The Vanishing Third World

Kenya, Brazil, India. We still envision their economic markets as comparable to our flea markets—cheap goods, mostly junk, sold by vendors desperate for our US dollars.

Before I went to Argentina in 2010, a co-worker who has never been out of the country warned me of violent crime in South America while simultaneously assuring me that I could live it up like a king while there. He had images of drug cartels, FARC rebels, run-down barrios and flavellas, every other possible negative Latin American stereotype rolled into one country, and a country where the exchange rate of $1 US to $4 ARS meant everything in Buenos Aires was a quarter the cost of the United States.

Yet I managed to spend four times more in a week in Buenos Aires than I would in a week in Washington DC. There is still a gap between the US and Argentina. But that gap is lessening, continually, as it is with more and more countries around the world. And big cities on every continent more and more look—and cost—the same.

As tourism becomes a mass-produced industry—no different than the electronics or textile industries—more and more exotic, traditional souvenirs come with English writing, a higher price tag, and a made in China sticker at the bottom.

Once the American tourist was surrounded by local vendors peddling for his money. Today in Singapore, the Chinese tourist is greeted at the casino by the concierge with free drinks, hoping to keep him at the high roller table as long as possible, while the American tourist is left to wander unsolicited around the penny slots.

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