Panama. The poor AND the rich continue to migrate to these types of cities.

Part of the challenge of understanding life in either place is handling the tension and conflicts between rich and poor. Both Panama Cities have this complexity. Both have slums...and both have high end real estate zones. Both have reasonably high crime rates. When I read these "Nationmaster" crime stats...I find that in most categories Panama is relatively safer than the United States. The main areas Panama "wins" in higher crime categories are in percentage of "foreign detainees", and the amount of prison overcrowding. The USA is much more efficient in building prisons and putting its citizens there than Panama is. If you have to go to prison, Florida is probably a better location. Hopefully you nor I will ever have to deal with that sordid thought.

Back on the city seems to me that for its relative size in population (36,649 in Panama City, Florida, vs 880,691 for Panama City, Panama in 2009), Panama City, Fl has a lot of crime for its size. Its pretty hard to find reliable data in Panama and elsewhere for these kinds of statistics...and I have never lived in Panama City, Florida...but from my Google news perception, there sure seems to be a lot of crime in the Florida location even though Panama is obviously a much poorer, less educated population.

Then do we adequately judge "poorer" and "less-educated"? It seems to me that with all the billions spent on the USA social structure and education programs, the USA SHOULD be much further ahead than Panama economically and productively...yet I think the unemployment rates along with the crime rates are significantly higher in Panama City USA. That in itself is a crime to me...based upon the money spent.

Of course, who is to blame for these dreadful statistics? Do we blame the government for inadequate education or lack of social safety nets based on the amount of tax money they consume? Do we blame all the churches and non-profits who pay no taxes yet shovel in billions of dollars every year for such causes that never get resolved? Or, should we blame all citizens at large for not "taking care of their own"?

In this scenario, I think both the USA and Panama have the same problems. The governments tax too much from everyone for distribution back to the "entitled" and people "in power"...while the general citizenry waits for governments and institutions to cover their personal responsibilities or needs within their own families. There is some obvious truth to the fact that the poor in the world have more babies and contribute to the population boom more than the rich. Sure, part of that is that 70% of the world lives in poverty...but the other reality is that poorer working class families tend to have many more children than prosperous families. This in turn demands that society make more room for the growing number of under educated, under financed members of society. Who pays for all that? We ALL do!

The "dance" between governments and social programs that never adequately or evenly distribute what they collect is a never ending one. I don`t see any history of Socialism or Communism being a successful model of governing, economic planning or even distribution of a country`s wealth. Of course, Democracy and Capitalism has very few pure examples of success in this either. I would argue that every attempt at Democracy or Capitalism at some point gets diluted by the greed of a FEW producers...who then try and turn the rest of their society into some form of Socialism or Communal-ism...that THEY control. As a friend of mine always says about these things..."smoke and mirrors...smoke and mirrors".

As the world continues in the irreversible process of "globalization" will be interesting to watch these two "Panama Cities" as they continue to evolve and compete for growth and maturity in their unique regional and cultural evolutions...and to see in the end which citizens will end up with the best quality of life. Of course, one must define "quality of life" to adequately compare...and we will leave that for another discussion. Yet, I would suggest that overall...I see more happiness and relative tranquility in Panama than I see in the USA these days. Part of the reason for that is most Americans are not very well acquainted with real poverty or third world living...though they are quickly moving that direction. And most Panamanians...well, they currently have the most freedom and independence that they have ever experienced in their history. The average Panamanian is quite experienced at living in relative poverty and contented with the basic provisions that life (or powers that be) affords them. To that end, Americans in Panama City, Florida may have lots to learn from Panamanians in Panama City, Panama. Hopefully the growing economic system in Panama will not replicate some of the most drastic mistakes of the USA...those being: run-away credit, runaway materialism, and a self destructing culture fighting between conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious, between various races...and ultimately the main divide between rich and poor.

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