En Mexico: Cash, Entrepreneurship, and Jobs

One of the things that adds to the unique economy in San Agustinillo is it’s cash economy. And, there are no cash machines in San Agustinillo. Nada. Cero. The closest machines are up the hill in Mazunte about a 15 walk away. Imagine a world where your cards are simply meaningless. No value. Useless other than noisemakers in your bike spokes. And your phone. No help there either. What would you do? How would that change your life? The cash only economy promotes the sell, sell, sell nature of the place. It’s an entrepreneurs paradise.

I was ok on cash. Remember things are cheap and I loaded up on pesos. But, one never knows. So while I was in Mazunte I figured I’d better stock up on pesos. Better to have some in reserve. I found one machine, but it was out of service.

“Donde esta otro?” I asked.

“Alla,” the security guard said pointing down the street.

So I went. The line looked long. It was about 86 degrees give or take. But having some pesos now would save a lot of hassle later. So I got in line.

It was hot. Really hot. And the line wasn’t moving. The line stretched out in front of a pizza that had slices baking in the sun. Not very appetizing at the moment. But maybe he had a bottle of water.

“Tienes agua?” I asked.

“Si, agua de fruta,” he answered.

“No, tienes una botella de agua?” I asked.

“No tengo botellas de agua,” he said.

So no water. I waited. The line did not move.

As I stood in line I remembered I had some American cash. The heat was making me light headed. I started fanaticizing and doing math and Spanish in my head.

“Se vendes pesos?” I practiced, imagining talking to a store owner.

“Yo tengo dinero de Estados Unidos,” I thought I’d say. Maybe I’d hold up a wad of bills. Presidentes muertes.

I figured if I offered a good deal, maybe I could get 1000 pesos for $100. Was that right? It wasn’t getting any less hot. Was my math messed up?

Finally I calculated how long each transaction was taking inside the little closet with a glass door where the machine was. I started counting the seconds. I got up to about 180 when I counted the people in front of me; at least 20. Math. Three minutes times 20 is an hour. No gracias. So I left.

As I walked through the town I thought exchanging dollars for pesos on the street might be illegal or at least out of line. I imagined what if the shoe was on the other foot and someone offered me a wad of some currency in exchange for some dollars. It would be inconvenient. I’d have to go change the money into dollars and what rate would I get?

Then I thought of how a business could spring up around the lines. Fans? Water? Paying people to wait in line? Of course the people had no cash, so there would be risk. What if they got the water and took off. You could sell it for a lot, but how would you collect? The line water idea was the best one. I take your card and pass word and take 10 percent. Crazy? Wait for an hour and half in line and it doesn’t sound that bad.

The cash economy seems to inspire a lot of hustle around here. Nothing bad or nefarious, but an item that can be turned into cash has value. One starts looking around and figuring out how to make that transformation. Not having cash can be worse than waiting in line; what do people want that will make them give me some cash?

As I wrote before, one thing is a ride to the next town. Food. Clothes. I saw a guy walk up to a food vendor and make a sales pitch to her for some clothing. It was a good pitch. She considered it. But said, “No, gracias.” He was polite, smiled and moved on.

Why, I wonder, do the socialists and communists in Seattle advocate for higher wages. When I look at the economy here I don’t see many jobs, at least as they are construed in the US: an hourly wage. How can anyone who knows the writings of Karl Marx put price on exploitation. Remember, in Das Kapital, Marx lays out beautifully that the worker owns no property, thus she sells her labor. Meanwhile, the capitalist owns the means of production and exploits the worker’s labor. But the worker can live without the wage.

Here in Mexico, it’s true the traditional jobs are few. I needed the bathroom. I walked into a restaurant and got lost in the back. A young boy stopped me. He asked me some questions. Was I planning to eat here, he wondered when I said I need to use the facilities. Another question. I handed him 20 pesos. A win win solution.

Jobs are great, but they can be soul sucking. And the notion that one’s health care and livelihood is tied to people who own property and the means of production is depressing. In Mexico everyone scrambles to make a living. Have some property? Rent it out to campers and their tents for the jazz festival. Have an oven? Bake bread and sell it on the beach. Own a car? Give people rides.

Americans can seem kind of lazy by comparison. They expect a job. They want you to have a job. Councilmember Sawant and the City Council collude with the capitalists to be sure that your labor is sold for at least $15 an hour. That seems strange to me. And in Seattle, being an entrepreneur is getting more difficult.

To me, looking at the beach, it seems to me that universal health care and a guaranteed basic income could give people the safety net they need to hustle and innovate rather than join the direct deposit culture. People here work hard. So do many Americans who own small business. We should reward and encourage that rather than have elected officials negotiate the price of our labor.

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