Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Are we headed for the Third World again?

Disclaimer first: I love Peru. I have had some of the most intellectual, politically savvy conversations of my life with people there. I have marveled at the astonishing work ethic, the informal and private-sector social supports people provide to their peers there, and the full bloom of free speech and a richly developed public sphere beyond the scope of American civics outside of university campuses. But most of the Peruvian intellectuals I spoke with mentioned the corruption of their government, and it is hard to be unaware of the difference between national standards of living -- particularly in terms of infrastructural services where they impact health and sanitation. So I am turning to the only well-fleshed example in my experience for this little rant.

We come ever closer to catching up with international petroleum prices (I think we are now approaching what Peru's gasoline prices were in 2004-2005 when we lived there). My family continues to panic about the sagging real estate/mortgage market, which provides their bread and butter: they ridiculously carp about agents "starving to death" and other such flights of hyperbole. As we all know, in a hark-back to the irrational exuberance backlash of 1996, the R-word is being applied, with a mixture of paranoiac hysteria and litotic schadenfreude to the predictions of even the most sober-sided of newscasters. And even my most right-wing acquaintances (okay, so I don't have any right-wing acquaintances... let's just call them "family") have come to realize that high level governmental corruption is so plainly obvious that it is impossible to pretend it doesn't exist.

This, my darlings, is a recipe for Third World economics, or more pointedly, Latin American democracy. The seemingly rigged elections and broken one-party-plus-dozens-of-mini-parties systems. The disenfranchisement of groups of people. The racial unrest. The rampant inflation of basic needs items (i.e. foodstuffs and fuel), the devaluation of the worker's salary, and so forth.

Humor me. This is a whimsical flight of fancy, nothing more. But what keeps our economy and government from becoming a duplicate of post-Fujimori Peru?

What's keeping our unemployed people from taking their severance checks and buying Daewoo Ticos or motocicleta taxis and going into subsistence-level business as informal taxi drivers?

I'll tell you what. It's our insanely litigious society. Estadounidenses cannot and will not assume that kind of liability risk, for fear of being cleaned out and criminalized.

Maybe I am more than usually sensitive to litigiousness, since I maintain all the commercial insurance policies for the largest commercial producer for my (huge) company in the region. I spend 8+ hours a day trying to tune up customers' policies to protect them from lawsuits. Yeah.

In my imaginary, simplified universe, all it would take is a little deregulation of industry and a little banning frivolous lawsuits from the courthouse, and bam! Instant Latin American democracy with a side of gray market.

This kind of spinning of airy bullshit is why I'm not a social scientist anymore. Heh. Oh well, it's fun to think in that zombie-apocalypse, unilinear-ethnocentric, Planet of the Apes way anyway: when does our society become unrecognizable as itself? "You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to Hell!" (And yes, my tongue is in my cheek... I have not gone crazy-survivalist, nor do I anticipate subscribing to that kind of illogical crapthought.)

And while we're comparing the U. S. to other places... check out this article on carbon footprints. Especially you, Sam.

(Pictures mercilessly "borrowed" from and

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