Today our group heard a lecture on Costa Rican economics and politics by Dr. Josè Diego Sanchez. The lecture was very informative and I learned a lot about the political and economic systems here that I had not known before. There were a few questions he answered in particular that I found interesting.
1. Is coffee still important to the modern economy?
The answer is no. Coffee has greatly diminished in importance and has taken a backseat to the tourism industry. The government had implemented a “free coffee plant” program, which gave people free coffee plants that they could grow. If the trees produced any beans, they could exchange them for money from the government. However, the program is not popular anymore as no one wants to bother growing the plants. Although coffee played a big role in growing the Costa Rican economy, it is not as significant anymore.
2. Costa Rica has a 20% poverty rate, is the government doing anything to fix this?
The government gives those in poverty a stipend that is enough money for a week or two. This is an inefficient way to fix the poverty issue as it does not provide a source of consistent income. The government also is making an effort to create more jobs by encouraging the introduction of new companies into the economy. However, they contradict themselves by pressing large taxes onto the companies. The companies must pay 66% of a worker’s salary to the government which does not give them an incentive to create more jobs.
3. Is ecotourism still a large factor of the economy?
Yes, but there is a new kind of tourism emerging that is also very profitable. Medical, or “blue”, tourism is when people come from other countries to receive medical, dental, or surgical care. A majority of the time, this is due to the affordability of the care in the country they are traveling to. Costa Rica is especially known for their dental care and cosmetic surgery but is also becoming known for eye surgery, cancer therapy, and bariatric surgery. The cost of most medical procedures in Costa Rica is 45% to 65% lower than in the United States.
Another fact that I was surprised to learn is how similar the Costa Rican political environment is to the United States’. There used to be two main political parties in Costa Rica, but several new ones have emerged that lean more to the left or the right regarding political beliefs. While these parties serve to give a voice to minority opinions, Dr. Sanchez expressed that this is not beneficial nor an efficient way to get things done in the government. This reminded me of our government back home as our political parties are becoming more extreme and the sides are more polarized.
Overall, I really enjoyed the presentation today. Usually when I hear about politics or economics I automatically think it’s going to be boring, but Dr. Sanchez was a great lecturer and held my attention the entire time. It was very interesting to learn about the similarities and differences the Costa Rican political system has to the one in the United States – and it was eye-opening to realize we aren’t so different after all.