Tag Archives: working

Nothing’s inevitable except death and…

Bulgaria was just in the news, and not just for any reason, but because it just topped a “best in the world” list. According to a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “Expats looking to minimize their income-tax bill may want to pack up and move to Bulgaria.” According to the study quoted by the WSJ, expats in Bulgaria pay the lowest income and business tax rates in the world at just 10%.

They say that nothing’s inevitable but death and taxes, but at 10%, it barely stings. For comparison, we have to repatriate as much if not more back to the US, where we don’t even live. And yet we’re still blocked from using Netflix–that’s “democracy” for you! Local legend has it that the income tax rate sits at 10% since that’s the absolute maximum the government found that it could expect to collect. If the state demanded any more than that, and people would find some way to only pay 10%. It’s hard to verify a story like this, but since one university study values the total of Bulgaria’s untaxed shadow economy as almost 1/3 of the country’s GDP, it’s plausible.

One of the most refreshing things about living in Bulgaria is the sense of freedom. Sure, you see pregnant women smoking more often, but as Patrick Henry said, “give me low fetal birth weight or give me death. “That includes freedom from taxation–which a certain section of the voting spectrum treats as a paramount directive. America’s right-wing Heritage Foundation, for instance, just bumped up Bulgaria’s ranking on its “economic freedom index.” The even more right-wing Cato Institute chided Greece for reaping the whirlwind of being so much less free than Bulgaria.

To give an example of what a dream this is, when the US invaded Iraq, one of its first prerogatives was opening the country for business. The country’s proconsul, L. Paul Bremer enacted a series of laws to wipe the nation’s slate clean in favor of business. Iraq’s maximum corporate tax rate was set at 15%. Even with an invader presenting a conquered country as a gift to global business interests couldn’t meet Bulgaria’s sweet, almost-single digit tax rate.

Last year, Cato awarded Bulgaria its seemingly one-off “Balkan Prize,” declaring this country the happiest in the Balkans according to its high amounts of liberty. Despite a tax rate that makes American libertarians drool, though, Bulgaria is actually one of the unhappiest countries in the world. Evidently, low taxes aren’t all a country needs to be happy–but it is very nice.

Everything’s Worse In Bulgaria*

*according to lots of Bulgarians

One of the most common conversation tropes that one encounters when talking to Bulgarians is the idea that Bulgaria is worse in every way than some country. It was literally the first conversation I had in Bulgaria. Minutes after our plane landed in Sofia for the first time, we spoke with a woman at customs who saw that we were American. The conversation quickly turned into her wondering why we would move here, particularly since everything is more expensive in Bulgaria (untrue). When Huelo pointed out that tomatoes cost the equivalent of 10 or 11 leva a kilo in the States (and taste like cardboard), versus 2 leva a kilo in Sofia during the off-season, the woman quickly conceded that, okay, tomatoes were cheaper in Sofia, but everything besides the cost of that specific fruit is worse.

The same goes for healthcare. Getting signed up for the national health service or private insurance (as we currently are) leads to a lot of conversations about how much better the situation was under Communism. Unfortunately, capitalism has provided a structural incentive to abandon people to die, which is how the American system works. Everything to do with Bulgaria’s healthcare system is cheaper and easier by orders of magnitude than the American system, which is extraordinarily cruel and objectively the worst in the industrialized world. Doesn’t matter, though, Bulgaria’s system is terrible, according to Bulgarians.

This is such a common trope that it just popped up in the New York Times. The story was concerning the recent collapse of the South Stream pipeline, a Russian energy project that would pump Russian hydrocarbons under the Black Sea and into Europe through Bulgaria. The Times has a very typical New York Times-y approach to the story, discussing Russian statecraft with the sort of overwrought, conspiratorial tone that the Times shares with the John Birch Society. In one of the opening grafs, the typical Bulgarian lament pops up:

While Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry ostensibly wrote the legislation, documents reveal the hidden hand of the Kremlin: Not only did much of the language come from a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, but Mr. Putin’s energy minister was directly involved.

If this happens in the U.S., the whole government would resign,” said Martin Dimitrov, a minister of Parliament from Bulgaria’s Reformist Bloc. “Not in Bulgaria, apparently.”

Dimitrov, like most Bulgarians, doesn’t have a great deal of faith in the government. Bulgarians routinely list themselves as some of the unhappiest people in Europe, and at the root of a lot of it is a state that’s openly corrupt. The political situation even led to a spate of self-immolations in 2013–the most desperate and extreme public statement a human being can make.

As usual, though, the idea that this is impossible in the US, rather than exactly the same, is a very Bulgarian attitude. Despite Dimitrov’s naïve and ahistoric view that this would cause the government to fall, American legislation is entirely written by the interested private parties who will benefit from it. The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), for instance, was written by a health care industry lobbyist, and is a multi-trillion dollar gift to the private insurance industry. That’s how all American legislation works: it’s why a recent study by Princeton and Northwestern Universities found the US was a functioning oligarchy, which Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen–the person in charge of all the moneytacitly confirmed. The government didn’t fall.

Similarly, the last time the Bulgarian government came under question, it had to do with the appointment of an oligarch’s cretinous son to head the Bulgarian equivalent of the NSA. That action, perceived by tens of thousands as an unforgivable affront to democracy, did cause mass resignations. In America, no amount of revelations about the NSA, whether it’s a similar instance of public-private cronyism or revelations of mass spying, have ever caused so much as one substantive improvement in American political life.

We’ve come to Bulgaria with foreign eyes and can see how much it has going for it. Unlike America, Bulgaria has great fresh food, a healthy work-life balance, and a health care system that’s more functional and less a blight on the civilized world. Also, everyone complains, but simultaneously has 3 houses. Talk to most people, and they have an apartment, their parent’s house outside of town, and Baba’s house in the village, all of which they can live in and will inherit someday. Bulgarians may see a lot of problems here, but their country would benefit from correctly perceiving their problems in relation to those of others. They definitely wouldn’t be the most depressed people in Europe if they did.

May Day & Georgievden: two very Bulgarian holidays

Peace ○ Labor ○ May

Peace ○ Labor ○ May

Bulgarians are a proud and holiday-loving people. This week, we got a 6-day weekend, bookended by two holidays that are quintessentially European. In southern Europe, a holiday on Thursday and one the next Tuesday mean that we get nearly a week off. Let some industrious suckers in Germany work themselves into an early grave, I’ll see you Wednesday!

May 1st is May Day, the day that most countries celebrate the workers of the world. America being what it is, our trusted institutions make the first of May creepy things like “Loyalty Day” or “Law Day” (Whoo, kids, law!). We shuffled the workers’s holiday to September, called it “Labor Day,” and made it another excuse to buy things. Not to mention a cudgel to prevent good people from wearing white well into autumn–hey, some slacks look good year-round! Even the name, Labor Day, sounds like some Protestant-work-ethic garbage to get us to celebrate working.

When Americans laugh at Europe’s frequent strikes, I wonder if they ever make the connection that that’s how you get things like two years paid parental leave. God bless this country, I saw a near-mutiny erupt at my work today over the attempted imposition of American-style office culture and working hours. Management relented, because my Bulgarian co-workers weren’t going to stand for it. In America, such impudence would’ve been met with the brutality of armed Pinkerton agents.
A few more years of Bulgarian lessons, and I'll be able to read texts from my mobile carrier.

A few more years of Bulgarian lessons, and I’ll be able to read texts from my mobile carrier.

 

Though they’re trying to yank Bulgaria out of the second world, socialist holidays like May Day stick around. That’s a benefit of moving here: getting to experience strange new holidays that celebrate utopian, internationalist social engineering, like the First of May or International Women’s Day. I had never heard of International Women’s Day, but they take it refreshingly seriously. Having been in Bulgaria only a couple of weeks, my first text was from my mobile provider wishing me “Chestit Praznik, Dami!” (Happy Holiday, Ladies!). It probably sounds less louche in Bulgarian.

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