Money, sex, and the lack thereof

This is a couple-of-chapters story on the consequences of weird economical and moral precepts taken to some extreme. Story happens in Mexico.

A couple of facts first.

Mexico is 110 million people living on something like 4 Frances or 6 Germanies or half the EU. It's HDI (human development index) places it between the Bahamas and Costa Rica, or between Latvia and Bulgaria if we stick to European countries. Way above Russia, Brazil or Turkey, if you're more familiar with those.

So it's not quite the starving impoverished place that Unitedstater culture wants us to think it is.

A capitalist haven

A few days of walking around in Mexico city gave me the impression that the Mexican society is build along strictly economic liberal lines. It seems clear that anyone wanting to start a commercial activity seems welcome to just get going. And there seems to be a LOT of hard-working ambitious people in Mexico. Freedom

As you walk down the streets, you are swimming in a jungle of competing private business ventures. Along the sidewalks you'll see many small booths trying to sell you warm food, cold drinks, magazines and newspapers, the marketplace is everywhere. If you drive, someone will offer cleaning your windshield at every red light. you'll get the oportunity to have your shoes shined, buy music, jewelry, or have the bad spirits in you exorcised. For a nominal fee. You hardly take five steps without your wallet being solicitated. There is advertising everywhere you turn your eye to, and there seem to be no amount of female breast that is enought to help sell however unrelated items.

The whole of Mexico city seems to be in a race for money. All means are good.

I'd like to paraphrase Adam Smith in pointing how, in such a free-entreprise setting, offer is quick to follow demand, the market rapidly adapts to changes, new niches are instantly covered... All that fueled by good old human greed, with no need for supervision, serving the society at large.

The freedom to buy is absolute. All sort of powerful drugs await you on the shelves of the local pharmacy. It is surely just the invisible hand of Uncle Sam that keeps illegal drugs illegal. But the few things that are illegal to sell, you can always find it in the street. I was approached by a guy that wanted to sell me invoices. Invoices? Of course, so that I can claim tax returns in my company. I obviously look like I'm running a firm.

In all that freedom, nothing is free (of charge). Medical attention is obviously not subsidised, but fear not, there are countless offers from private insurance entities. Even in the case of cultural event, there is always an entrance fee. However low. I suppose that Mexicans would find free shows a very strange thing. Slavery

To make sure that your slightest need can find satisfaction anywhere, the vendors follow you everywhere you go. As you sit in the fast metro that deserves the faraway places of the megapolis, streams of peddlers try to convince you to buy excellent mexican music, delicious junk food, various useful tools... They even call you at home. The phone directory is free for businesses to access. And in all this attention-grabbing circus, beggars must display the most creative imagination to catch your eye.

The best beggar trick I saw: In the metro, 5 year old kid comes towards me crawling on the floor. He's dirty and has holes in his clothes. I'm witnessing that in a "what the fuck" state. When he reaches my feet, he uses a little rag he's carrying to start cleaning my shoes. That are brand new and still shinning annoyingly from the shop 2 days before. Then he raises a deeply sad gaze on me and asks for... guess what.

Remember the windshield cleaner? That was a 10 year old kid. There are also kids selling stuff in various places. People buy more when it comes from kids. They are so cute.

Child labor is ubiquitous. And before judging that, ask yourself if they would really learn more in school.

There seems to be no strata of the society that is not trying to sell something. I was sitting in a park next to a punk yesterday. The PUNK tried to sell me stuff. More on free-entreprise

There are some things that I hold true regarding to free entreprise and deregulation. They generates in everyone among the population a great incentive towards inovation. But at the same time, provides the tools of innovation only to a small fraction, through the class-system that it seems to inevitably create. So you end up with everyone with more than two braincells having the ambition of a Carlos Slim, with the vast majority of them almost sure to fail.

In the end, free entreprise generates a lot of broken dreams. Of which a significant part eventually will resort to antisocial behaviour. Witch takes us to the problem of criminality in Mexico.

I have yet to see a criminal. I'm typing this on my iPhone-looking smartphone in the crowded metro. But I have seen A LOT of police. The police is everywhere. At every street corner, at every metro station (never in the trains though, where they would have to witness the child labour). Half of them wear bullet-proof jackets, and half of them carry a huge six-shot pistol. The other half walk around wiith a small machine gun at their side. Sometimes, you see a truckload of some sort of special forces in full body armor, assault riffles and rambo facies patroling around the avenues.

And, paradoxically, there is so little trust in that super-powerful national police that everyone with the means hire private protection. And if, when I say "private protection" you imagine a mean-looking shave-headed black-leather-wearing guy at the entrance of a nightclub, add some body armor, a machine gun and an armored vehicle to the picture. They are quite easy to find, just go to the bank or to the shopping mall.

There are cheaper ways to make the citizens feel safer, in particular when I hear the stories of corrupt police arresting you for no other reason than emptying your wallet. I don't think more police makes Mexican citizens feel safer. So I believe that this Vulgar Display of Power is somehow needed and that without it, it would be Baghdad.

And talking about that, since I arrived here, I can't help but notice the similarities between Mexico and the USA. Mexico is in many ways like the USA, but more extreme. The capitalism is more capitalist, the police is more police, the people are more "about the money". So how come they don't have empire state buildings, silicon valleys and bombing campaigns in 3rd world countries too?

Well, it looks like there can only be one USA. If more than one administrative entity (read "country" here) goes headlong down the free-entreprise way, the one that will be a little bit more successful, or that will have benefited from a head start, will, out of a natural process, suck the life out of the others. Right now that's the case of USA. Every Mexican person that, taking advantage of the free-entreprise potential of the Mexican society, would displays genius in whatever field and starts seeing success, will eventually receive an offer to work in the USA. Every successful Mexican engineer, scientist, businessman, rock singer... will be tempted by better salary in another country. Most probably the USA.

Not convinced? I worked as an interner in a research facility in the USA in 2003. Designing prototypes for those now-ubiquitous white LED lamps. My chief was Pakistani, my lab manager was Korean, my colleagues were Malinese, Indian, Chinese and French. That's the team that helped building a greater America. Only the top-mega-boss, that we never saw, was Unitedstater.

There can be only one winner of the race to capitalism, and it fuels itself from the energy of the other competitors. Mexico will never have a silicon valley. Not in this global setting. Inefficiency

So it has most of the bad sides of free-entreprise, with not much of the good. Life is stressful and unsecure, people are unfocused under the constant advertising bombardment, and there is a huge gap between the poor and the rich. Mexico is among the unruly kids of the equality class. It scores 46.1 on the GINI coefficient, even below the USA (that scores particularly bad for a supposedly 1st-world country).

This is to be expected. Free-entreprise rewards citizens according to the pertinence of their accomplishments to the market. Not pertinent (or no accomplishments), no money ; very pertinent, lots of money ; people queue for your business around the block, immense amounts of money. In Mexico, "égalité" was murdered by "liberté".

I'll bring the topic of "fraternité" in another page.

Now let me illustrate how economical laissez-faire can actually harm innovation and stiffle development.

Most of the phone lines and of the GSM transmitters in Mexico belong to the same guy. Obviously he was smart enough in the past to make that happen and, if we are to believe Adam Smith, that means that he is the best alternative immaginable. In parallel with that fact, the quality-to-price ratio of both tethered and mobile telephony in Mexico is, by far, the lowest I know. The price is as high as in Germany or Britain, that leveled to Mexican buying-power makes it exorbitant, and the networking is atrocious. The numbering is nonsensical, there are hidden costs at every corner, the Mexicans themselves are confused by it.

The man that is in charge of that gem of free-entreprise is called Carlos Slim. He is since recently the richest man on Earth.

It is pretty ironic that the man that USED to be number one got there by flooding the world with another masterpiece of horrendous quality-to-price ratio product: Bill Gates and the infamous Microsoft Windows.

I've been pondering that question since more than a year now. I hang around way too much with punks and hippies to keep an unbiased view on stuff like Capitalism. I've been torturing my mind trying to find a neutral approach to the issue. It is finally here, away from the punks and hippies of my familly, in Mexico, that I have come to a conclusion.

Free-entreprise suck. Seriously. And that's an entrepreuneur speaking.

Swim suit controversy

Writing takes time. I'm now in Vera Cruz. It's a port-town on the coast that I loved as soon as the pick-up truck that gave us our last ride drove in. We first crossed a couple of bridges over train tracks that gave us a clear view on the industrial harbor, a very familiar landscape to me. Then we entered the city, which was all old bell towers, palm-tree-shaded square and little shops and cafes. From the back of the truck, we had a clear view on all that. The sun was blazing hot, the air warm and humid, which was all new to us that just came down from the dry plateaus we had been travelling before.

I was feeling right at home.

Then, after driving through a couple of residential streets, we got to the beach. A little crack in the frame of that paradisiac pictures, that grew quickly until it all shattered. Hell on Earth. They dropped us there.

We were instantly assaulted by peddlers. All kinds of junk food was presented to us. A guy told us he would get us a seating for free on the beach just because we were so cool. It seemed to go without saying that you needed to pay to sit. We declined. We went on the beach because we wanted to change our hitchhiking trousers to something shorter.

We almost had to elbow our way to the water (mostly due to the big backpacks). There, we managed to find a patch of sand that was not occupied and did the changing.

The water was swarming with people. Every few seconds, somebody came to us with junk food or useless stuff for sale. I left quickly before I bust a cap and started slaughtering people left and right with my Swiss-army-knife.

But one thing I noticed and that made me wonder, is that a majority of the people that were in the water was there in full clothing. Without shoes, but with T-shirts and shorts or trousers. Like if there was a freaking Sharia enforced. I wondered for a while, poked left and right and finally cracked it. It is not to avoid offending Jesus, it is because Mexican people are very much inhibited about their bodies.

Let's look into that a little bit, will you? Inhibitions

The guy that is hosting us is one of those TV addicts and the set is on very often. I saw a program this morning about how hard it is to be fat. The woman selected to tell the story was looking like a top model. She would explain, from the top of her 55 kilos how people would look down on her, that her self esteem was in dire straits... If THAT's what a "fat person" is supposed to look like, then few people I know are not obese.

And, to be honest, I must say that Mexican girls are indeed pretty fat. It is very much here as it is in England. Anything above 17 of age is likely to be overweight. The proportion increases significantly for married girls says Elsy. And that's according to fat-to-body mass index, not whatever whacky criteria the TV show was using. Somehow, boys are doing better. I might have a bias, but Elsy agrees. The reason is obviously the very high availability of junk food and the high consumption of everything made by the Coca Cola company. The will of Mexican people is not higher than that of any other people, and humans, like any other animal are built in a way that they feed themselves more than they need if plenty of food is available.

So, on one part, Mexicans are made fat by the very system they live in, on another, they are being made very sensitive about how they look in order to get them to buy miracle cures from ethically fishy businesses. So they keep the trousers on at the beach, even in the water. Harrasment

Of course, not everyone is fat, some girls are actually pretty slim. You would expect them to be flashing that wealth around, as it probably costs them an iron self-discipline to stay that way. You'd think they'd be walking around topless, With an almost inexistant thong. After all, they worked hard for it...

Well they keep the trousers too.

Isn't that a shame? I'm not far from thinking it should be a mis demeanor but, to come back to our point, girls are not keen on flashing flesh. This time it must be for Jesus' sake!

Wrong again. In Mexico, guys like to let the whole world know when they find a girl hot. Any acceptable pair of boobs or legs will get honks and wistles every few minutes. I wish the guys doing that would realise the long term consequence of that: No boobies on the beach, no shorts, no skirts... They're sawing the branch they sit on! In Sweden or Germany, as soon as it is hot, people (girls included) switch to very short clothe. The girls do it too because it doesn't mean permanent harrasment. But in Poland or Mexico, they keep to trousers even in the hottest days. Getting laid in Mexico

I know that the reason why German and Swede matcho-men refrain from howling at all fuckable female like a damn sex-starved wolf is NOT because they understand the long term consequence of less flesh visible. So it made me wonder. I don't believe (anymore) for one second that the Germanic people are in any way superior. Elsy hinted me the solution: In Germany or Sweden (and around), people actually get laid.

Whereas in Mexico, the picture is pretty dire. Many people live at their parents until pretty late in their lives. And parents apparently never let the boyfriend or girlfriend stay over, like it is the case in Austria or Germany... Where are they supposed to go!

I have actually run into a hotel advertising "4 hours rooms". I was a bit perplexed by the fact that it was really far away to any prostitution hub. Elsy made me realise it was a hotel for boyfriends and girlfriends. The concept really creeped me out.

As if it wasn't enough, every (take it as an emphasis) girl in Mexico is "not that kind of girl". Even if they've been dripping wet about a guy for weeks, they won't make a move on him. If by chance he makes a move, even though they'd be almost cumming in their pants about it, they'd act uninterested. Only after the guy have sent the damn mariachis to sing under her window (and I'm not kidding, boys get mariachis to play under the window of the girls they are attracted to), will she allow him a rendez-vous. And that won't even get the frantic, hormone pulsing guy a freking kiss.

Compare that to making sweet love all night with a partner just met at the club that you forgot the name of and you probably will never know because you're ashamed to ask (which is pretty common in Europe). And now you know why every Mexican guy feels obliged to let the whole world know they find you hot and the German guy doesn't.

One of the most devastating consequence of that nonsense, and I insist on the word, is that it is common knowledge in Mexico that when a girl says "no", it doesn't really mean "no". It just means you haven't insisted enough. And this time, it is the girls that are happily banging in the nails of their own coffin.

Similar stuff

I'm an avid user of the web and, on my own terminals, I have set up ad blockers. They efficiently filter out most of the advertising that websites throw at me.

I've been running linux for 10 years as my main system. That amounts to a geological era or two in the software world. I have seen some pretty radical things happen to my desktop, namely KDE4, Gnome3 and Unity.

A recent controversy around swimsuits for little girls is currently causing some stir. I have no doubt that it will soon vanish into the oblivion it deserves, and that is why I don't provide any links. But the simple fact that it raises controversy deserves attention.

Why do we find the sexualization of little girls shocking?

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