After decades of travelling throughout Latin America and years
living there, I have developed a painful twinge every time I return
to the U.S. and realize the loss of freedoms and rude behavior that
is in store for me. It all comes flooding into my brain. What's
the rule on shoes and searches at the airport? What will the cops
do if my 7-year-old son is not in a government-approved booster
seat in the rental car? What if a family member needs antibiotics
or stitches? What are the things that will cause US residents to
call the cops on me? What are the rules on car and health insurance
that will get me in trouble? What kind of ticket will I get if I
forget to turn on the headlights when there is a drizzle? Can the
children stick their heads out of a sunroof or ride in the back
of a pickup? No. Daddy might be arrested. Why? The cops are different
here. The kids don't understand the oppressive environment. They
don't understand the government worship and the angry woman screaming
at Dad while he putts around on a motorcycle, "Where's your
helmet!" Why do people want to control their neighbor's lives
via the state in this country? We don't get it.
Then come the financial worries. What if someone is injured during
the trip and we have to go to the unfriendly ridiculously expensive
fascist hospitals. Is everyone's dental work caught up before the
trip? What if the car breaks down? There aren't friendly roadside
mechanics everywhere like there are in Latin America.
The pliant state-worshiping population seems like a crazy infestation
to us in this "freest of all nations." We are used to
societies made up of friendly entrepreneurs of all ages happily
assisting the population. We are used to neighbors that tolerate
each others' actions. In Latin America, there is no such thing as
calling government goons to invade your neighbor's house when he
has a birthday party lasting until 3 in the morning with a live
band, clowns, a bouncy castle, fireworks, and lots of laughter.
People expect the same allowances from their neighbors and they
definitely don't trust the police to do anything, but cause problems.
Why would you ruin your relationship with your neighbor by calling
in government forces? Nobody would think of doing that.
The populace is openly disrespectful to the state in these countries.
Journalism is real journalism. News articles blast state employees
for their lavish lifestyles and thievery from the people. These
aren't just editorials. They are regular articles filled with anti-government
venom in the major newspapers. The newspapers don't spout pro-government
rhetoric at the rate it is seen in the U.S. They continually point
out government thievery and scandals and they hammer away repeatedly
as they investigate and develop more on the stories. After all,
newspapers are private businesses owned by entrepreneurs and they
don't want their wealth stolen by the government either in these
Latin American Governments Walk a Fine Line
These governments know that their existence is precarious. They
don't own the presses for the world's reserve currency and many
of them have experienced hyperinflation when they have ruined various
issues of their own currency. They have a limit on the amount of
wealth they can take from the people via inflation before the currency
stops working. Most people don't pay any taxes. The entities that
do are the major brick and mortar corporate businesses (e.g. Coca
Cola, McDonalds, private airlines) who can't escape the government's
predations and licensing schemes. Practically every other business
is mobile or easily uprooted and replanted in another part of town.
The tax base isn't there to support a large intrusive government.
Most businesses will ask you when you make a purchase, "Con
factura o sin factura?” This is universal language throughout Latin
America meaning, "Do you want us to use the government serialized
receipt and pay the taxes for this purchase?" The answer, of
course, is always "sin factura" unless you need the receipt
— like if you are travelling on business — in which case you may
decide to pay the sales taxes or VAT via the government serialized
receipt. Even then, they look at you in an odd way and ask if you
wouldn't rather have a "recibo" than a "factura"
so you don't have to pay the taxes. The "recibo" is an
unofficial factura that you can use to claim expenses if you are
travelling or purchasing something for business where you need a
paper receipt to claim the expense. In the open air markets, where
most of the business is done for everything from electronics to
food, there is not even the option of paying taxes. For those people
that really need receipts, they carry around a pad of pre-printed
recibos and get a signature from the person selling the item or
providing the service (like a plumber, electrician, or carpenter).
Most businesses don't even think of reporting any income
or sales to the government. Since everyone has this attitude, the
government stays poor and weak and can't afford to mess with the
people very often. The Latin state's other option for government
wealth — running the presses — has never worked for them. They wind
up perpetually adding zeroes to their currency until the currency
collapses. The governments have become aware that a hugely debased
currency will ruin their ability to fund their operations. A currency
collapse doesn't hurt the regular residents of these countries to
the extent you might think. They have a lot of other options. Using
Paraguay as an example — Paraguay uses as much or more foreign currency
as they do their own (Guaranies). Business is routinely done in
Brazilian Reales, Argentine Pesos, Chilean Pesos, Bolivian Bolivianos,
Uruguayan Pesos, Euros, US Dollars, and Asian currencies. The collapse
of one or more of these currencies wouldn't be a fatal blow to businesses
that regularly operate in a free market of currencies. They don't
rely on their country's own currency which has undergone massive
inflation in the past and is currently trading at 4,765 Guaranies
to 1 dollar. A 100,000 Guarani bill is the green-colored one and
can be conveniently thought of as a 20-dollar bill by US visitors
when making purchases. These countries could convert to barter if
needed since practically everyone produces something (agricultural
products if nothing else). These products are seen everywhere on
street corners and in markets. It wouldn't be a huge leap for the
guy who sells mangos to trade directly with the guy who sells homemade
bread or the guy who sells homemade sandals if needed. People would
not starve without a state currency since practically everyone is
doing something productive and could trade the product of their
US Attitudes vs. Latin American Attitudes
Here's an anecdote to illustrate the difference in US attitudes
versus Latin American attitudes. In the early nineties, I was driving
around a group of visiting Americans while living in Bolivia. I
was informed by a cop that the highway we passed through that morning
was under construction and closed going the other way and that we
wouldn't be able to return for 24 hours until the closed lane was
opened. I pulled out a 20 Boliviano note (4 dollars at the time)
and paid the cop guarding the road. He opened the barrier for us
and I easily drove the 5-hour trip home on the wrong side of the
road. I thought my fellow Americans would be relieved that we got
back to town that night, but they were incredulous asking, "What
did you just do? Did you give that cop a bribe?"
"Well, yeah. I thought you guys wouldn't want to sit in the
car for 24 hours getting bit by mosquitoes."
The comfort of being back in their beds was appreciated, but the
fact that I negotiated an arrangement with a government official
was something they thought to be outrageous. My explanation of the
routine nature of such events was not acknowledged as if somehow
I had gone down the slippery slope of government disrespect. I didn't
understand their concern. Everyone was happy — even the cop.
Driving in Latin America is quick and efficient. It is natural
and easy. Rules of the road develop intuitively and traffic is largely
self-controlled by the drivers themselves. Despite what you may
have heard — and this is based on years of driving experience —
speeds are generally slower than they are in the U.S. People rarely
race around at dangerous high speeds. They don't delay either. Major
collisions are much rarer than in the U.S. I lived for 5 years in
a city of one million people that had no traffic lights or stop
signs at the time. Traffic flow was very natural. Traffic would
flow one way through an intersection until there was a natural lull
and then the cars from the other direction would nose in and dominate
the intersection until the flow eased in the new direction. It is
very interesting to observe and participate in — and quite safe
— especially if you are not prone to road rage. Speaking of road
rage, drivers don't get it in Latin America. They move quickly and
efficiently and will drive around you or cut in front of you if
you delay, but there is little or no animosity in their driving.
They have places to go and they get there without worrying about
their own egos or those of other drivers. It's a give and take attitude.
The doctors in Latin America don't give you the angry obligatory
lecture like the traffic cop fascist doctors in the US who make
demands of you and level threats and accusations at you if you don't
comply with their "orders." Doctors in Latin America analyze
the situation, run the appropriate tests (if you agree — they don't
"order" you to take a battery of unnecessary tests to
pad their pockets and to create a defense against frivolous malpractice
suits), and give a cost estimate for the solution which you are
free to decline or accept. If you decide to walk away, they are
fine with that and don't insult you. They are very attentive and
professional. They are trained in renowned universities and hospitals
around the world (Europe, Japan, etc.) and have a much higher work
ethic and professional demeanor than most U.S. doctors. They are
not lacking in knowledge of complex medical techniques as people
in the U.S. no doubt fear. We have undergone multiple medical procedures
in Latin America.
On an occasion when we were living in Paraguay, my daughter broke
her arm in a rather nasty way while practicing high jumps. A tendon
had torn a bone fragment loose from the elbow. The bone chip was
attached to the tendon and the tendon was detached from the elbow.
We went to a private hospital. The prescribed procedure, after the
X-ray and tests, was surgery creating an incision to drill a hole
into the elbow, the insertion of a screw to attach the bone fragment
to the elbow, the application of a cast, an overnight stay in the
hospital (in a private room), and months of physical therapy after
the cast came off and after a second surgery to remove the screw.
We were provided a "presupuesto" (a cost estimate) of
3,000,000 Guaranies (about $600 at the time) for the two surgeries,
private room, and multiple visits with a physical therapist over
the coming months. We were told that we could decide if we wanted
the work done in which case we could come back and pay at the front
desk. We went home, thought it over, and came back and paid the
money. Everything went splendidly and our daughter's arm has a full
range of motion with no ill effects from the serious injury. I can
only imagine the fiasco of unnecessary tests this would have turned
into in the U.S. where there is no customer relationship — not to
mention the likelihood of a call to the evil family services officials
to investigate our family. What does a routine doctor visit cost
at a private hospital in Paraguay? 20,000 Guaranies. When you punch
that into your calculator, you will think you made a mistake. Government
run hospitals in Latin America are crowded and bureaucratic. They
argue endlessly with their clients about scheduling and documents.
They are not worth dealing with. The private clinics and hospitals
are fantastic. They are very aware of the business relationship
with their customers. They want customers to have a good experience
so that their reputation remains untarnished.
My family has undergone extensive dental work in Latin America
including multiple root canals, crowns, and bridges. The same type
of modern dental techniques and dental laboratories that exist in
the U.S. are utilized. The level of patience and personal attention
are much higher and the prices are much better. The dental clinics
may be less impressive and ornate looking than a U.S. clinic, but
who wants to pay more for a fancy office. The equipment is modern
and the dentists are skilled. That's what matters.
As an example, eight months ago, I had 10 leaking fillings drilled
out and replaced on 10 separate teeth. The original fillings had
been done years before in the U.S. and were cosmetically ugly beside
the fact that they were failing. It took 10 visits over a 6-week
period to get all the work done. The end result was technically
immaculate and was also a great visual improvement over the original
fillings. The total cost: $250 ($25 per tooth). A U.S. dentist told
me that it would have cost at least $300 per tooth to do that in
the U.S. Root canals cost $120 and the crown including the mold
and the custom laboratory work is another $100. If you haven't checked
recently, a root canal and the custom mold and laboratory work to
make the crown will cost you thousands of dollars in the U.S. I'm
sure that more and more businesses will arise that arrange medical
and dental tours to foreign countries for those patients who lack
the language ability and geographic knowledge needed to get the
work done on their own. Once you've experienced private foreign
medical and dental work, you will never look the same at expensive,
rude, and inattentive U.S. doctors and dentists — and you can get
a foreign vacation thrown in for the cost of getting the work done
in the U.S.
There are many other benefits that come from living in a society
where the government can't effectively control economic and personal
behavior. Here are some of them.
Healthier diet and lifestyle: One of the first things you notice
when you go out into the world in a Latin American country is that
almost everybody is physically fit. Children and adults are not
obese. They are not malnourished either. Why? They eat better and
have a healthier lifestyle. They eat meats, vegetables, and fruits
that they buy fresh and prepare simply. They eat instinctively based
on what their bodies need — not based on a government "food
pyramid" or FDA labels about salt and cholesterol. They move
around more. They walk a lot. The children are not turned into Ritalin
zombies. The people sleep and work based on what makes sense in
their environment. They don't let the government program their lives.
Ease of hiring: Most households have domestic employees because
they are so affordable. Even persons who don't have a lot of money
often employ someone who makes even less than they do. The average
household employs a housekeeper and a gardener and often a young
man or woman to run errands. It is easy to start a business out
of your house and have an employee to help you. A wage is agreed
to voluntarily by both parties — typically $50–150 a month in many
countries. The household is helping this person who willingly agrees
to work in the household to raise his or her standard of living.
The employee is usually given meals as well. This is a very kind
arrangement which allows people to enter the workforce and better
themselves rather than live in poverty — which would be the result
if the minimum wage laws were followed. Also, specialty workers
like carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and welders are affordable,
easy to hire, and have a tremendous work ethic. Employment is near
full employment in Latin American countries where employers and
employees negotiate directly for wages and services.
Closer families: Social security may exist on the books in these
countries, but is not relied on since less wealth is stolen from
society to support such programs. Multiple generations regularly
meet together, live together, eat together, celebrate together,
and take care of each other. Aging relatives are welcomed into the
homes of younger family members. It is very common to see an old
man or woman out walking with their adult child by their side. That
is the norm. The lonely detached aging person warehoused away from
their family is much rarer. The state-sponsored divorce industrial
complex does not exist in these countries either. Government interventions
in family life have broken down many of the natural affections between
family members in the U.S.
Cars: There are more car choices to fit your needs. All kinds of
interesting imported cars are seen throughout Latin America. Many
small efficient cars and innovative trucks and specialty vehicles
can be purchased that are the current state-of-the art for automakers.
These cars are never seen in the U.S. because the foreign company
has not paid the millions of dollars to undergo U.S. crash tests
and DOT certification. I have often impressed US car aficionados
by sending them photos of new modern cars that are never seen in
the U.S. They are imported cheaply via unofficial means (bypassing
import duties) into Latin American countries. You can choose from
many interesting models made all over the world. Many persons don't
get license plates for their cars. Many that do get plates only
pay once when they buy the car and never choose to pay again to
Not lawsuit happy: People in these countries like to settle things
directly between themselves. There is not the predatory civil lawsuit
environment that exists in the U.S. This keeps down the cost of
services, medicines, etc. and reduces the fear that your property
will be taken by the courts and given to someone else. Once again,
people don't want the government involved in their affairs.
More choice of medications and herbal remedies: Pharmacists, doctors,
and herbal specialists readily help customers choose the correct
remedies and advise appropriately on negative effects, dosage, etc.
Drug addicts are much rarer than in the U.S. Substances tend to
be used carefully and in moderation. People can also do their own
research and then go into a pharmacy and buy whatever they want
without a prescription. Generic and name brand medications are imported
from all over the world. Surprisingly, U.S.-made medications are
often cheaper because they are sold for export from the U.S.
and don't have all the medical liability costs built into the price
tag as is the case for the same medications sold for the U.S. market.
Fine dining: If you are into eating out regularly, the prices are
fantastic compared to U.S. restaurants. A $10 price for a high-end
meal with drinks at a classy restaurant is not uncommon in third-world
countries in Latin America. This is, once again, due to the fact
that businesses ignore the state's wishes and hire employees and
operate businesses with total disregard for the government's nonsensical
regulatory mandates. They make money by serving and providing for
the needs and happiness of their fellow man. The food is great.
The stereotype about unhealthy cooking practices is just that. I
get sick less often in Latin America than I do in the U.S. The waiters
also treat customers with utmost respect. They are extremely attentive
and do not intrude and blare over the diners as happens with waiters
in the U.S. who try to dominate the conversation at the table. I
have a hard time stomaching arrogant, loud, overbearing, and intrusive
U.S. waiters after living for years in Latin America. Many U.S.
companies now hold seminars in foreign countries, like Mexico, just
for the fine personal treatment that is provided by the waiters
in resorts and restaurants as compared to that received in the U.S.
Employees like waiters are actually expected to perform their duties
in a polite respectful manner since they don't have government agencies
to force the employers to keep them when they behave in an inappropriate
Government Work is not Honorable
The residents of these countries don't worship the police or the
military as their saviors or heroes. The state tries to foster hero
worship through the erection of statues and the naming of holidays
and streets after military figures, but the people are strongly
aware that those who enter the police or military professions are
doing so to enrich themselves at the expense of others. The people
see the thievery happening up close and personal as cops directly
take their money to let them out of state-manufactured infractions.
It is nice to see directly the dirty parasitic nature of the state
rather than through the filter of a thieving taxation system where
the parasites aren't seen taking money directly from the public.
Children see their parents paying the cops directly and they become
aware at an early age that anyone entering the government is pursuing
a career of thievery.
As it used to be in the U.S. in the days of my parents, the most
prestigious profession in Latin America is that of engineer. The
engineering profession is the symbol of industry and productivity
in Latin America and represents the opposite of the filthy state
in people's minds. The title "inginiero" immediately commands
respect. The professions representing industry and productivity
are the most revered and the careers involving politics are the
most despised by the people.
Ranking the Freedom in Latin American Countries
It is fairly easy to rank the countries that have more and less
freedom in Latin America. As a general rule, if you want the most
for your money and the most freedom, go to countries that are not
"first world" or "second world" and go to countries
that are farther from the U.S. The official level of "socialism"
in the government of the country is less important than you think.
Don't spend a lot of time studying their laws. All Latin American
countries have very intrusive laws and confiscatory taxation schemes.
The laws are more draconian than they are in the U.S., but they
are outright ignored in most of the countries. The economies in
first world / second world countries where the government has more
wealth and more power (e.g. Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia)
are more formal and more controlled by the government which results
in less freedom. Also, countries that are closer to the U.S. have
already been inundated to a greater extent by U.S. visitors and
have elevated their prices somewhat. They are also more affected
by U.S. Government pressures and U.S. Government money aimed at
"cracking down" on informal businesses. However, even
the closer, bigger countries (e.g. Mexico) have a higher level of
actual day-to-day freedom than the U.S. and lower prices than the
U.S. for medical, dental, etc. Even the countries I mentioned with
wealthier governments have more day-to-day freedom than the U.S.,
so they are not bad choices if you are enamored with one of those
countries for other reasons. The "dangers" you read about
in Latin American countries are severely overstated or simply invented
to promote statist intervention in activities that the government
does not like. We feel safer on the streets of Latin America than
we do on the streets of big cities in the U.S.
Contempt for the State
Persons in Latin America have a strong healthy disrespect for government.
They openly display their contempt for public officials as they
jeer and mock convoys of officials driving through their midst.
They consider things that they work for to be their property and
not the property of a state parasite. They purposely keep their
things out of reach of the government. They don't cheer government
as the savior of humanity. They strongly resist state attempts to
register their assets, income, and banking activities. The state
stays weak because the residents don't willingly sign themselves
up to be robbed. The state employees cannot try too hard to overcome
this or they will be deposed as has happened many times in the past.
The Latin state keeps hobbling along weakly and is tolerated grudgingly
by the populace if it stays out of the way.
Franco [send him email]
is an American homeschooling father and frequent business traveler
to Latin America.