- By Bill Bonner
Our last day at the ranch was both happy and sad.
Life up here toughens you up. At least, that's what we've been saying. It is a hard life in many ways. There are no 7-11s. No supermarkets. No doctors. No drugstores. We cannot call for a pizza delivery when we get hungry. We cannot call anyone - we have no phone!
The temperature now goes below zero (centigrade) at night; water pipes freeze up. But we have no central heating. And none at all in most of the house.
The preferred means of locomotion up here is a horse or a mule. Wednesday's expedition - to visit some of the farmers up in the valley - took 7 hours of riding, over rocky trails and mountain passes. We were not just riding for pleasure. We were trying to head off a revolution.
"This is not the first time this has happened. The government sends agents up into the mountains, talking all kinds of nonsense. They tell the local people that they have special rights because they are 'indigenous people.' Then, they stop paying us rent."
The last time it happened, about 20 years ago, the owner had the government on his side. He brought in the police. The troublemakers were thrown off the property. Now, the government is against us. It's not so easy.
The rent is so little - one scrawny, unsalable, inedible cow for every 20 in their herd - it is hardly worth the effort to collect. But it is the principle of the thing. If they don't pay, they will claim they don't have to pay...and if they don't have to pay, the land will be theirs.
So, we rode up...counting on good humor and good sense to bring around the revolutionaries. After all, they pay practically nothing in rent; they pay no property taxes; they pay nothing for water; and we bear the expense of keeping up the road and the farm. We also give them breeding bulls and rams so they can improve their stock.
Alas, the only revolutionary we could find was one woman - called "La Gorda", the fat one. She was nice enough, but cunning and non-committal. She would not pay her rent, but she asked for a scholarship for her son and a new house!
We are developing callouses. The local people ask for things; we're learning to say 'no.'
We are toughened up in other ways too. We clip the cows' ears and put a hot branding iron on their flanks without thinking much about it. The dust blows hard; the sun beats down; the cold nights stiffen us up like the frost on the sage brush.
But yesterday, we melted like ice cream.
Yesterday was Elizabeth's last English class. The girls sat down at the table and prepared cards for her...and some for Don Bill too. Three months ago, they were timid...frightened to say a word in Spanish, let alone in English. Now, they all yelled "Hi Don Bill" and ran around the courtyard.
"I never expected this," said Elizabeth. "I started teaching one girl, Fatima, because she wanted to speak to her aunt in New York. Then, the others just kept coming. I didn't do anything special, but the girls seemed to come alive."
Elizabeth did do something special.
"Come on, girls," we heard her say. "We going to say the days of the week and the months of the year...and then I'm going to show you how to make a chocolate cake!"
Elizabeth teaches them songs and nursery rhymes, tells the stories, and shows them how to do things. She has had boxes of books shipped from Buenos Aires and lent them out to girls who have scarcely ever seen anything but school workbooks.
"They are used to hard living. But they are not at all hardened by it. And I'm not just talking about not having running water or heat. Most of these girls don't have fathers either. Or, they don't know who their fathers are. Family life around her can be very fluid and precarious. But the girls are very innocent, " Elizabeth concluded. "They are not jaded, or spoiled, or blase. They don't expect much. And when I tell them stories or read to them in English, they really seem to be delighted.
"They especially love the books. All the books. Some are too young for them. Some are too old. I even got "Little Women" in Spanish. But they love them all. So I set up a library in the house where they can come and get books. And I have another box of them coming up from Buenos Aires next week."
The girls all made cards for Elizabeth. "I will miss you!" said one. "Have a good time in America," wished another. "We love you," said another.
There were elaborate cards, with cut out hearts...real flowers taped on...cut outs and pockets...some big, some little.
We worked in our office while the commotion outside increased. We had just come upon a fascinating study, showing the costs of regulations imposed by the government on the economy. According to professors Dawson and Seater, as recorded by Marc Faber in his 'Gloom,Boom and Doom Report,' federal regulations took 2% per year off the GDP growth rate over a 50 year period. Had regulation remained where it was when we were born, in other words, a baby born today would be coming into an economy more than three times the size of today's. This, too, was a way we - our generation - has stolen from our own children. Had we left well enough alone, our children might have three times the job opportunities and three times the income.
We have been studying the ways old people - no older than your editor - have engineered a huge transfer of wealth, from the future to the present. We were wondering how it was actually possible to take real wealth from the future when a small face appeared at the window. It was little Mili, 7 years old.
She came in with a big smile, turned up her cheek for a kiss, then took Don Bill by the hand, leading him outside where the girls were dancing around.
Don Bill took a photo of the girls, put the camera down and headed back to his office. As he went, Mili ran behind him, grabbed his hand and gave him a card.
She had taken the pedals from a red flower and pasted them on a piece of paper. On it, she had written (we have taken liberties with the translation):
I write you this letter. I give you a couplet.
From the top of mountain
came down a little bug
It tumbled down a rocky cliff
And got a little hug
I love you much, Don Bill.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.