Striving for Mediocrity – and Failing (part 1)

I had a farm in Africa… No, wait, that’s not right. I’m going to talk about the country in which I currently reside, Costa Rica. I apologize in advance for the disorganized post that will follow. I also strongly advise those who firmly believe in laissez-faire economics to skip this post and any post of mine under the category ‘economics’ or ‘social problems.’ AM Costa Rica is a place you’ll enjoy more.

Okay, now THAT is out of the way, let’s talk about life for real Ticos. These are not the models hired to smile up from advertisements for luxury resorts, but the people who actually live here. The jumping off point of this rant is a report from the Ministry of Labor that states 40 of people working regular jobs (in the system) are being paid less than minimum wage. Before you think ‘well, minimum wage is like at least $5 an hour and that’s plenty for Costa Rica…’ I have to jump in state that the minimum wage in Costa Rica varies according to the type of work, but it can be as low as $215 a month, and that would be for a workweek of over 40 hours.

And as low as that is, and as low as minimum wage is for all types of occupations, 40% of employers aren’t even paying the minimum. I have to admit, Costa Rica has the laissez-faire thing going for it, for what it’s worth. It isn’t worth too much, apparently, as it is estimated that around 60% of the country’s GDP is in the informal economy. These are those who are totally outside the system. Of course, some may be rich drug dealers or extortionists. We need to look on the bright side, eh?

As far as workers go, I sympathize with how little they are paid, and at the same time get very annoyed by the indifference to any kind of performance standard I see over and over among the working people I come in contact with. I am reminded of a saying that went around in the times of the Soviet Union… “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” There is a bar I visit from time to time, a very nice place frequented by Gringos like me, which means that unlike Tico establishments, there are TIPS TO BE MADE. Late one afternoon I was there and I counted SEVEN bartenders. Seven bartenders to serve maybe 30 or 40 patrons. How many bartenders would you expect for that in the USA? Two perhaps?

A stroll around retail shops shows the same thing. Seldom have I come across a clothing store where the salespeople don’t outnumber the customers. I suppose this is good in a way… more jobs. In terms of inefficiency, you really have to hand it to the Ticos. They really excel. Some troublemaker may ask why things are this way. Ah, there he is, with his hand up in the back… Okay… I’ll give my opinion in an upcoming post. It’s only opinion, but I have yet to hear any explanation that made sense coming from the government or academics, so where wise men fear to tread, I shall rush in. Stay tuned.

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