« Visiting Sevan, again | Main | Hey you! You asshole in Chisinau! »

September 06, 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Anbody who alludes to Ghostbusters when explaining Latin American economic history is pretty cool in my book.

As a lay observer, I have to admit that I have no idea, really, how economies work. See, in East Central Indiana, where I grew up, it's all very easy to understand. You see the farmers, and you see the auto industry, and that just basically encapsulates everything.

Then I moved to Bloomington. Monroe County has a population of 100,000 people and as far as I can tell, besides moribund, half-hearted excuses for manufacturing facilities, the only employer of any note is the university. They can't all work there, so I don't understand why they're in Monroe County to start with.

And then I moved to Puerto Rico, and I really don't understand why everybody doesn't just starve here. Where does the money come from to fly all this produce in from Florida? It's a complete mystery to me.

My conclusion is that there is clearly more on heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in my philosophy, but as a conclusion, that leaves something to be desired.

Noel Maurer

I think I can answer your Puerto Rican question.

In 2005, Puerto Rico imported $46 bn worth of merchandise. How did it pay for that?

Well, it exported $60 bn: $37.1bn of chemicals (mostly pharmaceuticals) $7.1 bn of computer products, $3.6 bn of processed foods, $1.2 bn of electrical machinery, and $11 bn of other stuff.

Puerto Rico sold $60 bn and purchased $46 bn, for a net cash flow of $14 bn.

Problem solved!

Except ... Puerto Rico earned more than $60 bn. Tourists spent $3.2 bn, the federal government spent $1.2 bn in salaries and expenses, Puerto Rican firms sold $1.9 bn of other services to foreigners (e.g., some guy in Florida hired a Puerto Rican lawyer), and Puerto Ricans earned $2 bn on their overseas investments --- which would include, say, the earnings on any investments that you own in the United States, down to a Bloomington checking account.

Puerto Rico also received about $9.3 bn in various transfers, mostly Social Security payments from the federal government.

In other words, Puerto Rico earned about $78 bn, much more than it imported.

Problem more solved!

Actually, it gets a little more complicated, because businesses on the island (mostly those same pharmaceutical and chemical companies doing the exporting) sent overseas about $32 bn in profits and interest payments, and Puerto Ricans bought $5.2 bn in services from elsewhere.

That means that in broader terms, Puerto Ricans earned $78 bn and spent about $83 bn. The gap was plugged by foreign borrowing, half long-term (FDI and the like) and half short-term (Americans depositing money earned in the States into bank accounts in Puerto Rico, or purchasing Puerto Rican securities). That's a big gap, almost 9% of GDP, but it's about what you'd expect from a small poor country locked into a common market and currency union with a big rich one. (For the Canadians reading this blog, replace Puerto Rico with Newfoundland and you've got it.)

Now you now know how Puerto Rico pays for its imports.

But how do people in Ponce afford imported goods? They're not making pharmaceuticals, or working in banks and law firms that sell to American clients, and they don't get all that many overseas tourists. So, how?

Simple. Three channels.

(1) Washington sends some money directly, in the form of social security and WIC.

(2) The people in San Juan or the tourist centers of the east use their export income to get their dry cleaning done, pay rent, eat in restaurants, and fix their cars. Those people then the spend income that they made selling services to the exporters in Ponce. You know, visiting the firehouse or whatever.

(3) The government of Puerto Rico taxes people in and around San Juan and spends the money in Ponce.

So there you have what drives the Puerto Rican economy, and at least a vague idea of how Ponce taps into it.

At least I think you do. If the above didn't make any sense --- I'm writing it in an Austin hotel room while eating a very big steak --- I'd be happy to try again.


yes, o, v mysterious. you lost me at strawberries. simple midwestern girl and all.

you know, o, chicago. I asked the Israeli a few years back to really really (!!!) explain to me just one more time (!!) why Saddam Hussein was on trial. and he was like, "honey, I already told you." and I finally was all, yk, blurty and, yk "let's get down" about it, and said, "well! those people! in that village! they tried to kill him? and he was the dictator? duh. so, what is the problem?" and so this just went around & around with unabating confusion on both sides and he finally after 30 or 40 minutes said, "you know? this, this is the mark of the Daley administration on you." I said, "why did you not say this a half-hour ago? I am starving."

Dennis Brennan

Go Maroons!

Other universities attempt pranks like "Let's put a police car on the dome." We pull pranks like "Let's put all this uranium in the squash court," or "Let's help Pinochet tear down the Chilean welfare system," or "Let's inject plutonium into people and see what happens." (At least it wasn't feeding radioactive cornflakes to retarded kids-- that was a Harvard thing.)


LL, you've never seen The Caine Mutiny? you know I like those old movies every once in a while.

Dennis, I think you could pin down Russian shock therapy on not-Yale too. Of course, Yale produced John C. Calhoun.

Claudia recommended a book on the history of vaccine research to me -- it's linked on her blog -- which has stories that make the radioactive cereal study look semi-normal.


why, Carlos! no, I was not at all aware of that, being as how we skipped the audiovisual forms of entertainment available to us when we were together, you see then.

(NY1 does not count, friend)

any old way, the only compelling thing about TCM is José Ferrer, but I could be watching the Stooges is what I think about old teevee, mostly.

p.s. Master of Magnetism is convinced that you have a thieving post carrier. we are all afraid to send you any more packages from our household, though we have two among us. we shall pile them up and hire a courier with accountability. xx


Wow, Noel -- thanks! OK, I could have looked this up, I suppose. So ... pharma really does bring that much money onto the island. Freaky.

In re medical research -- apparently a lot of the clinical trials for The Pill were performed here in PR (sometimes without consent) but after it was approved, the pharmaceutical companies refused to market it here...

The comments to this entry are closed.