Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949 and thereafter enjoyed the best per-capita GDP growth in the region

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The writeup talks a lot about saving on military spending, but I have to wonder how much is due to not having the threat of a military coup whenever the government becomes unpopular. Military coups are not an uncommon occurrence in the nearby countries, and they rarely lead to good governments.


“Pura vida” as they say.


This is a bit like balancing your household budget by cancelling your home insurance. It’s a great saving, so long as they don’t need it. In practice, Costa Rica has benefited from protection from the US’ military spending, and, as Cory’ suggests - does have a small commando force which has reportedly recently trained to fight neighbouring countries. All of these things make this passingly interesting, but a bit hard to draw broader conclusions from.


Getting there…


If your insurance company might decide to steal or burn down your house, as jandrese pointed out happens in Latin America, cancelling the insurance policy may be the best insurance policy. A military can be more of a threat to your own people than to any neighbors.


Good for Costa Rica, but unfortunately this is something you can’t generalize. The problem with demilitarization is the same as the central problem pacifism – it works beautifully as long as everyone agrees to it. Which they won’t.


Everything is great until the Raptors get out.


What’s not spelled out here is a large portion of Costa Rica’s population is still desperately poor. Tourism is basically their number 1 export now and only certain regions benefit. Roads and infrastructure is still very primitive so the central government is essentially non-effective for a large portion of the country. Deliberately foregoing a military is probably only possible due to their unique situation and geographical location. For example, they only share borders with 2 other countries. While Nicaragua to the north has it’s share of problems such as economic migration, Panama is for the most part very stable and not really a threat to CR. Other than internal political upheaval, external threats are not really an issue hence no need for a big military.

Yet, it is a safe and very beautiful country. We have been there several times and it’s still one of our favorite destinations. In spite of the even more desperate conditions occurring in surrounding countries, CR has managed to become one of the most stable Central American regions.

I believe they realize that if they do anything to endanger the tourism industry (like Mexico has done by not reigning in the cartels), it would be an absolute death knell.

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But what are we going to do with all these weapons?

[note sarcasm]


And to think some countries base large portions of their economy on weapons and security. On that note what is the carbon footprint of the worlds arms industry?


It’s also one of the world’s oldest democracies and, by necessity, has an environmental protection policy that puts far wealthier countries to shame.

Much like West Berlin, Costa Rica was meant to serve as a beacon of the benefits of “free market” systems, and to attain this showroom status, the US government spent lavishly to show how great things were under small government.

Make serious cuts in military spending (as American conservatives are loathe to do in their own country) and a government can get very “small” indeed.

Otherwise, though, the legacy shows in Costa Rica. The approach to business, the consumer culture, the customer service, etc. all lean more to North American standards than they do to Central or South American ones. A lot of this is further driven by the country’s shift to a primarily tourist economy.

Also: while Costa Rica doesn’t have an army, it has had rural police forces that wore paramilitary uniforms, carried automatic weapons, slept in barracks, etc – think “National Guard on high alert.” This isn’t an army per se, but it’s also not what we think of when we think of “police.”

From what I’ve seen on my annual winter visits there, they try to keep it low-key. You don’t see the paramilitary police in the cities or around tourist areas and they’re less visible at the airports than at some American ones.

Still, in the absence of a standing army the paramilitary police (along with some small units of elite professional soldiers) serve a purpose. The Ticos and Ticas have stockpiled a lot of goodwill with their politically dysfunctional and militarily belligerent neighbours, but some seriousness of purpose when it comes to national defense is called for.

As others have noted, it’s a very unique situation.


It is a kind of paradise. It does have its problems though.


I think there’s a typo:
“leading to a doubling in per-capita GDP every 30 years instead of every 39”
“This implies that Costa Rica doubled its per capita GDP every 30 years rather than every 49.”

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If I recall correctly, Costa Rica also has a different colonial history. Unlike much of Latin America, it’s small native population and lack of precious metal mines didn’t promote the hacienda system used elsewhere. Colonization was by poorer colonists who worked their own farms.

Ahah! Quick search and I’m not totally off base.


For all these reasons, Costa Rica was, by and large, unappreciated and overlooked by the Spanish Crown and left to develop on its own.

A Spanish colony that was unappreciated and overlooked by the Crown (especially when the crown was worn by a literal drooling idiot) was a relatively lucky one as far as colonies went.


Noted for future reference: apparently, having long term high levels of GDP growth is here considered a good thing.

When a good portion of it is continually applied to bettering the lives of the citizenry (as in Costa Rica) instead of lining the pockets of arms dealers and other corporate greedheads (as in the beacon of the “free” market to the north) @doctorow has never had a problem with it.

His objection (and that of the other Happy Mutants) tends to be in response to those who regard GDP growth as a good thing in and of itself, free of all other criteria (e.g. application of funds, wealth distribution, other economic concepts that Libertarians can’t seem to grasp).

So, sorry, no “gotcha” for you.


Similarly, for South and Central America, you just need to compare the 1980s and the 2000s to see that “being an area of foreign policy focus” for the USA doesn’t tend to be a pleasant experience.

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