Monday, August 07, 2006


There´s plenty of Internet around here, but for relatively complicated and uninteresting reasons, it doesn´t look like I´ll have any chances to post pictures until I return to the US at the end of August. So at that time I´ll write up a more comprehensive illustrated journal of my/our travels.

That said, I´m now in Santiago. If in Argentina I was impressed by the available installment payments for suits, here in Chile they ask you if you want to pay for food over a few months. That´s funny, because on the surface Chile is a much more prosperous country than Argentina. It has had solid growth for the last twenty years under free market policies and the growth has been surprisingly broad. Poverty really has diminished significantly, to the levels of 10 or 15% that you´d see in the US. In fact, although salaries here are lower than in the US (and goods often cost about the same as they would stateside), the social structure looks a lot like it does back home. Without a doubt, Chile is the Latin American country that has most successfully replicated the problems of the US...unequal access to education based on wealth, unwanted immigration, a reliance on overconsumpiton for economic growth, and ever-growing environmental difficulties. From the ground here, Chile´s growth doesn´t look like a bubble that could burst at any moment. But there are some serious problems. Apart from the dense cloud of smog that obscures what must be one of the most stunning natural backdrops of any major city (the Andes mountains), Chile is having trouble meeting its energy needs. As it is, it imports gas from Argentina (which imports its gas from Bolivia) because Bolivia and Chile aren´t on good terms. Since Bolivian gas was nationalized a few weeks ago, the prices have skyrocketed and instead of passing on those costs to Argentine consumers, Argentina´s President Kirchner is trying to pass of all of the increase to Chile. Without gas, Santiago´s factories have been burning dirtier gasoline, which has made the air particularly bad here this week. The government declares an environmental emergency one day, shutting down production, but has little choice but to let things proceed apace the rest of the week. There´s also the question of personal indebtedness, which I can´t really assess walking up and down the safe and clean streets.

All in all, Santiago seems to me a harsh reminder that economic growth in the world as we live it is practically synonymous with energy consumption. Chile may have figured out how to have a healthy and robust national economy (which has eluded many a Latin American nation) just in time to see the problematic change to one that asks for environmental preservation in a world with dwindling resources and increasing demand on its capacity to produce. And there´s an extraordinary amount here that´s worth preserving. I hope it will be.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

good post. thanks for explaining the whole bolivia thing. naturalized gas, though? this reminds me of a typing problem i've been having recently, though. instead of the typical misspellings, where the letters are in the wrong order or i hit a key adjacent to the one i wanted, i've been typing words that sound like the word i meant to type. when i think of a good example, i'll let you know ... and now off to my first meeting of the day! hooray for being back at school.