With these levels it becomes difficult to generate employment and economic growth. The Ecuadorian middle class is minimal and fragile.
The most prosperous economies in the world, with higher levels of employment and investment, are those that have the majority of their population with high levels of assets, that is, wealth and savings to move their economies.
The case of Ecuador is very different. According to the latest Global Wealth report, prepared by Credit Suisse, 63.7% of the Ecuadorian adult population has assets of less than $10,000.
In other words, adding their assets, which include real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, stocks, among others, and subtracting all their debts and obligations to pay, they have minimum wealth.
In the most prosperous economies in Latin America, such as Chile and Uruguay, for example, the percentage of adults with less than $10,000 in their assets is below 40%.
On the other hand, the nations of the region with the highest levels of informality and precariousness (more than 8 out of 10 workers) have more than 75% of their adult population with less than $10,000 of assets. This is the case for Bolivia and Venezuela, for examples.
To change this indicator, Romina Verdesoto, an economist and consultant for international investment banks, said that Ecuador would need a higher percentage of its population not to live just to pay their debts and survive, but to have space to truly become owners and investors.
“Businessmen, and people with higher incomes in the country, have already made efforts in the last year, through greater local investment and even payment of taxes (special contributions). That is somehow squeezing the same ones who always contribute… Ecuador really needs to build a middle class by halving that high percentage that has assets of less than $10,000,” he pointed out.
Effects of the crisis
Currently, in the country there are less than 12,000 people with assets greater than one million dollars. That represents less than 0.2% of the entire adult population. A year ago, the exact figure reached 11,361 millionaires; but the pandemic crisis, and the growing global recession, has lowered the figure to 10,831.
Likewise, the percentage of the adult population with assets between more than $10,000 and $100,000 stands at 33.1%; while those who have between more than $100,000 and less than a million does not exceed 3.1%.
Ecuador has a fragile middle class, not only because of the low levels of income in the national economy, but also because it has precarious levels of education and financial culture.
Pablo Núñez, economist and university professor, stressed that more than half of Ecuadorians with assets between $50,000 and less than $1 million did not have an investment plan, emergency reserves, or insurance for their assets, at the time of the pandemic crisis.
“The same thing that criticizes the State in terms of not having funds to face lean times is what happens even in the highest income segments in Ecuador. Having your own house is something important, but in a crisis situation if that is your only asset, you will not be able to sell it quickly if you need it, and if you do, you can suffer a huge discount in its value,” he said.
Experts say that Ecuador has a lack of financial education and culture in the country. This is visible from the treatment of money as a taboo in families, to the ignorance of basic mechanisms such as investment funds or operations in the stock market.
In societies with high economic dynamism, such as the former Soviet republics, the Czech Republic or Estonia, families have diversified investments that include shares in public and private companies, investment funds, retirement funds, among others. Those countries were poorer than Ecuador in the late 1980s, but now their situation is the opposite.
The pandemic crisis, and the growing global recession are hitting the middle class hard.
The low levels of wealth in Ecuadorian society are tied to a vicious circle of three evils.
Dollarization made it possible to control inflation, take the issuance of money out of the hands of politicians and provide more security for investment in the medium and long term, among other benefits, but none of the governments that have come to power in the last 20 years has promoted reforms to make the national economy more productive.
The solution to this evil includes more flexible labor hiring modalities, incentives for entrepreneurs, investment in technology and innovation, and a shift towards more practical and quality education.
The second evil is a public sector that is too bureaucratic, inefficient and with high levels of corruption. This results in poor quality public spending that does not allow citizens to accumulate wealth.
Finally, the third evil has to do with the low levels of trade openness and competition. During the last visit of the current Chilean Finance Minister, Mario Marcel, to the United States, international investors said that “without the opening and trade agreements, Chile today would be like Ecuador.”
Yes, the focus should be on poverty, not equality. The last few hundred years have well demonstrated a society that shows a relationship in which the higher the equality, the higher the poverty.
It’s much better to focus on fighting poverty rather than fretting about inequality. For example, global poverty in 1820, before industrialization got into full swing, was 85% living in poverty and 15% not. Two hundred years later, in 2015 (the latest statistic I could find), that had reversed. Only 15% lived in poverty, and 85% did not. I find that much better.
Why? Well, we can look at the numbers by country. Those that score highest in the rule of law, low crime, and freedom from government control (economic freedom) have the highest standard of living. Those countries that are lower on the list lack those elements, and to the extent they are lacking is the extent to which the country sinks.
The gini coefficient would disagree. Equal opportunity, fairness is what successful societies need. When wealth concentrates as it has across the world, opportunities are slim and replaced with shouts of freedom… freedom is opportunity not a silly word.
“ Equal opportunity, fairness is what successful societies need”……”How’s THAT working for ya?’” as Dr. Phil says.
Might be what they NEED, but Socialism and communism have never worked out so far. Equality, fairness, many times justice….The human condition gets in the way. Power, politics, greed, the need to control, had plagued us since time began.
One of my first observations upon arrival here was the incredible number of late model vehicles with almost no old ones to be seen. I drove a clean old fleet car in the states. A Cuencano in the know told me the natives value their shiny depreciating cars far more than a home which can increase in value when property cared for.
Many years ago we determined to get out of and stay out of debt, to live within our means. We remodeled an older home with acreage and paid it off in three years, working hard to improve it for many years. When friends took spendy vacations living on credit cards (we used only for convenience, paying in full at the end of the month, now use only debit card) instead we worked hard to improve our property which sold for 9 times what we paid for it, allowing us to help others too still. For many years we raised the truly organic, whole foods diet we consumed that enabled up to accomplish it all. We continue that diet as possible here though “organic” here is not spraying with toxic pesticides.
When still in my teens, I realized that in order to make a better salary I must make myself worth more to an employer. I worked full-time while attending university 10 years for three degrees, including doctorate, paying 100 percent of my tuition. Studying two years each accounting and pre-law initially was a great help for self-support during those long years. I have never asked for a dime and have never received a penny from any source into golden age, even while supporting my family, thank God.
We do not consider ourselves Expats but gringos. We did not come here to retire but to help the underprivileged, including 14 incorrigible orphan boys when the orphanage closed and other gringos adopted them. Today the boys are all contributors to the community. We have invested much in street people who want to contribute to others as well. Monetary investments here are an assist here as well.
When we are asked if we too will be returning to the US, I always respond: “You could not pay me to to do that.” Nothing on this earth is faultless, but a member of our family who has traveled around the world as a business woman and is moving here says: “There is no place like Cuenca!”