You know that trend in the US towards stuff like “clean-label” foods, word-of-mouth advertising, loco-whatever, de-surbanization, etc… basically the shift towards “authenticity and balance.” The post-industrial US consumer seeks to reclaim its pre-industrial wholesomeness.
Mexico, through its own ongoing joys and travails of industry, has kept this wholesomeness intact. The grocery store gives us an elegant demonstration: a quarter-kilo of fresh wheat berries is 3 pesos (25 cents); a box of Trix is 45 ($4.00). Crappy factory food is expensive here because it’s seen as a first-world luxury and includes the cost of the infrastructure that produced it. Meanwhile stuff we’re clamoring for in healthfood stores back in the States is priced in Mexico for what it is– plant products that grow abundantly and easily and are relatively labor-minimal, considering you don’t need to build machines or add painstakingly synthesized chemicals in order to process them.
So that’s a simple contrast that I guess NAFTA has enabled us to see in terms of goods. What about services? As a post-industrial society, the US has a really highly developed service sector. How does Mexico’s service sector compare?
Mexico’s stratified economy distributes demand for services a bit differently than our huge-middle-class economy in the US does. So instead of comparing the scope of the two countries’ sectors, the variety of services they supply, let’s look at how Mexico meets existing service demands. The demand for waste management, for example.
I took this picture at a mall where one of my offices is. Yes, I believe this means the bin is definitely still property of San Jose, California.
Here is what Mexico does to handle garbage. Trash trucks circulate the streets every other morning or so, depending on your neighborhood. Sometimes a guy walks ahead of the truck ringing a bell, so that you here it and know to come down with your trash and hand it off to them. They will take it from you and sort it. That would be the minimal level of service. You tip the trash guys in this transaction.
The next level of service would be maybe if you live in an apartment building, the trash guys have arranged a certain day to come by and pick up the trash from a common area, maybe the parking garage. I guess the owners of the apartments pool together and “tip” them, not really sure.
The next level of service would be what we have in my apartment. A guy working in association with the truck guys rings our bell and comes up to our apartment every trash day to collect our trash from our door. For this we pay him tips. For this he says hello to me when I see him on the street. For this he tells me if he is going to be late. For this I tell him if we are going to be out of town. For this he lets me tip him a couple days late if I don’t have it on me.
In other words, my trash guy is providing me a personal, customized service. My trash guy.
And if you’ve wondered about this it all yet, you have probably realized this is not a service coordinated by the government or a company. It’s something that developed organically. Like the pesero transportation system and taxis, I am guessing the vehicles are owned individually and that they then join in some kind of coordination effort, probably either through some kind of association of waste managers or through the mafia.
These dudes by the way sort all the plastics, organics/biodegradables, glasses, paper, cardboard, etc. I am not really sure where they bring it afterward, though probably to someone who pays them for it.
This is an example of a way in which Mexico’s got the service sector on lock. You see this level of sophistication not just in garbage collection, but in professional services of course (my accountant comes to my house and sometimes gives me a month or so of free service; the vet personally carried our cat back to us after his neutering operation), retail via the neighborhood mom & pop-standard of customer service, even bureaucracy… Funnily enough the excessive amount of paperwork and redtape everywhere has humanized the process: no one can ever figure it out so we end up asking bureaucrats for help. And they do (most of them).
I am starting to see what has been so long-referred to as inefficiency as something that in some ways ultimately contributes to the economy– the human touch.