Thursday, July 7, 2011


Hidden within all the minor frustrations of living in a developing country are the many forgotten pleasant (quaint) ways of life that no longer exist in the rich, unionized, modern, hyper litigative society of the United States.

I never felt like I got a good understanding in college of what makes a developed country developed. Perhaps there is an econ class that addresses that subject. It seems to me that it`s that industrialization means fewer people can produce more stuff, so stuff becomes cheaper, so people can have more stuff. At the same time, other people are free to pursue white collar activities that enrich the society culturally or in other ways. The real prosperity comes when you can produce things cheaply and sell them to other places, then everyone has more money to spend on physical things and on intangibles.

I think the most visible trait of developed societies is the value of a person`s time. In the USA it is not worth a working man`s time to hand paint a sign, travel by ox cart, plant a garden, built furniture by hand, or ride to work on a bicycle. Given the cost of labor it is almost always cheaper to use a more mechanized process. The cost of labor is high due to a limited population, high levels of schooling, training, and experience, the success of labor rights and unionization efforts in the 20th century.
But I really enjoy the pace of life that comes from a society where a working man`s time is not worth very much, even as I lament the poverty that it is a symptom of.

I love to see things hand-made or improvised, to see the use of beasts of burden, to be able to interact with so many people daily who are not off hidden in a highly regulated workplace. In Latin America you can buy food and drink just about anywhere, because there is someone who`s time it is worth to hang around and sell it to you. Nearly every other house function as a `dispensa`, or convenience store. Mobile vendors will take care of you in parks or at the beach.

Furthermore your commercial interactions with these people are casual, informal. This makes sense in an economy dominated by informal employment, and lax regulation on formal employment. Workers are not controlled by rigid rules passed down from corporations or the government. When rules exist they are loosely enforced, but more often they do not exist. Perhaps because just aren`t making enough for it to be worth it to care.

So I can buy something, and if they don`t have correct change, they`ll either let me keep the difference (or once in a grocery store I was given little candies in place of exact change) or tell me to come back some other time to pay. People trust you. They value you and would not think of putting you through some obnoxious impersonal process. I am sure I will lament all this when I return to that States and all the barren, legally mandated spaces and interactions that I will surely encounter.

edit 7/20
I don`t like my vague negativity about commerce in the states without concrete examples of what I`m talking about. Since I can`t remember very well specific instances, it`s all so unremarkable after all, I thought I`d add a few examples of commerce that I`ve really enjoyed.

I like to have yogurt for breakfast. I walk half a block, turn the corner, and walk another half a block. There are often kids building sand structures in the "road". I buy my yogurt out of a little store which has all sorts of useful things, and is operated out of the front of a home. The yogurt is produced in a mennonity colony in this very district, a place called Rio Verde which is probably half an hour away. The only artificial ingredient is coloring.

My until recently host mother cooks great bread. I`m going to go back over there tomorrow and buy a loaf. Folks also come buy in the evening to buy dinner. She cooks them empanadas or milanesa (like country fried steak) and they can eat in the front room or the main room or wherever. The line between home and business is so hazy, the warmth of family bleeds into commercial interactions.

And glory of international commerce glories I`ve discovered they sell a German import Heffewiezen that`s pretty good and reasonably priced in the "supermarket" in town.

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