Saturday, June 03, 2006

That'll be the day

Be it far from me to talk finance. I have opinions about everything, including stuff I have no clue about. And finance is one of them. So when I saw the world's third richest man, a Mexican, Carlos Slim, in the front page of the NYT, I had to opine. This man is worth between 30 and 40 billion dollars. He basically owns half of Mexico. He owns the only phone company, which he got on a buddy deal from the government, and which is why Mexicans pay the most usurious telephone rates on the planet. You would think he would, like Bill and Melinda Gates and other titans of industry, have been sharing for some time some of his humongous wealth with his less fortunate countrymen, but if he has, he certainly has not done so in a significant way until now, according to this article. Now he's come up with some pretentious sounding plan to make Mexico "grow". Somehow, I don't believe him. It sounds like the demagoguery that is the mother tongue of all Mexican big shots. As the article mentions, it's all bla bla but still no talk of real competition, still no talk of increasing wages.
It's all still a big billionaire boys' club.
The very wealthy Mexicans are not as heartless as they are portrayed in the soaps, but as far as I'm concerned, they're close. Mexico, if I'm not mistaken, is not like here, where companies and individuals can get tax deductions for charitable contributions. I have never for the life of me understood why this isn't so. The government would benefit from letting corporations underwrite health, education and arts programs, to name a few possibilities. I swear, up until I read this article, it had not even occurred to me to think how indeed do the obscenely wealthy in Mexico give back to their country. They are content to provide miserable paying jobs and maybe have a little foundation here and there for handicapped children. In the meantime, the whole country is handicapped by poverty. Are they doing anything about it?
The reason that the gap between their obscene wealth and that of most of the struggling population is so huge is that labor is cheap in Mexico and the living wages are pathetic.
For years, the ruling classes have been hand in hand with the government to protect the status quo.
But maybe there is a glimmer of hope in this new public phase of Mr. Slim. Maybe after seeing so many Mexicans trying to get across the border to feed their families, and people in Mexico slowly learning to fight for their dignity, and maybe after trembling about the possibility of another Hugo Chavez in the region, something is finally snapping. It is about time.

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