In emerging economies, particularly Latin America, Canadians are not seen to be much different from Americans – although locals tell us we are better behaved. We are all gringos being paid in dollars, yet little do they know, we pay everything in dollars as well. Canada is viewed as a land of opportunity and our citizens as having enough money to bail out a small country. They must be watching too many Scotiabank commercials. Are we really richer than we think? In fact, we are not much different from the rest of the advanced economies when we boil it down to purchasing power: our discretionary income is subject to our cost of living. Well, we are also quite heavily taxed but then again, we all believe that no matter where we live. Like everyone else, we enjoy a better standard of living in contrast to monarchs of decades past, thanks in big part to credit and borrowing. We have witnessed what happens when going overboard watching the news. This can also happen to your household economy. Living beyond your means will catch up to haunt you, anywhere in the world.
Latin America is at a significant disadvantage primarily due to its tumultuous political, economic and social history. Some countries in the region are cleaning up their act and beginning to gather up admirable momentum. Their exposure to the global economic crisis is quite limited which provides a safer investment climate. However, institutions continue to be somewhat weak and major unexpected shifts are to be expected. Guerrilla movements, drug trafficking, populist leaders, a small powerful elite, kidnappings are all still part of the every day reality making these areas volatile. A potential Chavez can sneak in and “redistribute” wealth at any moment. You don’t believe me? Well, neither did Venezuela’s elite and middle-class yet it happened nonetheless. Anyone notice how unsatisfied Cristina Fernandez (de Kirchner) has followed suit, increasingly isolating Argentina from the world? It’s time to cry for Argentina. Everyone has a breaking point, and the majority of poor people carrying a heavy burden can definitely bite back.
However, this is ironically also Latin America’s advantage over Canada. There is a true spirit of entrepreneurship engrained in the national psyche. The unkind circumstances many generations faced mixed in with a certain local ingenuity in their blood have created an extremely adaptable population. In Canada, if you study economics, you become an economist. If you study education, you become a teacher. It’s the general rule. Everything is degree and permit-based these days and the different layers of government maintain the status quo. An economist can’t choose to become an importer or distributor unless they possess the funds to put themselves through expensive courses, eventually obtaining a certification and a new career. Patience is a virtue. Once certified, if he wants to import apples and shaving cream, he will require separate authorization from individual bureaucracies and pay yet another fee. Over in Latin America, people are flexible because of instability and there are always ways around getting from point A to point B. If you need a permit, many times, all you need is a bit of cheddar.
Our main advantage as Canadians is having been born in the right country when it comes to safety and security. Perhaps it could be the maple syrup flowing from our taps that makes us so peaceful. Or maybe it’s our obsession with hockey where we punch and body check our stress that would lead us to become criminals? Whatever it is, we are the envy of the world. People are enticed to move here when they find out about salaries offered in our big cities, yet our mortgages and rents are also higher. It’s all very relative. We are as wealthy as others when compared to standard of living. Before you take the big leap to leave your country or go to another, as I always say, do your homework to avoid any serious heartbreak. All the gold we have left here are the Yukon gold potatoes.