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Consumer Protection, ca.1750

6 February 2007

I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder why the Mexicans can’t do business in a normal shop like everywhere else…

A friend of mine asked if I wasn’t bored reading Juan Pedro Viqueira Albán’s “Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico” (Sonya Lipsett-Rivera and Sergio Rivera Ayala, translators.  Wilmington Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc. 1999).  Nah… Viqueira Albán’s thesis is that for the Bourbon kings, the Enlightenment wasn’t so much about freeing you through reason, but about finding a reasonable way to keep you under control. 

Sure, things like non-parking zones and one-way streets (invested by a Mexican viceroy, mostly because he was tired of stepping in horse poop when he went to the theater… and it was REASONABLE to control the situation) were good ideas (though the Mexican people, in their long resistance to authority, still don’t follow the Viceroy’s reasonable regulations), but what got me laughing were the accounts of attempts to reasonably accommodate bureaucrats at the bullfights… where, of course, you went to be seen — or better yet — not seen.  If you were really, really important, you got a sky box. 

The fights between the deputy recorder of deeds and the first assistant secretary of the Inquisition over who had better seats, and the rationales put forth by the Viceregal Liquor Control Board, who wanted the seats assigned to the Mexico City Tax Office still stir the muckraker’s funny bone.  Geeze, wouldn’t the reflections of a Bourbon Era Menkin or Molly Ivins have been something?   

This was the Enlightenment.   Forget Voltaire and freeing your mind from superstition.  That was for French Philosopers.  What the Bourbon kings learned was Enlighened despotism.  It was a rational era, so controlling the people was rational.  If there happened to be a worthwhile side effect (like consumer protection, or clearing the streets of poopy horses) fine:

To control the artisans, for example, a series of ordinances decreed that these persons had to work and sell their products in the same location.  Their workspace had to be an acessoria (annex) whose only access was directly from the street…. Inspections were therefore easier, but it was also hoped that because these artisans worked under the scrutiny of passersby, they would take greater care in their craft.

The photo is from PROFEPA.  Having to work in the open makes it a lot harder to hide illegal animal sales.  

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