By the time you're reading this column, I'll be in Romania, continuing my research into the evolution of its tax system, including related investment, evasion, compliance and corruption issues.
It's truly amazing to watch its relatively young tax code change and develop, as well as look at the impact it has on employer and taxpayer lives.
However, an additional benefit of being there (and Bulgaria) is to have an opportunity to talk with people from all walks of life about their perceptions of us and other issues, including politics, poverty, energy concerns, pollution and so on.
You want to talk about pollution? Although vastly improved from 1989, some situations are still appalling. In the northeast industrial area you have towns like Baia Mare and Copsa Mica that still have pollution you can see, smell and taste.
The residents of some towns in the area have a life expectancy of 50 years. Lead in the soil is close to 100 times the permitted levels with vegetation lead levels close to 25 times accepted levels.
No meats or crops are sold outside the area; and the residents, being so poor, have no choice but to eat homegrown crops. Also, there are hundreds of miles of polluted rivers from metal poisoning and cyanide spills from gold mines. And we complain about our industrial pollution?
As to poverty, how about living on less than $400 a month, which is what the vast majority of the population does.
Three years ago, a friend took me to a peasant village where he was negotiating the purchase of land. We went three miles overland because there were no roads and basically no contact with the outside world, save marketplaces where they sold their produce.
Some of these people live on less than $5 a day. Their homes consist of one large, dirt floor room where chickens, pigs and ducks run in and out all day.