Poverty, Culture, and Conspicuous Consumption

macocael

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The recent news summary from DR1.com made mention of a particularly good blog written by Federico Martinez, a business consultant who likes to comment on socioeconomic issues. The blog is called Tomando en cuento. For those of you who read Spanish I highly recommend it. Anyway, he commented on the prevalance of yipetas on the island:

Todo el mundo tiene derecho a disfrutar el resultado de su esfuerzo, pero cuando ese disfrute ofende la precariedad con la que se desenvuelven aquellos cong?neres cuya desgracia es no haber nacido de padres con posibilidades o no haber tenido el chance de engancharse en un partido ganador, ese consumo debe considerarse obsceno.

Mi hermana anduvo por Argentina a principios de a?o; entre las cosas que le llam? la atenci?n fue la ausencia de yipetas en Buenos Aires. Quiz?s la explicaci?n de esa ausencia se debe a que los argentinos tienen las piernas m?s cortas que los dominicanos y les da trabajo ?treparse? a esos veh?culos tan altos. Otra posible explicaci?n es que Argentina produjo a Borges, S?bato y Cortazar y nosotros peloteros y El A?o?aito.

(Trans: Everyone has the right to enjoy the fruits of one's labors, but when this enjoyment flies in the face of the precariousness that bedevils those whose misfortune is not to have been born of affluent parents or not to have had the chance to hook up with the winning party, then this consumption must be considered obscene.

My sister went to Argentina at the beginning of the year; among the things she noted was the absence of yipetas in Buenos Aires. Perhaps this absence is owing to the fact that Argentinians have shorter legs than Dominicans and thus are discomfited by the climb into a higher vehicle. Another possible explanation is that Argentina produced Borges, S?bato and Cortazar, while we have produced ballplayers and El A?o?aito. )

ooo, that was a shot! Well, it occurred to me to ask what people thought of the tendency toward conspicuous consumption represented by the ubiquitous yipeta, and its relation to poverty and an implied lack of "culture" -- to be fair, I dont think that the author of these comments would deny that Dominican baseball or merengue, bachata and other popular cultural forms are in themselves negligible products; rather, I think the implication is that there is not a widespread knowledge or appreciation of other equally important cultural manifestations such as literature, and that we are mired in a quest for material pleasures without taking into consideration the value of other cultural pursuits. The article ought to be read in its entirety, but the central theme is ripe for observations here.
 

M.A.R.

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EDUCATION EDUCATION EDUCATION

A BETTER EDUCATION will solve many many problems all over the world, especially in the DR, including this need to have too many materialistic posessions and not enough knowledge or enlightment in the "coco" head or in our lives.
 

Chirimoya

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I liked his article a lot, but when you think about it, it is stating the obvious. He gives the example of Argentina, but it doesn't stop there. The affluent nations of Europe are also devoid of SUVs and luxury cars, relatively speaking. It seems as if most well-off people there don't have the same desperate need to display their wealth so crudely.

I tried to leave a comment on his blog, which BTW is called Tomando en cuenta, but you need to have a blogger account, and I don't. I sent him an e-mail mentioning deputy PM John "two Jags" Prescott - one of those was an official car, so the aren't as austere as Mart?nez suggests, unless things have changed in the last couple of years.

I also recounted the incident in which Tony Blair was on his way to Heathrow to catch a flight, got stuck in traffic and the police cleared a lane for his car to speed him past the other motorists, so he could get to the airport on time. This led to widespread public condemnation: the feeling was that he should have sat in the traffic jam like everyone else, and his advisors were worried that this public privileged treatment could seriously affect his popularity. Contrast that with the fact that in the DR on a daily basis, government officials' children are ferried to school in giant jeepetas with police escorts that push all other cars out of the way, sirens blaring, so that the precious little brats can get to school on time.

A poor country will always stay poor with such screwed up priorities.
 

BushBaby

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WE are a two yipeta household - one is 1994 (Montero), the other is a 1989 Ram Raider (Montero by another name!!).

Our need for yipetas has absolutely NOTHING to do with being rich (we are comfortable but NOT rich) - it is to do with safety & comfort! I can not imagine how painful my back would be if I had to endure the North Coast roads without the higher suspension of my yipeta!! Were the roads more comfortable to drive on, I am confident we would choose a better MPG vehicle to get from point 'a' to point 'b' in!!

I do totally accept the premise that many people use an SUV for status though & in a (financially) poor district in the DR, this would cause a lot of resentment. Fortunately, most poor Dominicans are able to rise above such feelings of resentment & get back to the important things in life - like where the next meal is going to come from!! ~ Grahame.
 

macocael

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I am having trouble today with the quick response

oops, cuento was a typo, nothing more. Cant seem to fix it now, the edit button has disappeared. It may be that the blog states the obvious, but I think that here we need to state the obvious more often. I was once asked to be the padrino at the wedding of a couple friends. We were arranging for the reception at the club in Arroyo Hondo, and en route to the director's office we picked up a relative of the couple in question, a woman who has pulled herself up by her bootstraps so to speak with the success of her hair salon located in a nice middle class nabe. The first words out of her mouth when I met her were, "yo soy rica." I nearly fell down laughing. Later on at the director's office, she was involved in trying to get a better deal from the club and she saw fit to remind the director that she was not a nobody: "somos gente de cach?" she said. The director was not impressed and I imagine he has heard this kind of thing many times.

The outward signs of status carry too much weight here, and despite all the emphasis on religion and god and so on, spiritual values take a back seat to material values. While I appreciate the determination it takes for someone like this woman to climb up the social ladder, I, like the director, remain unimpressed by their efforts to flaunt their wealth, particularly when it is not matched by an equally determined effort to educate oneself. Education is sorely needed here, the conspicuous consumption that characterizes social climbing is all the uglier for its lack,and I am hoping that as the middle class gets stabilized and begins to acquire more worldliness in addition to more money that eventually they will see fit to push for educational reforms and create a better school system.
 

planner

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I agree with those who don't like the conspicuous consumption patterns. In some ways for those who are actually a little insecure it is a way of making themselves feel better at the expense of those not so well off.

Here is a question: did other cultures and countries go thru this? For example as the US became a "richer nation" and individuals had new found and self made riches, did they not "flaunt" it as well? IS this part of the "growing up" process of a culture???

Bushbaby - I don't think anyone could accuse you of conspicuous consumption. While you have 2 yipetas you don't flaunt wealth. The roads here are particularly challenging right now in Puerto Plata.
 

Chirimoya

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Quick reply is letting me down, too - it must be a general problem.

The first words out of her mouth when I met her were, "yo soy rica."

Are you sure it wasn't her name?:D

Seriously, everything you said - spot on.
 

dv8

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personally i'd drive (if i COULD drive, that is) jeep in any country, i just like big, sturdy and presentable cars. but in POP having a jeepeta is a necessity, have you seen those roads? having a city car is good when you live in a city, but this is practically the off-road racetrack!

in england lots of rich people drive huge SUVs, the government planned (no idea whether it was implemented) to raise taxes on 4x4 vehicles (environmental reason). so maybe it is a car of choice for all wealthy?

i remember watching mtv cribs about some bling music producer who has a whole flotilla of cars and changes them every year (every year he buys them in new colour, different than before). so there you go planner, idiots (or maybe just people who "do not know" what to do with their money) are also in developed countries....
 

NALs

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Jan 20, 2003
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Enjoy this while you can, because this is a rarity:

I will keep it short and simple by saying:

You cannot become poor enough to make another poor person feel better about themselves!

Food for thought!

-NALs
 

dv8

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well, i guess you could "show" your riches by giving them away. that would be bad only for YOU...
LOL
 

NALs

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well, i guess you could "show" your riches by giving them away. that would be bad only for YOU...
LOL
Chances are that every wealthy person became such or has maintained such status by creating, maintaining, and expanding job opportunities for the masses.

Isn't that a way of sharing the wealth??? Plus, by offering new job opportunities you are not just giving them a fish, but rather teaching them how to fish.... so they can feed themselves forever rather than eat for a day!

Take Macocael's story of the lady who has gone up the latter via her salon business. Well, for all her vanity she is giving her employees a job, a source of income, and perhaps even a source of pride in themselves. She is giving them the chance to be productive which is a desire most people have in life.

Sure, she would probably be a better person if her vanity would diminish or dissappear all together. But, isn't the fact that she is doing her part in helping society by offering things society wants (jobs and a good hairstylist) enough?

Just wondering. :ermm:

-NALs
 

cobraboy

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Chances are that every wealthy person became such or has maintained such status by creating, maintaining, and expanding job opportunities for the masses.

Isn't that a way of sharing the wealth??? Plus, by offering new job opportunities you are not just giving them a fish, but rather teaching them how to fish.... so they can feed themselves forever rather than eat for a day!

Take Macocael's story of the lady who has gone up the latter via her salon business. Well, for all her vanity she is giving her employees a job, a source of income, and perhaps even a source of pride in themselves. She is giving them the chance to be productive which is a desire most people have in life.

Sure, she would probably be a better person if her vanity would diminish or dissappear all together. But, isn't the fact that she is doing her part in helping society by offering things society wants (jobs and a good hairstylist) enough?

Just wondering. :ermm:

-NALs
Of course, you are correct.

Effort, risk and ingenuity creates true wealth (except for those who inherited it). Wealth, invested, creates more wealth for others. Heck, even if a rich guy put his money in a bank, it STILL creates wealth elsewhere.

I never heard of a "poor" guy creating a job.

However, I DO understand the class envy of some who resent others effort, risk and ingenuity (i.e. "wealth"), and take great pleasure in seeing a "wealthy" person destroyed (or at least knocked down a few pegs).
 

Chirimoya

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So wealth, itself, isn't bad. Just showing it is.

:rolleyes:
Yes, I think there is a lot of merit in being discreet and restrained, especially when surrounded by such extreme poverty. There are also some practical reasons. But that's just MHO.

OK, so we bashed the nouveau riche, admittedly an easy target. :tired: The main point of the OP though, was about government priorities, and how a poor country can justify squandering millions on fripperies when there are less costly alternatives, and other priorities the money could be spent on. I would add the examples of some DR embassies and their staff. I can't see how anyone could defend that, apart from the argument that the party needs to reward its faithful.

NALs said:
You cannot become poor enough to make another poor person feel better about themselves!
Apart from commending you on your uncharacteristic brevity :cheeky: let me say that I agree absolutely. To a huge percentage of people in this country, a lowly Skoda is as unattainable as a US$100k in-your-face luxury SUV. But if the government has to supply an official with a car, the lowly skoda, or even a modest SUV will do the job just as well.
 

cobraboy

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Yes, I think there is a lot of merit in being discreet and restrained, especially when surrounded by such extreme poverty. There are also some practical reasons. But that's just MHO.

OK, so we bashed the nouveau riche, admittedly an easy target. :tired:
So now it's not showing wealth that is bad, it's ~when~ it was acquired.

I'm not big on showing wealth, but I'm not gonna make a big deal about those that choose to do so. It's their money and life.

Chirimoya said:
But if the government has to supply an official with a car, the lowly skoda, or even a modest SUV will do the job just as well.
I agree completely; I want the policy implemented just as soon as my tenure of Official Cerveza Potentate of the Republica Dominicana is officially over, and I begin to draw my RD$50,000 lifetime pension.;)

I recall the time when the US issued plain gray Studebaker Larks with "Property of the U.S. Government" stenciled on the doors to those that required transportation for their official duties.. Government employees didn't want to drive them. Imagine a fleet of beige Yarises or Skoda's.
 

Chirimoya

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So now it's not showing wealth that is bad, it's ~when~ it was acquired.
Nope, it's a question of priorities. I could have many of the things you think I'm jealous of if I shuffled some priorities, but I've never considered them in the least important or attractive.

I'm not big on showing wealth, but I'm not gonna make a big deal about those that choose to do so. It's their money and life.
Your opinion, of course. I'm also entitled to say I think it's tacky, vulgar and tactless, more so when surrounded by poverty.

I recall the time when the US issued plain gray Studebaker Larks with "Property of the U.S. Government" stenciled on the doors to those that required transportation for their official duties.. Government employees didn't want to drive them. Imagine a fleet of beige Yarises or Skoda's.
As long as they have four wheels and a working engine who cares?
 

cobraboy

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Nope, it's a question of priorities. I could have many of the things you think I'm jealous of if I shuffled some priorities, but I've never considered them in the least important or attractive.
Coulda woulda shoulda, "IF". Results matter more than good intentions. Most folks who CAN become wealthy-in any way you care to define "wealthy"-usually do, without making excuses for the fruit of their labor.

Are you saying YOUR priorities are somehow morally superior to someone who may have different priorities? I hope not. I know many wealthy people whose generosity and compassion are unsurpassed.

I personally don't give a sankies peso for how someone else chooses to live their life, and show their wealth...or lack thereof.
 

Chirimoya

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Coulda woulda shoulda, "IF". Results matter more than good intentions. Most folks who CAN become wealthy-in any way you care to define "wealthy"-usually do, without making excuses for the fruit of their labor. Are you saying YOUR priorities are somehow morally superior to someone who may have different priorities?
My choices, like most peoples, are based on my personal ethics, and as a result my priorities are different to many people's. Morally superior? It's relative. I know some people who might define me as pampered and bourgeois, while you probably think I'm being judgemental and austere.;)

I know many wealthy people whose generosity and compassion are unsurpassed.
So do I. It is usually combined with discretion and restraint. I have the utmost respect for them. Some of the most generous donors (I'm talking of six-figure sums in pounds sterling every year) to an organisation I'm familiar with did not want any publicity whatsoever, and if you met them in person you would never guess they were extremely wealthy.

Back to government officials - if they object to low-key cars, it kind of begs the question what motivated them to seek office, doesn't it? Either they're there to serve their country, or to enrich themselves. In the DR, apart from a few noble exceptions, the latter is so blatantly the case and people just accept it as par for the course. Mart?nez is saying that is this one of the roots of the country's problems, and is part of a shallow, materialist culture - the veneer of progress without the substance (education and culture).

The issue of motivation reminds me (again) of the charity sector and donor accountability: charity organisations can't offer high salaries and luxurious perks to their employees, but they still need to attract highly competent professionals. Despite that they manage to find enough people who are so committed to the charitable cause that they don't mind working for less money than they would be earning in an equivalent job in the commercial sector.
 

A.Hidalgo

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If a rich man is proud of his wealth, he should not be praised until it is known how he employs it.

Socrates (470?-399BC)