The more time I spend in Ecuador, the more differences I notice relative to Panama, or any other country I have visited. It’s easy to notice differences in climate, geography, and economy, but differences in cultural and political orientations are less obvious.
‘Attitude Toward Business’
One characteristic I’ve discovered about Ecuadorian society is the attitude toward business and making money. I think I’ve even mistakenly offended some Ecuadorian people by proposing some of my business ideas – as though the ideas of investment and making money are taboo. Keep in mind that the ideas I proposed are not grandiose – like destroying the rainforest to drill for oil – just simple business ideas. Yet, when I discuss ideas about making money in Ecuador they seem to garner a negative emotional reaction among Ecuadorian people.
Ecuador is composed of primarily two classes – the wealthy class and the working (poor) class. Ecuadorians fully support and welcome tourism, but in discussions with working class people, I’ve noticed that in many cases their attitude toward foreigners “doing business” in Ecuador is one of distaste.
Of course, talking about making money with someone who has none might make for a touchy subject, but in Panama for example, people get excited to hear you talk about business, to see how they might help or participate for their benefit.
‘Generally More Socialist’
My conclusion (albeit humble and from an extremely limited perspective) is that Ecuadorian people are generally more socialist than North Americans. Socialism is usually considered a style of government but it is also an attitude that permeates society. In a democracy, the government ought to represent the interests of its people, and in this way, democracy has succeeded in Ecuador.
Ecuador is full of private businesses and is by no means communist. It may be the fact that I am foreign that my business ideas are taboo or it could be that business is OK to do, just not to talk about in public.
‘Panama, The Opposite’
Panama is in many ways the opposite. Business permeates society and good business people are revered and congratulated (often regardless of the form of corruption required to succeed). Indeed, the current president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, is a celebrated businessman.
In Panama, the concept of “taking advantage” is learned at a young age in Panama, and “juega vivo” is the national sport (juega vivo translates to “play live” which basically means “do what it takes to win”). In Panama, I’ve witnessed youngsters literally singing and dancing to songs where the chorus is “Jeuga Vivo”.
Socialist tendencies in Ecuador most likely stem from the strong indigenous influence. The indigenous people of Ecuador are more group oriented, more connected with nature, more respectful of the environment, and less money driven. Indigenous societies were thriving in Ecuador long before modern money was introduced. The indigenous influence remains strong in Ecuador today and depending on your perspective, may make for an interesting and exciting place to live.
‘On The Rich Side’
On the rich side of Ecuadorian society we have several generations of families who truly were born rich. Most of these youngsters are handed nice cars, houses, businesses, and prominent positions in society. There is very little innovation, risk, or creativity required to “stay on top”.
‘The Result Is Stalled Economic Growth’
This combination of very rich and very poor is what has held back much of Latin America from growing its middle class. When you combine a wealthy class with no real motivation to excel and a poor working class that doesn’t believe in its ability to rise out of poverty, the result is stalled economic growth. This is beginning to change little by little as Ecuador and other Latin American countries develop (“develop” by the way, largely means “increased access to credit”, the merits of which is a topic for another essay).
‘No Shame In Profit’
Contrast Ecuador and Panama with countries like Vietnam or China, where trade and commerce are ingrained into society from early childhood. In most parts of Asia, work and business is a way of life. The development of free market grass roots business in Asia is very powerful and will help them lead global economic growth for decades to come. While Asian cultural nuances are beyond my knowledge, one can feel the business mentality pulsing through cities like Ho Chi Minh, Bankok, or Singapore. Everything is for sale, and everyone has something for sale. There is no shame in profit.
Perhaps the lack of a colonial ruling class is part of what differentiates the Asians from Latin Americans. Asian countries were controlled and restricted by their own government for centuries, but the clear class distinction is not as apparent, nor is it as important as in Latin America.
‘Do Class Differences Inhibit Economic Growth?’
Could it be that the more pronounced the class differences in a society, the more difficult it is for that society to grow and evolve? Surely one of the greatest strengths of American society was the idea that “anyone can succeed” and that being from a poor family did not automatically condemn one to a life of poverty. In fact, the American ideal was designed to protect “equal rights” and abandon the ruling class dominance that existed in Great Britain and throughout Europe.
Multinational corporations have reintroduced the idea of class strata in the form of managerial levels, but the strata are so closely knit, the model has served them well. For this scheme to work, the level below has to believe it is possible to reach the next level.
In places like Ecuador, one class level does not believe it possible to achieve the next level, because there is such a tremendous gap. The result is that people tend to give up on moving up and focus on what they have – family, community, religion, food, water, shelter.
‘The Importance of Life and Health Over Money’
Do I approve of Ecuadorian socialism and/or does it make for a better society? The short answer is yes. Ecuador and its people serve as a reminder about the importance of life and health over money.
‘Today’s Capitalism is Socialist Too’
I’ve always considered myself a capitalist, because I believe in individual freedoms, and that free trade and commerce is what brings peace and stability to societies. However, pure capitalism is hard to come by in real life.
I don’t support the current dominance of multinational corporations in the world – I think BIG OIL and BIG PHARMA are destructive and have grown to dominate not through capitalism but through lobby groups, government handouts, subsidies, political favors and other forms of socialism. This is not capitalism in its true form.
‘Undermining True Market Demand’
Multinational corporate dominance has gone too far – competition is either bought out or stamped out, thus undermining true market demand for products and services like cleaner energy, environmental conservation, natural health remedies, and locally grown whole foods.
‘Time To Smell The Roses’
Ecuador deserves credit for valuing community, environment, and nature over industry. While I’ll always be a capitalist and businessman at heart – it’s nice to take time to smell the roses (roses, ironically, are one of Ecuador’s most prominent exports).
By Michael Manville