Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Carlos Slim Got So Rich

'Phrases from Homer...
Great idea boss!'
 If you have a Claro (until recently Comcel) cellphone, then you probably receive these annoying offers: 'Get Homer on your cell phone,' 'Get love and hearts on your cellphone'. It's hard for me to imagine any sane person over the age of 8 who'd actually want Homer squeaking out of their cellphone. I am over age 8 and despise the Simpsons (whom I've never watched on TV). But I installed Bart Simpson, even tho my cellphone is too primitive for these applications.

Why did I do it? Because when you press 'Okay' to make the annoying offer go away, you're uknowingly installing Homer. Sure, you can unsubscribe - but they've already charged you for a month's service.

'Love and hearts in your mobile'
Carlos Slim, who owns Claro, and with a $75 billion dollar fortune is the world's richest man, didn't make all of his money by tricking people into subscribing to Homer Simpson's inanities. And I hope that this isn't indicative of his business practices - but I do wonder.

After all, Claro - like other cellphone companies - has a policy of making whatever phone credit you don't use evaporate at month's end. Just imagine if your credit card took away all the money you didn't spend, or the grocer came and took away all the food you didn't eat by month's end. People would be out in the streets protesting.

But, for some reason, we seem to accept the cellphone companies' right to take away service we've paid for.

'Good choice' signing up,
even tho you didn't mean to.
Claro is also the company which Colombian government officials have complained is abusing its dominant market position. When the government suggested that Slim should be restricted from further expanding his dominance in the Colombian market, Slim called that unfair limitations on the free market.

Carlos Slim certainly deserves admiration for using brains and hard work to convert himself from a child of humble Lebanese immigrants into an extraordinary success story. And, I'm sure that his telecommunication, construction, mining and retail businesses have contributed to the world (altho not always so. His investments have also included tobacco companies).

Carlos Slim, bringing the Simpsons
to your cell phone!
Claro's questionable business practices coincide with another unfortunate phenomenon - the invasion of Bogotá by the Oxxo convenience store chain, which seems to sell mostly junk food and alcoholic beverages. Oxxo may displace traditional family-run stores, which do sell fruits and vegetables. If Oxxo drives those family businesses under, will we be left with U.S.-style nutritional deserts, where healthy foods aren't available? And the associated epidemics of obesity and diabetes?

Homer Simpson,
brought to you by Carlos Slim.
My goal isn't to demonize Mexico, which is a wonderful country with wonderful people. But I probably do have a bit of a grudge.

After all, when Colombians criticize capitalism and globalization, the United States is always the boogeyman. Many U.S. companies certainly deserve criticism. But give the gringos a break. We're not the only ones.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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