Florida is a strange place. It’s a state of religious and political fanatics. The politics include actual Nazis, and the religions include your regular spread of Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and Global religions, but also American peculiarities like (American) football, firearms, and Nascar.
Current estimates put the population at 25 million, from all over the world. Florida’s cityscapes are massive. A number of Latin American companies make their headquarters in Miami. That metropolitan area competes with New York City for the most linguistically diverse place in the United States, and with Atlanta for largest city in the south.
London may think itself a large city, being 607 square miles in size. But Jacksonville, where my Father was Born, is 874 sq miles, and the Greater Miami Metropolitan Area where I grew up is a massive 6,137 sq mile sprawl, more than ten times London’s size. It’s a true global super-city. And in true American fashion, it lacks both public transit capable of serving the population, and roadways large enough to help the population do without.
As for political fanaticism, it has nearly every shade of left and right one could ever find, except those which happen to be reasonable. The dysfunction that is the natural state of our local government is proof of that. To tie all of this madness off with a neat little bow, the only gun laws in Florida are ones designed to help gun owners and gun sellers exploit loopholes in federal gun regulations.
I am not talking down this place I still consider home. I love it, in all of its madness. The only reason I don’t live there is because it will eventually disappear beneath the atlantic waves. Global warming and ocean acidification are seeing sea level rise while the ancient limestone reef that is Florida’s bedrock is slowly eaten away by acid ocean water. Florida is sinking. So I’d rather provide for my family in a place likely to still exist in 100 years. Especially when a good portion of Florida’s population believes global warming is a myth.
This state has been the front-line political battleground in every presidential election of my lifetime. It is one of the keys to the White House. It helped secure Donald Trump’s path to the presidency. And George W. Bush’s. And Barack Obama’s, twice. Despite a turn to the right, and conservative revanchism, Barack Obama held the state in 2008. And he did it with a brilliant tactic that Democrats didn’t repeat in 2016.
Florida is a retiree state. There’s a business model there to help poorer OAPs have a good standard of living later in life. They purchase a home at a fraction of its actual value from a retirement community, while agreeing that when they die or move to a nursing facility, the home reverts to the ownership of the retirement community. Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t have on a home they cannot afford, they spend a tiny portion of their retirement fund on housing for the rest of their lives. My distant cousins in that business call it “mining yankees.”
In 2008, the Obama campaign asked younger supporters to visit their grandparents. Sarah Silverman debuted a video called “The Great Schlep,” (schlep being a yiddish word for a tedious journey) encouraging young Jewish people to visit family in Florida. There are a lot of jokes in the US about Florida Jews, but the first Floridian Jews arrived with the Spaniards in the early 1500s, fleeing the inquisition. There were Jews in Florida before there were Protestants anywhere in the new world. That community has been happy to build up the same “yankee mining” retirement system as every other community in the state.
That year, thousands of young Americans visited their grandparents in Florida, went to nursing homes and retirement communities, and campaigned. That “visit your grandparents” campaign worked. Obama took the state, and held it by a wide margin in 2012. But Trump took it in 2016.
There are lessons here for Scotland. I arrived in Scotland for the Independence referendum in the latter stages. I found a few No Voters, but they were firmly entrenched in their positions. I had great conversations with them, but none of them had felt really engaged by the independence campaign and the festival spirit.
When the final vote was tallied, we saw that there were Pro-Indy and Pro-Union bubbles, the biggest of which were among the very young and very old. That disconnect was heartbreaking. The two groups which have the most to gain and learn from each other are the youth and the elderly. Generalities are unhelpful, but in general, the youth won the fight for opinion online and in the streets, while the wealthy languished in their retirement, talking to their closest friends and to visiting Better Together activists, but left totally unengaged by the national spirit which swept through Scotland.
The solution to break down those bubbles is obvious. Engage with the elderly. Pro-Indy Scots should create their own version of Silverman’s “Great Schlep,” and sit down with their elders to discuss independence. Especially the youth. I don’t know many grandparents who would deny any opportunity to their grandchildren, especially when asked.
Further, there is an economic argument that needs to be made, and carried to those elderly communities. Even under New Labour, Westminster has routinely made cuts to responsible deficit spending, such as pensions, while making significant investment in irresponsible deficit spending, such as nuclear weapons. The madness of Austerity means that the ability to participate in a hypothetical war which ends all life on this planet is a priority, while providing for pensioners is not.
The economics here are simple to understand. Buying nuclear weapons does very little for local economies, but paying pensions does. Pensioners are near the end of their lives, so they don’t generally save money for the long term. They spend it. Scottish pensioners – who too often are in food or fuel poverty – often have to spend it. The participation of pensioners is a boon to every economy, so it’s madness to allow them to be in poverty. Making sure that no pensioner is in poverty means that money will keep flowing from them into local economies. It’s a needed stimulus in bad times, a shot in the arm for struggling communities.
The flip side is also true. Allowing our elderly to suffer does psychological damage to all of us. It’s bad for us in empirically measurable ways. And that has empirically measurable economic ill effects. Communities will never sit back and just allow their elders to starve or freeze, they’ll do what little they can to help. It’s basic human nature. Economically, that means that resources which normally would flow through the economy are diverted to care for the elderly, creating a drag on local economies.
Failing to fund pensions properly is bad for people, and bad for the economy. But funding pensions properly is good for everyone, and the economy. This is basic, old school Keynesian thought, and every time it has been measured it has been proven true. But the British State – and the Labour party unfortunately – have both been swept up in this anti-rational austerity fever, which declares all deficit spending to be a bad thing, even when it demonstrably isn’t.
Visiting with our elderly and making that argument can help Yes win this time. But don’t make the mistake we did in Florida, in ceding it to Trump. When all is said and done, and the votes are cast, don’t stop spending time with the OAPs. We all have something to learn from each other, but too many of our elders feel forgotten or alone. Our elders will vote with us if we invest our time in making sure they have access to the same society we’re trying to build. If we leave them out for the wolves, we shouldn’t be surprised when the wolves win their votes.