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12/26/2003 Archived Entry: "Karen de Coster on money matters"

KAREN DE COSTER GOT BUSY OVER CHRISTMAS and posted three blog entries on money matters. One is a brief note on the new bill that puts "anti-terrorist" clamps on precious metal dealers. Another delves into the extreme dangers of ballooning consumer debt (including both credit card use and the housing bubble). The third castigates Money magazine for its latest list of "best places to live."

As a typical math-challenged "girl," I'm always glad Karen (a CPA) is out there intelligently covering the money beat. Fortunately, even I understand the message of these three posts: The feds want to control (outlaw?) gold and silver; the economy is being Band-Aided together by consumer spending (which the Federal Reserve helps make monumentally profitable for banks); and Money magazine is talkin' to people who don't live like thee and me. (Or maybe like thee, but sure not like me. Or Karen.)

Karen points out how expensive many of Money's "best" communities are. I look at Money's list, which contains a few places I'm woefully familiar with, and I think traffic jams! smog! pretentious yuppies! crowds! malls! noise! no privacy! no space!.

I think YUCK.

Back when I worked in the corporate world, I actually lived in a couple of places that made the Money list while I was living in them. I still remember those two particular small cities fondly. (Neither is on the current list.) But even in those days I scanned the criteria the magazine uses to decide the "best" places & felt a little crosseyed. To Money, "best" means, among other things, having a lot of museums, parks, medical facilities, colleges, and "infrastructure."

Well, yeah, if it's a choice between those things and slums and rendering plants, those things are better, for sure. No doubt about it. But "best" -- no way. The little town I live near today has only a couple of useless, pocket-sized parks. But it has hundreds of square miles of open hills and woods on its doorstep, free for roaming, hunting, plinking, or just being left the heck alone. Its museums can be "done" in five minutes by any tourist making a potty stop. But they don't attract crowds and traffic. Its one school crams in everybody from kindergarten to 12th grade and then turns them loose to go to college someplace else. But it doesn't turn out any huge quotient of spoiled brats, gangsters, or dopers. AND it has a large, vibrant, supportive (and invisible to Money editors) homeschooling community. Its streets often don't have sidewalks and often do have potholes. But you can drive down those streets for years and never once get stuck in a traffic jam. When snow falls, it stays until it melts because there's no equipment to remove it. But the vistas are fabulous. It has higher-than average unemployment. But then, it also has a low enough cost of living to make that less catastrophic, and hundreds of people who routinely pitch in and do things for their neighbors and their community. It doesn't have any sophisticated high-tech centers nearby to provide rich jobs. But it doesn't have two-hour commutes. It also doesn't have a high-tech surveillance mentality or police-state cops, either. No red-light cameras, no metal-detectors, no street-corner surveillance cameras. Around here, mostly, if you haven't done anyone any harm, they leave you alone. And this great town has an additional blessing. It isn't anywhere near any center of state or federal government -- which so many of the cities on Money's list are.

I do sometimes miss ethnic restaurants, movie theaters that play something other than Disney, art museums, theater-theaters, elegant little specialty shops (that I couldn't afford, anyway), and being able to get my truck serviced at an actual dealer without making an all-day expedition of the matter. But when it comes to that overall, elusive "quality of life," life here as as unfettered, calm, secure, gorgeous, and free as you can find anywhere in the U.S. And it's just like this in hundreds of hidden places Money would look down its high-toned nose at.

Match that, Danville, California, or Alexandria, Virginia.

Posted by Claire @ 09:40 AM CST

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