November 30, 2007 - Impressions from Across the Atlantic

As many of you know, I do enjoy traveling. I find it to be very educational and I am fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to do a great deal of traveling. A few days ago, my wife and I made a quick four-day trip to London; let me share some of my impressions.

First of all, I learned first hand, the impact of a weak dollar on an American tourist. When I went to the exchange window to exchange dollars for pounds, I gave the teller US$200.00; she gave me back about 87BP (British Pounds). That meant when you checked the price of an item in a store or the price of a meal on a restaurant menu, you had to more than double the pound price to realize what it was costing in American dollars. Breakfast at one hotel, 24 BP; in US dollars, that breakfast cost more than $55.00.

So while it is a financially challenging time for American tourists in Europe, it is a good time for American exporters. A weak dollar definitely gives us a competitive advantage in the world market, particularly in agricultural products like grains and soybeans.

Secondly it is interesting to note government officials are not held in very high esteem, regardless of the country; it makes me wonder why anyone wants to run for public office. The relatively new leader of the British government, Prime Minister Gordon Brown who succeeded Tony Blair, was in the headlines daily because of a scandal in campaign contributions and his inability to deal with that kind of a scandal. Sound familiar?

On the agricultural front, foot-and-mouth disease was back in the headlines because of the second leak of virus in three months from a laboratory that is licensed by the government to manufacture an anti-virus to control the disease. These two leaks did flow into streams that ultimately led to an outbreak and once again, the culling of some cattle herds in a country that was devastated by foot-and-mouth disease a decade ago. Farmers are extremely angry and blamed the government for a lack of oversight and control of the laboratory that once again threatens the future of the livestock industry in the U.K.

One other interesting note, a columnist in a London newspaper flatly stated in alarming terms that the planet will soon run out of food and we are on the brink of world-wide starvation. His reason?...we are converting far too much grain intended for human food and livestock feed into energy for our gas guzzling automobiles. We’ve heard that on this side of the Atlantic, too.

So, with all these challenges, did we have a good time? No, we had a great time! I love England for its sense and appreciation of history and of the 43 countries I have visited, it ranks second on my “favorite” list after Norway, the country of my ancestry. For me, spending time and money in travel is one of the best investments I can make.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.