The burden of size

I’m at the Lisbon airport, about to embark back to Madrid, where I’m living. During the last day of my trip around South America I had the opportunity to give an interview to one of the most important journalists of Uruguay, from the local newspaper El Pais. A person of great wisdom, with decades of experience interviewing people from all over the world.

It was truly a great pleasure to talk to him about Economic Sociology, Entrepreneurship and Emerging Economies. Together, we almost got to the conclusion that Uruguay could arguably not be considered an emerging economy, as we discussed about levels of corruption, bureaucracy and freedom to start a business in the country.

At certain point we caught ourselves wondering if violence and corruption in many places of Latin America weren’t easier to get hidden behind the crowds of the large and overpopulated cities. Murders and corrupt politicians (I put them in the same category on purpose) get protected by the anonymity within these large amounts of people, with illegal incidents flooding inefficient courts of justice incapable to solve problems before new ones arrive.

With little more than 3 million inhabitants, Uruguay has an upper class of about 300 thousand people. These people meet each other in theaters, movies and restaurants, knowing easily each other’s family members and actions.

Honor still has its value and people don’t want to see their names used in an inappropriate way. In Uruguay, it is still better to be a respectable medium or upper class citizen than a rich corrupt “ghost” that will have to avoid facing society and have his/her family and history marked.

I was thinking about corrupt and violent countries with small populations (there are plenty) to see if this naïve hypothesis would apply but it doesn’t. So the burden of size and the freedom to do wrong things in anonymity alone unfortunately does not explain these social problems. Religion doesn’t either. Education or lack of huge social inequalities perhaps?

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