El Salvador observations

by on October 27, 2010 at 7:52 am in Travels | Permalink

The best meal was whipped yucca with chicharrón and vinegar, sold next to Tazumal.  The ubiquity of corn products means the country has less culinary variety than any of the other eighty lands I have visited.  There is a Taiwanese restaurant in San Salvador, however.  Olocuilta is a pupusa paradise — go there from the airport.

In Suchitoto, Garett bought a first-rate tortilla for 5 cents and had trouble changing his one dollar bill.  If Mankiw abolished the penny, how would the country — which uses the U.S. dollar — cope?  Or would they keep pennies as legal tender and all pennies would flow there?  How small would a country have to be, to experience hyperinflation from such an influx?  Could they put up a penny barrier?

El Salvador has good infrastructure (real roads), the electricity always runs, and the country embodies petty bourgeois values.  It is much richer than Nicaragua, Honduras, or Guatemala and it feels quite Protestant.  The crafts are weak, but volcanoes, lakes, and birds abound.  Their economic policies are quite good, and therein one sees both the potential and limits of economic advice.

On the road, we debated in what year the United States attained current El Salvadoran living standards (measured at $4400-$5800); I thought by the late 1920s.  The existence of penicillin makes the numerical comparison difficult, though in favor of El Salvador.

We saw a dead guy on the side of the highway; apparently he was struck down by a passing car.  Ill-advised pedestrian walks are a problem for many El Salvadorans in the United States as well.  “More guns, less crime” I joked to Alex as we drove through the center city.

It is an excellent country for a three-day trip.

1 John S. October 27, 2010 at 5:42 am

What always made me wonder about El Salvador is the lack of indigenous identity. Right up the highway in Guatemala you have entire ethnic groups with their own languages, modes of dress, and cultural traditions, quite distinct from the dominant Spanish culture and from each other. Cross the border into El Salvador and it's the same people, but they all speak Spanish, wear Western clothing, and mostly follow the traditions of the dominant culture. Yes, something happened in 1932, but Guatemala had its own massacres and tried to suppress the indigenous culture for 400 years. What is different about El Salvador?

2 Sal Paradise October 27, 2010 at 5:51 am

And to add to that, you can compare life expectancies on the same graph: http://www.bit.ly/9bjqXS

While the GDP is around the turn of the century, the life expectancy in El Salvador is comparable to the life expectancy of an American in 1972. That is incredible considering the disparity in wealth. The average American in 1897 would be expected to live to only 48. El Salvador is currently at 72.

3 Ed October 27, 2010 at 6:20 am

"If Mankiw abolished the penny, how would the country — which uses the U.S. dollar — cope?"

I'm confused by this. How can Mankiw abolish the penny? There have been efforts in Congress to do away with the penny for years, that have gotten nowhere. Where did Mankiw get the authority to do this?

4 londenio October 27, 2010 at 7:17 am

@Ed I never thought I would write a comment like this in MR, but here it goes:


That's all.

5 anon October 27, 2010 at 8:24 am

"We saw a dead guy on the side of the highway"

Sounds like a pretty cavalier observation for death of a human being. The tone almost made me expect you were going to say "We saw a dead cow by the side of the road" or something. Does the tone reflect the lesser monetary value of a third-world life?

6 Anon October 27, 2010 at 11:59 am

Amazing what happens when the Soviet Union falls and their satellite regimes can no longer afford to fund an insurgency in your country. Apparently things have been getting better for them and all their neighbors since about 1992 or so.

7 Nathan October 28, 2010 at 7:01 am

The penny is too big to fail

8 Paul Amores October 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I'm not a money guy by any stretch of the imagination, but don't smaller/less-developed countries use the US currency because it is more reliable than their own? If the US stops accepting pennies (either immediately or with a period of grace), then it loses it's validity and hence they will have to use something else. Stamps like in Turkey?

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