February 01, 2014

by Paul Rosenthal in Mexico City, Mexico

So, you think you’re a capitalist? You live in the United States, High Temple of Capitalism, where the wisdom of the market is all-knowing, and where you might cause less offense by calling someone’s mother a slob than by branding her a socialist.

And yet, if you really want to see capitalism at its most visceral, head south of the border.

Minden stop

In the U.S., transactions are often hidden from view in corporate suites. Public marketplaces and daily commerce live in sprawling malls, meticulously planned by marketing consultants, or in efficient online shops. We constantly buy and sell, of course. Yet it’s a clean, orderly, largely impersonal business—often with no cash visibly changing hands.

But in Mexico City, which is not one of those desperately poor places where nobody has anything to spend and commerce wilts, capitalism overflows every sidewalk. It’s loud; it’s spirited; it’s messy; and, I’ve found, it often entails the aroma of corn. (Even, mysteriously enough, when the vendor is hawking CDs or handbags.)

Minden stop

A stroll through the frenetic, dusty, overcrowded heart of Mexico City is a bit like one of those “visible man” toys where a clear plastic skin reveals the sinew and veins and other bits that keep the body alive and moving, but which are normally hidden from prying eyes under a discreet cloak of epidermis. Here, the skin is peeled back. The vital entrepreneurial organs that keep folks alive and sustain families (if barely) are not only in full view, they’re calling to you and probably waving a discount sticker.