I meant to write about this chap least year, when I first read about him, but I forgot until it came time to write my new year’s resolutions. (Yes, I still do them, and yes, I know that I will fail miserably by this time next week, but hey, it’s worth a shot.) One of my resolutions is not to buy any new clothes this year. Let’s face it: I’m about the size I’m always going to be, and they’re not going to come up with anything new and radical in the dress department, so I might as well stick with what I have. And as I was pondering this simpler approach to life, I remembered José Mujica.
I first read about President Mujica of Uruguay in this article. Heads of state in Latin America are not generally renowned for their financial restraint or fiscal modesty, but Señor Mujica is a noteworthy exception. He refuses to live in the presidential palace in Montevideo, with its colonnades and fountains, and instead he and his wife live in her family’s farmhouse outside town, and he commutes to town not in a cavalcade of limousines but in his 1987 Beetle. Of his monthly salary of £7,500, he gives 90% to charity – leaving him with roughly the national average salary in Uruguay. “I’ve lived like this most of my life,” he says. “I can live well with what I have. I’m called ‘the poorest president’, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself. I may appear to be an eccentric old man, but this is a free choice.” He extends his philosophy of “enough” to his political views: “Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet. [Most world leaders have a] blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world.”
Señor Mujica is not the first politician to preach personal restraint and frugality, but he may well be the only current one to lead by such extreme example.