The Cost of Liv­ing Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Ihad just bought my gro­ceries from one of the four large stores in our small com­mu­nity and was push­ing the trol­ley with its over­loaded shop­ping bags to the car when it oc­curred to me how cheap the essentials of life are in Swe­den. Now this was an un­usual thought be­cause I had just re­turned from Tai­wan where ev­ery­thing is even cheaper than in Swe­den. In fact, the cost of liv­ing in Tai­wan is 29.28% lower not count­ing rent, which is even lower at 44.01%. All this was on my mind be­cause I had spent the morn­ing fill­ing out my ex­penses for my lat­est trip and the lo­cal tax au­thor­ity is a stick­ler for re­ceipts. But do you know what: The con­trast be­tween the cost of liv­ing in Saint Lu­cia and the cost of liv­ing in Swe­den is even higher. Gro­ceries in Saint Lu­cia cost three times more than in Swe­den.

But back to Tai­wan! Let's look at Tai­wan res­tau­rant prices in EC dol­lars: The cost of a McMeal at McDon­alds is 9.95. A beer will knock you back 4.15. A Coke or Pepsi costs 2.26 and a bot­tle of wa­ter is 1.61. If you shop at the store a litre of milk will cost you 7.20, a loaf of bread about 3.98, a dozen eggs 4.89. Ap­ples are 7.57 a kilo, ba­nanas 4.82 a kilo, or­anges 5.32, to­ma­toes 7.06, and pota­toes 6.03. And if for some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son you are a smoker, a pack of can­cer sticks costs around 7.47 EC$!

Trans­porta­tion in Tai­wan is ridicu­lously cheap, al­though it must be said that wages are not par­tic­u­larly high. Some­how, the Tai­wanese have man­aged to main­tain a high level of pro­duc­tiv­ity with­out pay­ing sky-high wages. Gaso­line costs 2.16 a litre, and you can get a brand-new Volk­swa­gen Golf for as lit­tle as 58,066 EC dol­lars. The 25-minute taxi ride from the univer­sity to the rail­way sta­tion each morn­ing cost me un­der 15 EC. The util­i­ties didn't kill me ei­ther: My In­ter­net (10 Mbps, Un­lim­ited Data, Ca­ble/ADSL) was 64.33 EC$ a month. With­out any dis­counts or plans, 1 minute of pre­paid mo­bile cost 62 cents. And 153 dol­lars cov­ered my monthly cost for util­i­ties such as elec­tric­ity, heating, wa­ter, garbage dis­posal, etc. in the 800 square foot apart­ment I rented. The monthly fee for one adult at the fit­ness club was 120 EC; the ten­nis court cost 27 EC an hour, and a seat at the cin­ema was about 25 bucks.

In Tai­wan, the Av­er­age Monthly Dis­pos­able Salary ranges from EC$ 2,156 to 7,517. I have to ad­mit that I have no idea what this fig­ure would be for Saint Lu­cia. I only know that there are a lot of rich peo­ple in Saint Lu­cia, and cer­tainly many more poor peo­ple who earn un­der $1,000 a month. In­come in­equal­ity within our small is­land's tiny pop­u­la­tion is hor­ren­dous, and my im­pres­sion is that the gap is get­ting wider. The mort­gage in­ter­est rate in Tai­wan, as in most of the de­vel­oped world, is a mere 2%.

The Tax Au­thor­ity in Swe­den pub­lishes a list of per diem cost for busi­ness trav­ellers to just about ev­ery coun­try in the world. Trav­ellers to Tai­wan can claim daily com­pen­sa­tion of 393 Swedish Crowns (SEK) per day, while trav­ellers to Saint Lu­cia can claim a whop­ping 529 SEK per day, or about 30% more than to Tai­wan, which shows how ex­pen­sive Saint Lu­cia is com­pared to Asia's Power House Tiger! (This ac­cord­ing to the Swedish Tax Au­thor­ity, which is not known for be­ing gen­er­ous!)

“So there we have it” was my thought as I loaded my gro­ceries into the car. “Swe­den is one of the most highly de­vel­oped na­tions in the world where just about ev­ery­thing works as it is sup­posed to, and if it doesn't, it is nor­mally put right very quickly. The coun­try has ac­cepted hundreds of thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal refugees through the years and has suc­cess­fully as­sim­i­lated them (they are re­ferred to as ‘newly-landed Swedes') yet the cost of shop­ping for ba­sics is way be­low that of Saint Lu­cia.”

“And then there's Tai­wan,” I thought as I drove home, “with its in­cred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion from an agrar­ian econ­omy to high-tech pow­er­house de­spite the omi­nous shadow of a gi­ant neigh­bour that does its very best to cut off that tiny is­land-state from the rest of the world; they say fam­i­lies make the worst en­e­mies! But you know, de­spite all the ad­vances that Tai­wan has made, the coun­try re­tains an old-world charm, a rev­er­ence for the past, and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed. It is an in­cred­i­ble mix of the past and the present. I love the place. You re­ally ought to visit if you can or, bet­ter still, ap­ply for one of the gen­er­ous schol­ar­ships that coun­try of­fers to Saint Lu­cians over and above the mil­lions it pours into our econ­omy. It's a long trip, but well worth the journey. And shop­ping is much more affordable than in Saint Lu­cia! Even the air­fare can be affordable. Re­cently I shopped on the In­ter­net and found re­turn fares to Taipei for as lit­tle as 5,575 EC dol­lars most of which you could re­coup eas­ily by buy­ing top qual­ity, but in­ex­pen­sive, elec­tronic goods.

Of course, hon­est as you are, you might end up los­ing your prof­its once you de­clared your pur­chases at Cus­toms and paid all the hor­ren­dous taxes, du­ties and levies im­posed. Now there's a thought: why don't Saint Lu­cia and Tai­wan sign an ex­emp­tion agree­ment on du­ties and taxes for ex­ports and im­ports be­tween the two coun­tries? It would be a highly sym­bolic, if not par­tic­u­larly fis­cally sig­nif­i­cant, step to ease in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate trade and ce­ment re­la­tions.

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