My experience buying a new phone and sim card today in Panama helps to illustrate the day to day economic burden of rampant theft in this country, particularly by employees.

Employee theft of course occurs in the United States.  In the restaurant industry theft of alcohol by employees is extremely common, which explains strict rules on who has access to alcohol in most restaurants and bars and why, for example, there are strict alcohol counts between shifts at Henry Hudsons and companies as well as a proliferation of bar control and measuring systems.  We do the same thing at the bar I am a part owner of in Panama City.

The great difference in theft in the 3rd/2nd world (Panama is really “2nd world” in my opinion) is the attitude of the lower/working to middle classes to theft and corruption.

In Panama, the attitude among most is that “everyone steals or takes bribes” so you would be dumb not to.   They see the massive graft at the top and feel no great moral need to turn down a bribe or take advantage of an employer.  After all, the leading politicians and businessmen all got ahead with corruption.  Why shouldn’t they?

The great success of the United States as a country, in my opinion, is that they elite have managed to convince the middle class to live their lives on the straight and narrow while they (the elite) are busy plundering the country at levels that would be far more shocking than anything I have ever seen in Africa or Panama if the average person understood how the plundering works.  I will expound upon this idea in a later post before the end of the year.  Back to the point, however, crime is higher in Panama on a day to day basis and there are real costs to society imposed by it.

A case in point is my trip to the cell phone store today.

(please excuse the picture quality, I took them discretely)

Picture 1 is  a picture of the entrance, taken from where I was actually ordering my phone.  It shows:

A.  A security guard (on the left)

B.  A woman who checks you in and gives you a number. (also on the left)

C.  Two cubicles in back (more on what happens there later).

case

First I’m sure security guards exists in certain parts of the United States in cell phone stores, but they don’t anyplace I have ever been in Oklahoma and I have been to cell phone stores in less than desirable areas.  This Claro store is in a nice part of town.

2nd, the person checking you in is common in the US so there is nothing to comment on here.

Those two cubicles in the far background I will mention later.

The following is picture two.  This is the sales clerk who was telling me about costs, plans, etc.  Note the window in back for later.

teller and phone

And finally the “cajas” in the third pic. (the window in the far back of the picture).

caja

So, how did the transaction go down?  I will take you through it step by step:

1.  I enter the store and am frisked by the security guard.

2.  I get a number to wait in line.

3.  My number is called and I speak with the sales clerk.  I choose a phone and plan.

4.  Sales clerk writes up the receipt.

5.  I stand in line at the “cajas” to pay.

6.  I return to the sales clerk.  She does something else ( I couldn’t figure out what).

7.  She sends me to the cubicle in the background of picture 1 to choose my phone cover.

8.  I return to sales clerk.  She does something again, then she has to go to the window behind her to get the phone.

9.  She makes sure phone works and then the transaction is complete.

In Oklahoma the process would have been:

1.  Walk in.

2.  (maybe get a number to wait)

3.  Talk to sales clerk, choose phone and plan, choose cover, and pay.  All in one interaction.

All of the unnecessary steps I under went today were because the security guard was needed to prevent customer theft, and after that because Claro can’t trust their sales clerks not to steal phones, phone cases or customer payments.

This is the norm here.  As a result the prices are higher for everything that they otherwise would be as businesses need to have multiple layers of separation in order to prevent embezzlement of one sort or another.

The losers of course are the Panamanians who are trying to get by on 400-500 per month of income.