[A welcome "Thanks" to Janine Mendes-Franco for picking up My post on the flooding problem My street has. It's My return to Global Voices Online, the first part of which you can read--free!--in My book "GTJ on GVO," available also on the Jenius' home page.]
His name in this blog is "Jaime." He has a large pick-up truck bearing signs of extreme wear and tear. The back is canopied, rising some 3 feet above the upper edge of the once-red truck, now an odd orange, like a sunset through haze.
Not tall, with roughened hands, Jaime is polite, cheerful and talks a mile a minute. He carries two battered notebooks, one filled with hastily-scrawled requests and prospect's contact information, the other filled with neatly-organized rows of sales information. He carries two cellphones, a pocketful of pens and a complex Leatherman tool on his belt. He could very well be the poster model for the local DIY Economy, the Do It Yourself business that thumbs its nose at the government.
Now mind you: Jaime is perfectly legal. He has every document he needs to have, from driver's license to local sales tax certification. He'll show them to you in a heartbeat. But Jaime's business is nothing the government touches in any significant way. And that simple fact is driving business innovation at the grassroots level.
Jaime is a procurer. He doesn't use that term, I do. If you need tires for your car, you call Jaime. He'll get you however many tires you need at prices you blink twice when you hear them. In My case, two tires, with 25,000 mile guarantees, for $55. And he delivers. Within 90 minutes of My call, he was in front of Chez Jenius (which isn't flooded all the time) and checking My car to see if I needed something else.
Jaime works with his wife, who goes everywhere with him. They spend 7-10 hours a day working all over the western side of My Island. He offers tires as his hook, discounted-but-guaranteed and delivered to you wherever you may be from Aguada to Sabana Grande, but he expands his sales by looking for opportunities along the way. He told Me he's branched out to batteries, wipers, filters, anything replaceable in a car or truck that he can fit into his. And he serves as an agent for sales for everything from cars and motorcycles to houses. That aspect of his business, he told Me, was making him almost as much money as the tire and auto parts sales.
Jaime is not really a middleman, or if he is, he takes the place of one or more middlemen, reducing the delivery chain and its costs. Everything he sells he has purchase receipts for; he'll show them to you in a heartbeat. He gets low prices on tires, he says, because he buys so many and steers people to the distributors that give him the best price. His biggest clients are auto mechanics and Municipal fleets, the first group because he provides a huge service, the second because he provides a discount that never becomes part of the public record.
On this last part, he's sanguine. "I deliver the products at a fair price and get paid. How they deal with it is their problem." But when I asked him how much he really discounted the tires for Municipalities, he smiled. "Not much. I have to pay IVU, you know." (IVU is the local 7% sales tax.)
From tires to food to flowers to medicines, a small coterie of businesses are flourishing by simply providing products and services and not even trying to do it "by the (interminable) book." The fact is, businesses can always flourish, especially in hard times, if they help people save time and money. Jaime does that, as does the local cafeteria van serving sandwiches and the woman who visits the four drugstores in Cabo Rojo filling prescriptions and delivering the medications to her clients. She makes about $120 a week doing so, not much, but the drugstores also give her a discount on her medications. Not exactly legal, but a natural part of the DIY Economy.
Now strict moralists would insist that these businesses be shut down, that indeed, they never should have been launched in the first place. Strict moralists are wrong because they see these businesses as the causes of illegalities, rather than what they truly are: the effects of over-legalities. For Jaime to establish a legitimate business would take him several months and thousands of dollars, because the legal/commercial system here makes starting a business as easy as putting together modular furniture while blindfolded, handcuffed and drunk. And without tools. In the time it would take Jaime to launch a business he could earn that much and more.
So, strict moralists insist (because they are built that way), why doesn't he then set up a legitimate business? Because the cost structure is still too high. And does any reasonable person think that, once a business is running well, unrestricted and profitable, that it's a good idea to submit it to over-regulation and higher costs?
Those that say "yes" to that are the problem: they are the ones making up idiotic laws ans regulations that only serve to submerge Our economy even further underground. Unless they get a clue--or We do and kick their greedy asses out--Our economy will ultimately be either DIY or DOA.
The Jenius Has Spoken.