Friday, October 28, 2011

Contemplating Wealth


I just spent a week in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort. I made it through most of the week without thinking about anything except the book I was reading. Those thoughtless moments never seem to last long. By the end of the week, I was back in my processing/thinking/pondering mode. Yes, we had gotten a good deal on an all-inclusive resort...but the bottom line was that I was still spending a lot of money on myself. I tried to think about the fact that Mexico survives on tourism and me spending money there employs quite a few people. That is a true fact. However, I also thought about how much money I spend on myself and how little so many other people make who will never be able to enjoy the luxuries I do.

As I talked to our shuttle driver on the way back to the airport, he explained minimum wage in Mexico. He told me their minimum wage is per day. If you work an eight-hour day, you make $55 pesos. During spring break months (February-March), when he is working 14-16 hours a day, six days/week, they receive $110 pesos/day. I guess that's something like time and a half...except he's not just working 12 hours/day like he explained to me, he may work up to 16! While we were in Mexico, the exchange rate was $12.70. That's $4.33/day...or $8.66/day during the three high season months of spring break! That boggled my mind so I looked it up to make sure I understood him correctly. Yep. Here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_country

A friend of mine suggested maybe that smaller minimum wage was kind of ok because things are cheaper in Mexico. Maybe it's possible to rationalize that but with the amount we had to spend on things, I can't see it. My chair hammock cost me $20. I looked it up online and it would cost $77 here. So, yes, that's a lot cheaper...for me. My guess is it's the tourists and not the locals who are buying hammocks though. I also went out to eat at a local restaurant off the beaten path (not in the tourist area at all). Our meal cost about $30 (USD) for three of us (with tip). We each had a regular plate of food and a soda (one person had a beer instead of a soda). For someone in Mexico, that one meal would be two and a half days of work!

I mentioned the Mexican minimum wage to a friend of mine. He was just as baffled as I was. He said he wished more people realized how minuscule their wages are. He believed if they did, they would tip more. I'm not so sure. When I was in college, I took a mission trip to Africa. I remember the missionaries there telling us, "People only make about 75 cents/day so when you go to the market, don't let them fool you and talk you into paying more." It made sense to me at the time. I guess the rationale was to not throw the economy off by doing something like tripling or quadrupling someone's wage or lifestyle by being a clueless American tourist. I'm not so sure that rationale makes sense to me now. Why not pay for the services rendered and tip them adequately and why barter them down to nothing since they're barely surviving anyway? Why is the goal, in a third world or lower income country, for us to see how low we can bargain people down on their prices when the price is already cheap for us anyway?

When someone is making $4.33/day in a country we don't consider third world, is it any wonder why they might want to cross the border and hopefully do better for their family? Is it any wonder why Mexican people are willing to work the jobs no one else does in our country...even if they were engineers, attorneys, and business owners in their own country? We are willing to take advantage of what they offer us in their country. Why aren't we willing to return that favor by welcoming them into ours? It seems like a double standard to me.
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