What’s interesting to me about Southern American economies is how local- and entrepreneurial-based they are. They are prime examples of the kind of economy in which micro-credit can effectively work to combat poverty, as with a little bit of credit in hand, those in poverty can establish successful commerce. In the United States— except in those neighborhoods still rooted in different lifestyles—people do not have little stores on every corner, nor sell bottles of water and cigarettes and candy on the street. It is rare that you see people walking through traffic at a stoplight vending fruits or soft drinks. The United States is based firmly upon larger businesses, and while this has driven the whole economy upwards, it has also widened the divide between rich and poor.
While I do not think that we can nor should be attempting to regress to village-based economies, I think that there is something we can learn and remember from such economies. They are micro-based, decentralized, tightly interwoven, reflecting the communities and culture. While not as capable of large thrusts of capital and profit-gain, they are also perhaps more stable in other ways, not as subject to housing trends or corporate trading. Most important to recognize, however, is that these micro-economies offer a means of living to those in poverty. They have a chance to start their own little business. People here are selling minutes on their cellulars. “¡Llama llama más!” they call from street sides, a sign detailing the amount of pesos per minute around their necks. Others sell popsicles from bicycle coolers, or hot dogs (perros), or fried goodness, or avocados, or fresh squeezed juice. Competition is fierce, taxis and buses swing through traffic to pick up the stray extra person for a few more pesos.
It seems to me that what we can learn from such styles of commerce is that we need to try to realize and flesh out in reality the so-called American Dream, the Horatio Algers fiction of rags-to-riches, that with solely the sweat off your back you can make a quick buck. Maybe not rag-to-riches, but at least rags-to-adequate food and quality of life. Right now there is little ability for the poor to start their own businesses and compete on the current market, except within small cloisters of alternative communities. Our current market sways and leaps in the winds of giant corporate franchises, subject to complete and utter failure at a moment’s notice, completely and utterly dependent on the balance and poise of giants crafted from sweat and blood that pierce the heavens, top-heavy with money and greed, overly distant from the root and source of their sap and sustenance.
Trim off the tops of these trecherous mounts and feed them to the bottom, that we all may grow a little fatter!