It is common and even popular in Hispanic America to believe that the problems of underdevelopment are the fault of the Spanish heritage. We constantly see it pointed out in the media or in political statements as the main reason for the continent’s poverty.
But nothing could be further from the truth; between 1800 and 1820, the living standards of workers in Spanish America were higher, measured by the purchasing power of wages in products such as grain, meat and sugar. They were among the highest wages on the planet, higher than in Asia and some European countries (see wage comparison chart).
In the viceroyalty of New Granada in 1795, the annual salary of the viceroy was 320,000 reales. A rural worker earned 240 reales, the administrator of the mint 24,000 reales, a carpenter 544 reales, a teacher 192 reales, the daily wage was then 2 reales.
Biologically, people’s heights in New Spain and Venezuela were similar to those in Europe. As in the USA and Great Britain, there were social differences in height. Between the 1730s and 1760s, however, the differences decreased and were no greater than in these two countries.
Alexander Von Humboldt quotes the following:
The Indian farmer is poor but free. His situation is much better than that of the peasants of Northern Europe, especially the Russians and Germans. The number of slaves is practically zero.
This must be known in Europe! Mexican miners are the best paid in the world, they receive six to seven times more wages for their labour than a German miner.
Mexican historian, Toribio Esquivel Obregón also quotes:
The day labourer in viceregal times, with 250 days of work could buy 37.71 hectolitres of corn, and in 1908 only 23.51 hectolitres. In 1792 he could buy 23 measures of 100 kg of flour and in 1908 only 5,25. A day labourer in colonial times could buy as much wheat as a Frenchman today (1915).
In conclusion, the long-lasting economic problems of Hispanic America are not linked to the viceroyalty period as many people think, but later, after the independence.