Last weekend, my oldest daughter asked if we could stop at Walmart to buy her friends a few birthday gifts. I suggested stopping at a "pulguero" (flea market)*. I was curious about them, since I'd never been to one here in Puerto Rico. Plus, I thought that she might be able to pick up a few deals. I'm also a firm believer in voting with money. What's that you say? No I don't mean what our ex-governor is accused of participating in, no I mean choosing where to spend my money.
Believe it or not, every time we buy at Walmart, we are saying I want more cheap products made in China, available in a store like this. At the same time, we are saying I want less of any other type of store. Yes it is nationalistic, but we do have a choice! Whenever I can, I choose to give my business to the local pharmacy, the local tire shop, the small road side fruits and vegetables stand. I think you should too.
A visit to the pulguero
Anyway, I digress. So we're walking through the pulguero, taking it all in. I found the whole experience, very interesting, and quite impressive. While some of the vendors were just displaying their goods on tables, some had power. The vendors with power were located in old trailers (like goods transportation trailers), which had been modified. The modifications included the addition of power, telephone, and the means to store and lock merchandise into individual compartments.
What kind of merchandise was on sale? Well it ranged from jewelry, clothing, accessories, electronics, toys, shoes, and even kiosks for snacks. The most popular shops were those with jewelry and clothing. Hmm, does that mean that women are more frequent visitors to flea markets?
Ok, so here it comes. While some of the merchandise was either second hand or self-produced (homemade), a lot of the merchandise was name brand products. Where do these merchants get their products? While some were clearly knock-offs (cheaply produced products which are made to look like the real thing) some of the merchandise included Apple iPod Nanos. So, it is difficult to know whether the merchandise was a forgery or stolen.
Bottomline, the production of copy-cat products, which contain the unauthorized use of the trademark of a company, is a crime. To my knowledge, it is not a crime to buy them. However, it is a crime to purchase or accept property that you know or believe was obtained through theft. So the possibility that laws were broken, or are being broken at flea markets is high; especially the guys selling recordable CD's with popular artist's music and recordable DVDs with popular movie titles printed upon them. Those guys were clearly selling music and movies without the permission of the copyright holders, which everyone knows is a federal offense. We must also ALL acknowledge that ALL of these "businesses" are cash-based and therefore pay no income tax on the production and sales of goods, which is also a crime.
Conclusion and Dillema
As I have said, one of the challenges to our society and economy is the high level of crime. From littering to speeding, from running red lights to embezzling, from corruption to robbery and murder; we are surrounded by criminals. Just like voting with our money, I believe we also vote with our behavior. When someone we know breaks a crime and, in some way, we accept that action, then we are saying that breaking the rules (laws) is acceptable.
We can accept the crime by not saying anything to anyone about the crime, continuing a relationship with a criminal (yep, that's what you call someone who breaks the law, a criminal), or in general doing nothing. But we can also accept crime by benefiting from it. In this case buying forged or stolen goods. We also accept crime when we support a "business" that does not file a planilla.
In these desperate economic times, what do we do when asked to decide between accepting criminality and saving money? And if we choose to accept a crime, how clear will it be for our children and friends to make, let's say, the choice between stealing and buying something they want?
I know for most people, this debate never happens. Most of us see a bargain and ignore everything else. In these tough times, it's hard to blame them. However, what outrages me is when these very same people are surprised, shocked, and indignant when our headlines are dominated by domestic violence, murder, and political corruption.
In this gray soup of morality, we all struggle through. Hoping to "do good," praying that we are going up to heaven, while looking for a little rest, recreation, and relaxation. Most of us try to "do our best", profess our faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings or __________________(substitute your deity of choice here), while struggling with our humanity. A humanity which causes us to fail, contradict ourselves, lie, act vane, envy, and become selfish. And don't even get me started on the debate over acting moraly or ethically. I guess, for most people, they are ignorant to all these machinations.
It is true, ignorance IS bliss. If so, then I have to conclude that truth is grief, misery, sorrow, and unhappiness. Ask yourself! Which you would choose? Now tell me! Are you sure we don't live within an illusion? Tell me we do not prefer the illusion. Tell me we are not Cypher in the Matrix:
"You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?"* I originally included the location of the flea market, but I dropped it to protect the guilty. Which is what this whole post was all about. It's very uncomfortable to encounter a crime in progress. It is even more uncomfortable to decide what to do about it.
[Takes a bite of steak]
Cypher: "Ignorance is bliss."
Flickr Creative Commons Contributor: wsilver