In 2006 I “had to” go to Belfast to give a paper at a conference. Since I was already there and my airfare paid by my grant, I decided to check out Europe’s explosion of cheap-and-somewhat-cheerful budget airlines. After applying various rubrics I ended up with two destinations as side trips: Tallinn Estonia and Slovenia. In Tallinn I hoped to get a glimpse of what a post-Soviet society looked like; in Slovenia I wanted to visit my online friend Tomaz and I wanted to see what the only former Yugoslavian country to transition into the EU looked like.
Having only seen Tallinn, I feel unprepared to analyze Estonia per sé. Tallinn has almost as many Russians as Estonians, and I was largely in the old city–which is marvellous, but hardly representative of anything but itself. I’d love to spend more time there, seeing the rest of the country.
Slovenia I got a good look at: Tomaz and his partner Igor pretty much gave me the full meal one day tour deal. After an evening in Lujblijana proper (which means’ Lovely town’) we went high into the Julian Alps, through the lake district, across briefly into Italy, and down to the Italian speaking Adriatic coast. Aside from being a wonderful, beautiful, quietly self-confident place, what struck me the most were the highways.
No, really: the highways. In fact, the infrastructure overall. In particular, the contrast between Italy and Slovenia was striking. Slovenia seems to have decided that infrastructure is critical to maintaining a robus economy. It’s working too: the GDP per capita is already higher than Greece and Portugal, both of which have been in the EU for many years.
But highways were just the obvious part. Schooling is quite good apparently, from K through university. I encountered very few Slovenians who didn’t have a basic grasp of English. There are also apparently ongoing investments in telecom and hydro. And even the recent gas crisis–which didn’t affect Slovenia nearly as much as its neighbours–has sparked a public discourse on how to move towards greener, more renewable energy sources ASAP. Not if; when and how.
Today we get the dog and pony show that is the Throne speech. I’ll skip it, thanks. But tomorrow we get the details on the budget. While there is so much we can spend to stimulate the economy, to my mind infrastructure tops the list. This would include:
- highways, rails, airports, port
- telecommunications networks
- Renewable energy industries
It would not include bailing out an auto industry or forestry industry, so long as those industries cling to unsustainable (economically and environmentally) business models. The writing has been on the wall for both industries for over a decade.Radically change how they do business if they want a hand up.
No more stoopid, gas guzzling personal vehicles; subsidies to develop hybrid and electric vehicles faster; a re-tooling of the way their factories operate. And a bigger bucket to help the workers find new jobs in other industries for the most part.
And no more shipping raw logs out of Canada: that change alone will both save and create jobs.