Repressive rules and laws destroy routes to progress

Life (and politics) change over time and most expats (and some citizens) tend to respect the laws of the land (and the concept of “grandfathered” promises) rather than take those laws as a suggestion of what to do. If one government official (even wrongly) gives you a set of guidelines, and you follow exactly, you have rightful expectations. Only problem is a new regime is likely to be installed before you complete your project and the new “stick” is bigger, stronger and has added a few barbs. Bureaucracy expanded. So the “lawful” expat runs around in new circles in the hope of being blessed with a firm decision. “Espere” has a dual meaning: Wait and hope.

Expats who have assumed a local practice of “better to ask forgiveness than permission” have praise for the system. Why wouldn’t they?

On the matter of bureaucracy (with bigger sticks, more regulations/permits, and resultant more negative unintended consequences), the “big stick” is now in the hands of more and more agencies, private companies, and financial institutions. A friendly handshake, a recognizable face, a broad smile and politeness used to get you through a grocery line, past a bagger to make sure all your purchases were paid for, and out the door.

Now the stores have installed a “big stick” at the door, making you stand in long lines while the ice cream in your grocery cart liquefies so that by the time you get to the front of the line, x-ray vision allows this person to see into closed bags and check off items on a receipt nearly devoid of ink and illegible. But, he has the stick.

And so do a whole lot of others, making life unduly cumbersome. This issue goes far beyond grocery lines and it’s endemic to a society in distress or one approaching it. I believe in being a good guest in any country I live in, and a country’s representatives should try to be a worthy host. Please don’t give me: “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” It’s unproductive.

I’ve lived in oppressive countries before but going back 15 years, Costa Rica wasn’t like it is today or where it may be headed. When people are repressed to the point they lose their dignity, they either take jobs that give THEM a big stick (and wield it mightily) or become negative (or turn to drugs, alcohol or become violent to re-establish dignity). Wouldn’t it be a Utopia if a government only passed laws that protected the populace from extrinsic factors, not interfering in a lawful existence by imposing heavy-handed regulations, and which applied a fair tax equally without the necessity of massive redistribution of income in a vision of social justice which primarily allows for expansion of government (more chiefs, less Indians) and new edifices to reflect their self-importance. Next to zilch for the citizenry at large or for the explicit purpose of the taxation.

Third World governments like “implicitly”, avoid “explicitly.” Costa Ricans are, by nature, a generous and kind people. Expats are usually generous as well. I would hate for that quality to change. A too heavy hand in taxation and untoward regulations tend to shift personal generosity to “let the government take care of the poor and unfortunate; I’ve paid heavily for that in my taxes.” Problem is governments the world over are generally wasteful voids and lawmakers need to produce or perish. Maybe every new proposed law should pass a “devil’s advocate” test before implementation.

With fair taxation, equally applied and controls where the taxes are going (not to more bureaucracy), a country will have money to pay for infrastructure and services without graft or shortcuts, and people will have value for their taxation. People will hold onto their pride without it being “big-sticked” out of them and that country can take another step forward to progress. Good citizenry deserves nothing less.

I’m still personally hopeful for a light at the end of the tunnel, and I don’t believe we are preaching to the choir. Fifteen years ago, Ticos were very much into “pura vida.” Now I sense they are thinking of redefining it as they shake their heads in despair. There are so many thoughtful, loyal, and far-seeing Costa Ricans that positive progress will get back on track. Sólo puedo esperar.

Mary Jay

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