The French earn more than Americans…but Europeans pay higher prices than Americans, for almost everything. And prices have been going up four times as fast as incomes. In Europe, as in America, more and more people are being squeezed out of the middle classes. They either get richer…or poorer. A study in Germany, for example, found that middle-range salaries were earned by 62% of the population in 2000, but that by 2007, only 54% of wage earners were in the middle category.
In Rome, we went out for breakfast on the Piazza di Navona. It was a beautiful spot to begin the day, with the sun on our faces…while watching the Italians open up their restaurants and set up their artwork on the piazza. The piazza preserves the shape of Domitian’s circus…an oval form, about 100 yards wide and twice as long, In the center, artists display their paintings, jugglers entertain, and a few madmen and pickpockets wander around. One of the strangest characters in the square was a woman – a bag lady, carrying two large bags in each hand. She appeared early in the morning, while we were having our caffe latte, wearing a purple padded coat and a knit hat. Her hair had been colored bright orange and stuck out on both sides of her head like a clown. Her face was painted a bright red. While we watched, she said nothing. Instead, she merely ambled around…not appearing to notice anyone in particular…and not appearing to have any particular destination. When we passed through the piazza later in the day, she was still there…doing exactly as she had been doing all day.
Meanwhile, a jogger was running around the track. He was a middle-aged man wearing a Colgate University tee shirt. The people at the neighbouring table, French, noticed him.
“He must be an American,” one man said to the others. “Who else would run around like that at this hour of the morning?”
After a few laps…
“I think he’s speeding up. I’m going to time him…”
Then, a few laps later…
“Yes, he’s speeding up. You’d think he’d go slower. That’s a long way around the piazza. And he’s an old guy. But he’s doing each lap a little faster…”
Then, as we all began to wonder how fast he would go…he peeled off to the right down a side street.
Amid all this entertainment, the waiter brought the bill for breakfast. We had had two coffees, two croissants, and two glasses of orange juice. The bill: 35 euros…or about $52.
“This isn’t the All-You-Can-Eat Early Bird Special in Lubbock, Texas,” said Elizabeth.
Markets and Money