Fiscal disparity on a broad, social scale is always a painful, paradoxical topic for me to muse over. Wealthy people are wealthy because poor people are poor. We can’t have one without the other.
Privileged overlords may naively advocate, in theory, for equivalency in services (legal representation, healthcare, security), but objectively if everyone had it, they would cease to be what they are. Which is above the rest, and they have no intentions of viewing themselves any differently.
I have spoken about this in the past, but nowhere is this more apparent than in Portugal.
Gringos can land on its shores voicing frustrations concerning the social & political landscape, but realistically, we benefit hugely from the disparity in wealth & income.
Food is cheap because locals need to be able to afford it.
Wine is cheap because locals need to be able to afford it.
Healthcare is cheap because, once again, locals need to be able to afford it.
The gringos will make a vague attempt at promoting the idea of social and fiscal equivalency – this notion that society, as it matures, should rise up and share in this newfound bounty of wealth and we can all hold hands and be BFFs.
This is a ridiculous notion and rings hollow in my own head, much to my chagrin. I spent a few hours talking to a Portuguese friend last night and whilst I firmly believe in my core principles and the notion of equal access – the irony that I benefit directly from disparity is not lost on me and has given me much to think about.
I want Portugal to be better, to grow economically and fix this social disparity which is weighed so extensively by how heavy your wallet is. Yet, I am acutely aware that should the standard of living match Canada – it will require income to match Canadian levels and I would lose out economically from my own privileged position.
My Euros go further here than more or less anywhere else I would entertain living. I imagine musing about this is similar to rich musicians from poor backgrounds. They grew up poor, became wealthy, and now have to face the fact that they enjoy the benefits they have reaped in stark contrast to their earlier life.
Do we really think working class celebrities, once having peaked financially, will still use socialized healthcare? That they will stay in the economy queue at the airport because of some naively held belief that everyone should be treated equally?
No. Of course not.
This is a topic that I wrestle with frequently, how fair should the world really be? The Portuguese friend in question asked, “How would you fix it?”
This sharp rebuke to my idealistic verbal diarrhea did stop me in my tracks (briefly). Ultimately, I recognise that as a gringo, it’s not my place to superimpose my own social and legal order on another country. Then again, I am a resident here and thus the structures that this country lays down do in fact impact me.
Even if only theoretically.
It’s become very clear to me that nationalism and misplaced pride in historic constructs is the biggest enemy of the people. The British political system of “First past the post” is grossly unfair and ultimately, undemocratic.
And yet, people defend it because of some misplaced notion of patriotic ownership: British = good, foreign = bad.
The biggest issue with Portugal is the apathy with which archaic constructs still impact everyday life. Platforms that make no real sense, waste considerable amount of taxpayer money, yet are still protected as traditional, historic assets.
As an example, Portugal has 11, yes, ELEVEN types of corporate structures that one can choose to create should they wish to partake in corporate trade.
This is an almost Machiavellian bureaucratic nightmare. Many structures in Portugal are frankly redundant. All these corporate structures have different incorporation rules, different laws subjecting them to different levels of audit, different shareholder requirement (S.A.’s require five!), different (pointless) social capital requirements, and ultimately create artificial barriers that prevent ordinary Portuguese people (those who aren’t – for all intents and purposes – rich) from feeling capable of starting their own business, forging their own future.
The advantage of the UK’s corporate structure is that it’s accessible to anyone. You can get a Limited Liability Company with effectively no upfront capital & immediately start interfacing with the global markets, with access to commercial banking, the ability to collect VAT, and remain protected from litigious abuse on an international level; not to mention the inherent benefit from the perspective of third party seed funding & the clear separation of legal responsibility between the shareholder, the director and the company itself. Which may effectively be all one and the same, created in your parents house sitting in bed with a laptop. That is what I want Portuguese people to be able to do.
Gringo idealism in 3… 2 … 1
We need to stop accepting inferior systems simply because they are “our” system. If we see a country do something better, we should steal the idea. Do it ourselves. Purposefully ignoring the intrinsic benefits that stealing “a way of life” can offer is a monstrous example of self inflicted harm. Why can’t Portugal have the British corporate structure, French healthcare, & Estonian administrative cohesion? While we are at it, let’s have German tenant protection, Canadian property rights, Dutch banking, and Swiss privacy.
We need to stop thinking of ourselves as mere citizens of isolated countries and fully embrace the best that humanity has created. It won’t make you any less Portuguese.
So yes, I would fix it by stealing what works for other countries, and mercilessly cutting what doesn’t.
Grant me a limitless supply of wine, absolute totalitarian power (preferably in the form of a crown) and I promise I will do this for you.
Or we can vote for incremental change over the next 100 years whilst shrugging our shoulders disparagingly over the plight of the common individual.