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May 24, 2011

U.S. might learn a thing or two from Andorra

Daily Star

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A number of years ago when my daughter was in the Rotary Exchange Program, we visited her in Belgium and took the opportunity to tour Western Europe. As we drove south through France looking for monuments to French war heroes, we noticed a small country called Andorra tucked in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains, and decided to detour.

Talk about desolate! We were in the middle of nowhere. I was beginning to wonder if this place was going to have electricity and running water. When we stopped at the border crossing, no one was there, so we decided to proceed.

Upon entering the village of Andorra, we were greeted by McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants! This beautiful mountain village was filled with jewelry stores, clothing outlets, every brand of European automobile dealerships, and places to eat that rivaled Manhattan.

We met a family on vacation from Britain. Have you ever noticed that the British speak terrible English? As an example, we say, "extraordinary." They say, and it takes them five minutes to do it, "extraaooordinnaaarrry." Phrases like, "hunky-dory," "blimey" and "tickety-boo" are enough to make you vomit! Despite the obvious language difference, we managed some questions.

In Andorra there is no income, gift, inheritance or capital transfer tax. They enjoy almost 100 percent employment and have the third highest life expectancy in the world. Their standard of living is among the highest in Europe. They welcome more than 10 million tourists a year!

Although Andorra is certainly beautiful, the millions of tourists aren't coming because of the mountains. Europe is full of mountains! It is simply the near-duty-free status and tax haven advantages. Blimey! How can this be? Is it possible that lower taxes and less regulation are a stimulus to business growth?

It appears to be working! A store owner said that they pay a small duty on imports and that is essentially their whole tax burden. There are some small single-digit taxes on certain properties and goods, but that's about it.

I asked him how business was, and he replied, "quite hunky-dory."

"Are you from England, too?" I exclaimed. "Yes, old chap, I'm from Yorkshire! How did you know?" he said.

I replied, "It's elementary, my dear Watson."

As a note, one must reside in Andorra for 20 years in order to be a citizen. Mere birth on Andorran soil does not convey citizenship.

Can you imagine that, little or no taxes and strict citizenship requirements? And somehow, they have 100 percent employment, health care, a great standard of living, and one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. How is this possible?

Just think what our president and Congress could do for Andorra! Think about it. As my friend the British tourist would say, "blooming marvelous, my Yankee friend. Simply ducky!" With massive taxation, huge stimulus spending, welfare, cash for clunkers, government regulation of business and industry, the sky is the limit!

Let's also add an extensive Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the pristine countryside and mountains are not pockmarked by drilling rigs, industrial wind turbines or outdoor wood stoves. There must be some indigenous species of Andorran mountain toad that needs protection, too!

I can see it already. Andorra's 12 farmers are probably polluting the Mediterranean Watershed with Triple X fertilizer and the manure runoff from her three dairy farms is undoubtedly wreaking havoc with their water supply. We all know emissions from Andorran cattle are a leading cause of global warming.

The Andorran society should also become "multicultural." There must be a suppressed minority somewhere? Wait a minute! I didn't see many Americans there and the ones we saw were young people working in restaurants and bars. We all know that Andorran restaurants and bars are nothing but sweatshops! After all, these young Americans are only seeking a better life and they only take the jobs Andorrans don't want.

I don't think it's too much to ask that 50 percent of the signs in Andorra be in English. They should recognize our holidays, like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. For the young American-Andorrans who simply can't make it, an agency should be set up of social workers and welfare officials to "level the playing field." If they need health care and cannot afford it, it should be provided at no cost to them.

With these proven government programs and agencies, the Andorran economy will boom and their culture will blossom. It will be hunky-dory and tickety-boo.

I mean, look what they have done for us!

Chuck Pinkey is the owner of River Valley New Holland Inc. in Otego. He can be reached at