Category Archives: Economics

Gaspocalypse

We are well into week 2 of the 2019 Gaspocalypse. Three days last week there was not a drop of that liquid gold to be found in Moroleon, Uriangato or Yuririra. The roads were eerily deserted. People camped in lines miles long in the hope that maybe tomorrow there would be gas. By Thursday, there was a trickle of gas coming in. Gas stations opened at 8 am and were sold out by 11 am. People waited more than 6 hours in line.

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Never leave home without your garafon of gas!

By Friday, a few delivery trucks were up and running. I saw the coke and Sabritas trucks out. Good thing! I don’t know what Moroleon would have done without their soda and chips. Mass hysteria to be sure! Of course, there is a Corona bottling plant in town. You know the owner of Corona lives in Moroleon, right? So there was never a fear of running out of beer. Whew!

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So how did things get to this extreme juncture with gas shortages now in 10 states? Well, no one is exactly sure. Initially, the well-intentioned president AMLO closed the pipelines to cut down on the out-of-control petroleum theft. Gas was to be brought to the stations via tanker truck under watchful military vigilance.

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Gas motorcade!

There aren’t enough trucks to meet demand so the gas has been languishing away at the port storage facilities. In fact, 60 oil tankers are anchored off-shore waiting to offload their cargo. Some have been waiting more than a month. Thus it remains a distribution problem rather than an actual gas shortage.

It appears that beginning this week the Mexican government will hire privately owned trucks to help alleviate the backup. The trucks will run 24 hours a day and be escorted by military police. Good! Good!

Has this rerouting process and pipeline closures helped with the gas theft? Not much apparently! Gas thefts from pipelines continue in Texmelucan, Puebla even with more than 4,000 additional federal troops being dispatched to safeguard them.

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Nearly there now!

The serpentine lines at gas stations continue. Fresh food deliveries are few and far between. Tourism is way down. Black market gas has reached record high prices on Facebook. Police have been forced to ride bikes on patrol. Superbowl Sunday Guacamole Dip is endangered. Suspected fuel thieves are being branded.

And yet, through it all, Mexicans find a way. In Morelia, mariachis came to party the night away with motorists waiting for the next gas shipment. What was about someone fiddling while the city burned?

Even if the gas shipments are regularized this week, the devastating blow to the Mexican economy will take much longer to regularize. AMLO’s decisions as incoming president are being questioned. The consensus seems to be that things were better under PRI. At least there was gas. Who cares if it was stolen? The devil you know and all that.

This reform went so swimmingly well, I can’t wait to see what AMLO has in store for the national healthcare system!

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Would you like to learn how to survive other catastrophic disasters in Mexico? Check out A to Z Reasons Why La Yacata is the Place to Be in Any Disaster: A Prepper’s Guide to Mexico.atozcover

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Filed under Driving Hazards, Economics, Politics

Buying appliances and furnishing a house in Mexico

I didn’t know that when you rent a house in Mexico, odds are the stove and refrigerator are not installed because every apartment I rented in the US had those two basic appliances. Therefore, as soon as we arrived in Mexico and threw our mattresses on the floor for the night, we began discussing where we needed to go the next day to get a stove.

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Our first appliances in Mexico.

My husband’s mother suggested Elektra’s linea blanca (appliance line) and not having a clue, that’s where we went. We had enough money set aside to purchase a small stove and refrigerator “contado” rather than in payments. They loaded them into the truck and back to the apartment we went.

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Overall, Eletreka seems the most popular store in our area for cell phones, kitchen appliances,  motorcycles and furniture due to its ability to approve financing for your purchases through its own bank, Banco Azteca. In order to apply for credit, you’ll need your IFE (voter’s registration card) if you are a Mexican citizen or your current passport and residency card if you aren’t. Other documentation include: recent proof of residence (water/electricity bill), two years at the same residence or employment as evidenced by predial (tax) payments or a letter from your employer, signed aval (a signed contract from a guarantor in the event you don’t pay), and a signed garantías prendarias (permission to repossess any items bought with the line of credit). Sometimes, you will be asked to give an enganche (downpayment) as well.

Most other mueblerías (furniture stores) seem to have similar policies when you buy on credit. Initially, this seems like a good idea since you can take the items immediately and pay over time. Additionally, Elektra inspires prompt payment by lowering your interest for each payment you make on time. So it seems like you’ll be saving money, however, remember it always works out in favor of the store no matter what you do.

There are some drawbacks to buying on credit. Payment lines are out the wazoo causing you the loss of several hours each week. Supposedly, you can make your payment at places like OXXO or at the automatic tellers. What happens if that payment gets “lost” in the OXXO system? Or the ATM machine is broken? So just suck it up and stand in line like the rest of these fine folk.

Then, no matter what, you are responsible for paying the full amount plus interest even if your motorcycle is stolen, your fridge breaks, or you die. A few months before her death, my mother-in-law bought a motorcycle on credit from Elektra for her recently returned son M. She was wise enough to take a life insurance policy on her line of credit. After her death, her husband took a copy of the Acta de defunción (death certificate) to Elektra. The policy cleared out her debt and M got his motorcycle free and clear which he promptly sold when he skedaddled out of the area. Without that policy, someone in the family still might be making payments on that motorcycle.

If you default on your loan, they will come and get whatever it is you bought on credit. My sister-in-law has found the loophole in this though. She bought a brand-new refrigerator, top of the line model and stopped paying on it. Before the repo men could come and get it, she moved and moved again, and then moved a third time in a one month period.

Then she applied for credit at another Elektra store adding Maria in front of her name (which is her legal name but since everyone and her sister is named Maria and it is often abbreviated M. or Ma. on the birth certificate she always has gone by her second name). She bought some more stuff on credit and did the same thing.

It seems she has lucked out yet again. Her latest motorcycle was purchased in her son’s name since she’d burned her bridges too many times with her own name. The same son who was murdered recently. (Test of endurance) If she had the forethought to get the life insurance policy, then she owns this moto free and clear upon the presentation of his death certificate. It seems some people really know how to work the system.

Elektra has been trying to reduce the chance of default by asking you for a list of family members when you apply for credit. The loan officer then checks the list of bad debtors against your list of relatives and if you are related to someone like my husband’s sister, may well deny you credit.

We’ve had issues with our Banca Azteca card being cloned. It’s happened three times. Twice we reported it and were issued a new card. After the third time, we cut up our card ourselves and have refused to pay any further debts incurred. Our guess is that someone that works either at Elektra or Banco Azteca is facilitating the cloning. Anyway, since the Elektra computer system now lists us as bad debtors we won’t be getting any more credit there.

In our area, in addition to Elektra, Coppel also has a linea blanca (appliance) line and even Soriana and Fábricas de Francia carry appliances, with Soriana being at the lowest end of the quality spectrum and Fábricas of Francia on the more expensive end. I found my washer at Famsa at a good price, but they are somewhat limited as to what they have to offer overall.

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Most of the furniture items, tables, sofas, beds, dressers and so on, are really crappy at all of the aforementioned stores. We opted to buy handcrafted items whenever possible. Not only has it been less expensive, but the quality has been far superior. Our roperos (armoires) and bedside tables have been bought from carpenter tents along on the road, others we have had custom made to fit our needs and house from a local carpintería. The bed bases my husband made himself. If you aren’t so handy, you can find sturdy wooden bed frames sold from the back of a truck in most towns. My son’s fabulous corner computer desk was made by a local carpenter. 

Our tables are solid wood bought second-hand and the chairs, well, we have quite a number of handmade chairs (Sitting around the house). Kitchen cupboards, interior doors, and shelves can be ordered from the local carpintería and include installation.

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We have yet to buy a living room set because well, we don’t have a living room. I would suggest an upper-end mueblería for these items. We have one store that offers a scratch and dent sale periodically. The inventory most likely includes furniture that had been repossessed as well. We got two nice chairs there one year. Otherwise, their prices are way out of our budget.

Curtains and beddings, also known as linea blanca, can be purchased at places that specialize in those items, which often are named something like Casa Ramirez or Casa Lopez, or at the stores I mentioned before. You might want to have them made by a sastre (tailor) or costuera (seamstress) if you have odd sized windows or want a specific fabric for bedding. In fact, you might be able to have something bought at one of the Casa places altered by the seamstress on duty.

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I asked my husband about the Casa addition to the name. He said that before different haciendas were known for their needlework or embroidery. So when it was time for new bedding or curtains you would go to la casa de los Ramirez to place an order for your necessities. So the Casa part of the store name comes from that tradition which of course, as my son pointed out, you don’t really need to know in order to buy your blankets there.

Anyway, that’s what I know about buying appliances and furnishings in Mexico. Hope it helps!

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Filed under Cultural Challenges, Economics

The Challenges of Living in Poverty in Mexico

After my Herbal Material Medica and Permacultural courses were finished, I signed up to audit the MIT sponsored online course entitled The Challenges of Global Poverty.  The text for the course was entitled Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo who were also the instructors.  While I’m not by any means an economist or statistician, I knew enough about statistics to know when something was statistically significant or not but not enough to figure out the more complicated equations.  I managed to slide by with a 75 final grade.

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I did learn quite a bit about living in poverty and as a consequence, I was able to look at my life here in rural Mexico with new eyes.  Most of the samples in the class were from rural India, but it was amazing how similar the culture of poverty is throughout the world.

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Here are some of the things I learned and how that information relates to my life here in Mexico:

Many poor are unable to obtain traditional credit or open bank accounts. As a consequence, complicated processes are invented to set aside money needed for future expenses. One method of saving is known as a tanda in this part of Mexico.  A tanda is a group of people that contribute a set amount of money each week or pay check or whatever the time frame has been determined.  Each member is assigned a number.  One member receives all the money each pay period. (See A room of her own–furnishings) It allows the participants to ensure that the money needed for a particular item is available when that expenditure is due.

Personas que deben (People who owe money)

Mentioned in class was the institution of money lenders.  In India, repayment is enforced through public shame and the possibility of sending a eunuch to show his genitals to the delinquent borrower (a form of intimidation).  While Mexico is not known for its eunuchs, shame is a big motivator here as well.  Often lists of people who owe money are posted outside establishments for the entire community to see. 

Many villages in India have a sort of informal lending between families which allows those in need to receive money or assistance with the understanding that it will be paid back in the future. In Mexico, the madrina/padrino (godparents) tradition is a version of this informal lending.  When a family is planning a major event like a baptism, wedding, graduation, quinceanera, etc.,  a variety of extended family or community members are asked to take on the role of godparent.  The so honored are financially responsible for a particular aspect of the event, napkins, shoes, seating rental, mass, etc. This is done with the understanding that at some time in the future, such expense will be repaid by the recipient family in the form of another madrina/padrino setup. (See Chambelan at the church, Chambelan at the party, Secondary Graduation)

Mexico, like India, has a high number of micro businesses.  Often these businesses are run by women.  These are self-limiting businesses.  Time spent on the business is often scheduled around other obligations such as child care or meal preparation.  A larger investment in the business is not feasible because the business is limited by its product or demand.  So each day, the business owner earns just enough to get by, never more. (See Failing at your own Business)

The course mentioned the excellent health care in Mexico.  Perhaps it is excellent in comparison to India, however from personal experience, the health care in Mexico, while affordable, is not magnificent.  (See All Around the Health Care Bush, Mexico’s Seguro Popular) Health care impacts the poor the most since a major illness and/or death of a family member often eliminates any savings the family may have accumulated.  (See Mass and Burial Mexican Style)There is also a tendency to request injections or pills from doctors so doctors prescribe them whether they are needed or not.  Again, very similar to Mexican customs.

I found it interesting that India has a version of curanderos as well.  Since actual medical professionals are beyond the limited means of the poor, sick family members are often brought for prayers and herbal treatments. (See La Curandera).  

The poor find it difficult to save money for several reasons.  One reason is that women, who tend to try to save more often, frequently find their money being appropriated, whether with permission or not, by male family members.  Men are more likely to spend the money on impulse buys and non-essential goods, like alcohol and tobacco.  No comment from the peanut gallery on this startling scientific find on gender bias and spending habits.  

Because of this appropriation of funds and the difficulty of self-denial, cash is often converted into physical goods. Gold jewelry is a common investment that is easily liquidated when the need arises.  Here in Mexico, the US dollar, considered more stable than the pesos, is another way people save.  When the dollar is low, people buy it from the casas de cambio (money exchange places) and then try to time the resale to a period when the peso is low.  Of course, jewelry and cash can be stolen as well. Sometimes the investment is in livestock, although this sort of purchase carries the additional risks of illness or death. And still the very determined can make off with goats lifted over a 6-foot wall. (See Good Fences make Good Neighbors–unless your neighbors steal them,  Where oh where have they gone?)  

The poor sometimes choose to invest in building material instead.  La Yacata is a silent testimony to the hopes and dreams of the poor.  Half-finished homes, foundations poured, rooms open to the sky, just waiting for another small windfall of cash.  (See Building a dream, constructing a life)

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With all these negatives to saving, many poor would rather spend the money while it’s available instead of trying to save towards some future goal.  This is a predominant cultural norm in this area of Mexico and it’s hard to argue against it.  Every month there seems to be a festival or other event where you can spend money. (See Mexican Holidays)  Every business and home have a TV to while away the slow hours.  Homes with no indoor plumbing have 2 or 3 cell phones per family.  The idea is life is hard, might as well enjoy what there is to be had.

Neither the course nor the text provided any real solutions to overcoming poverty.  In fact, there was sort of a general shrugging of shoulders and dismissal–well, we’ll always have the poor.  It was interesting to learn that once an individual or family falls to a certain income level, they are trapped in poverty and it takes an incredible amount of effort (and good luck) to rise to an income level where real progress can be made. For the most part, the poor just don’t have the social contacts, knowledge or investment opportunities to pull themselves up by their bootstraps into wealth.

One of the biggest factors in global poverty was found to be institutional corruption.  In this, there was less hopelessness expressed by the authors.  Small things, such as adding a picture to voting ballots, changed the outcomes and thus the structure.  However, I’m not so sure how much change really can be brought about.  Institutional corruption is pervasive.  It not only encompasses the political arena, but also health care, the environment, and education. (See Mexican educational reform and political wrangling, Politicking, Local Elections)  Those that are affected most are the poor.  Their water is polluted because of corruption.  Their children are not well-educated because of corruption.  Their health suffers and they are unable to receive proper medical attention because of corruption.

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In fact, one study highlighted in the course demonstrated that the type of colonization an area was subjected to affected the living conditions of the people hundreds of years later.  Mexico was unfortunately conquered by the Spaniards who were bound and determined to extract every last bit of wealth from its soil.  The subsequent governing body set up by the Spaniards was established with plunder, not social good, in mind. Thus it remains down to this day. (See Women in Mexican History–La Malinche)

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to cover all 12 weeks of the course in one blog post. These are the points that stood out to me having first-hand experience in my poverty-stricken life here in Mexico.  All in all, it was just a tad depressing. Not to be deterred,  I’ve signed up for a new course–The Science of Happiness. It certainly promises to be a lighter topic!

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