Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No Independence Day?

For the first time ever, Costa Rica's Atlantic port in Limón will remain open during Independence Day (September 15th) and other Costa Rican holidays.

This decision has pros and cons--it's a holiday the workers won't have off, but it's a day they can make more money, and an extra day to get your goods to market. But before you can compare the costs and benefits, you have to decide that holidays aren't sacred. You have to decide that holidays, too, can be subject to cost/benefit analysis.

Economic Anthropologist Stephen Gudeman (http://www.amazon.com/Economys-Tension-Dialectics-Community-Market/dp/1845455142) says that we make some economic decisions according to costs and benefits, while we make other decisions according to symbols, metaphors, and meaning. Deciding where to draw the line between these two realms is a constant struggle. Should we buy and sell sex? Should churches charge admission? Should you pay a friend when he or she gives you a ride? While every society has both market and non-market transactions, developed societies use more market-style cost-benefit analysis to make their decisions.

In my town in Costa Rica, families take care of their ailing parents, even if it means months when the caretaker rarely leaves the house. In the US we have a more efficient solution: outsource to retirement homes.

In my town in Costa Rica, things move slower. Time isn´t subject to the same cost/benefit calculus--instead, we greet everyone we pass on the street, we stop to talk to people who we don't, strictly speaking, need to talk to.

As a country develops, people make more decisions in terms of numbers and fewer decisions in terms of symbols and meaning. That can be a good thing--to a point.