THIS PAST WEEK, I moved back to Los Angeles from Delhi. The devastated US economy’s unemployment appears to have leveled off. Yet Los Angeles’ smog feels especially morose lately, and traffic is less debilitating than when I last lived here. I have been told the city has registered a recent uptick in public transportation as the recession unfolded.
A year ago, I moved to Delhi from the United States, as the worst economic crisis in a generation took hold. I was one of many Indian-Americans returning to take advantage of India’s booming economy. With a pristine university degree in hand, I worked on the editorial page of Mint, an Indian financial newspaper. I was tracking the apparent demise of my homeland, as the West receded into the so-called Post-American World. Lately, India is charged with a frenetic energy of opportunity and start-ups. Delhi is a tornado of dust and paint thinner, as opulent malls are constructed alongside the urban chaos. But after a year at Mint, I decided to return to my home, Los Angeles.
Compared to Delhi, LA seems tranquil and orderly. But maybe easy credit and a culture of debt just make things look more upbeat. Unemployment might be at record levels, but billboards advertising luxury goods and high-end hotels line Century Blvd, the thoroughfare to LAX. It’s a stark contrast to the fluorescent hotels and cheap restaurants along the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, which reach toward New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. From a superficial gaze, Los Angeles appears to have skirted the greatest economic crisis since the 20s. On the 405 North freeway leaving the airport, I counted a tremendous number of high-end vehicles—BMWs, Mercedes Benz, and various sports cars. Los Angeles has always been a city obsessed with opulence, I thought. Or maybe these cars, like overleveraged McMansions, are the symptom of easy credit. In any case, it didn’t seem like the Joneses or the Rodriguezes or the Chans (or even the Patels) were faring too badly.