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December 15, 2010 · ,

Currency (and Its Value) Confusion

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Living in Argentina, trying to earn my keep and all the while having an account full of Pounds has turned on its head my perspective towards one of the most abstract and yet essential motivators in the world: money.

The power of currency was something that I never fully appreciated before coming to Argentina. I have been used to exchange rates that really only change the colour of the paper, and not the real purchasing power of my bills. However, being here, the differences are striking. Currently, the peso is weak but that also means that wages are lower and imports are relatively more expensive. The daily impacts of this are subtle yet poignant. The minimum wage here is around 1700 Pesos (424 USD) for that money you can get by with rent and have enough for food and bills, making any real savings very difficult and even worse, if you are saving for imports!

One of the most powerful realisations I have had, which has taken a long time to really sink in whilst here is the high level and the sheer ability of the west to consume. The economic world is not on a level table. All the goods and services slide to the countries with a higher purchasing power. Being from London where it is common to see 500 Pounds spent on a jumper or a few thousands on a plasma screen, the sheer difficulty for that to happen here really highlights these inequalities.

It is hard for me to put my finger on it, but my feeling is that now that I have adjusted to Pesos, going home and spending what I would earn in a day on a coffee is going to be difficult. It has forced a necessary adjustment in my head about the real world value of exactly what it is that I can earn and its potential for goods in poorer parts of the world. The value of the Pound is the same if I am spending it in Argentina or in England. England is very expensive and I think it’s healthy to at least appreciate that fact when you are spending. It is an all too unrecognised truth that spending 500 Pounds on a very nice pair of trousers is probably immoral when looked at from a world perspective. I challenge all those in comfortable jobs to try and earn their way in Argentina, in Pesos. I think that just travelling through and simple visiting a country does not really change your views, the challenge of immersing yourself financially at least for a while is really very healthy.

Five Dollar Comparison is a quirky way of illustrating this visually by getting users to send photos of what they can buy in their country for the equivalent of five Dollars. For example, seeing side by side the ability to park your bicycle in Montreal for two hours for the same value as 10kg of energy giving potatoes, conveys well the vast variances in what you can buy.

If you are lucky enough to be born into a society that allows you to earn in a currency that has real value relative to other world economies, try to prevent over-consumption and abuse of the economic advantage that your country has given you. I feel like a time spent earning and working in a weaker currency could be the best medicine for those all too common over-consumption kings and queens of the west.

Lucas

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