Author Archives: Luis Rubio


Luis Rubio

A myth is circulating around Mexico: that of presidentialism without counterweights. This is nothing new. Between the exacerbated presidentialism of yesteryear including the legislative paralysis in recent decades, and now the new model of unipersonal government, Mexicans display a propensity for conceiving of the governance problem in a pendular manner, the latter yielding a distorted perspective of what the government is or should be. Mexicans want the country to function, but they do not want there to be crisis; they want the government to act, but not for it to be excessive; they want the good, but not the bad. This is natural and logical, but, as Madison would say, only with rules and counterweights is it possible to achieve this, because the kingdom of man is always subject to human proclivity and passing fancies.

It is said that everyone tells the story according to their personal experience. When someone likes the one in government, they want them to continue and, even, for them to be re-elected to that office. When someone abhors the governor, they want them to take their leave as soon as possible. The matter should not be about persons, but instead be about institutions: precise and limited authority for the governor, rules and rights for the citizen. The point, in the Karl Popper sense, is for the citizen to have the certainty that the president will not be able to abuse their authority thanks to the existence of effective institutions and counterweights. The key question, at least since Plato, is how to ensure that it will thus come to pass.

In Mexican terms, the question is how to preside over the inconsistency that Mexicans harbor with respect to presidential power and the government in general. Recollection of the old political system generates yearning in some and fear in others and the problem is that both of these are accurate: the capacity of execution is missed, and the abuse is feared. That, in a phrase, is the Mexican dilemma.

The problem lies in that this tessitura has led to identifying governance with the control of the other branches of the government, that is, the old domineering presidentialism. The obverse side of that coin is that the circumstances that rendered that model possible (and in good measure necessary) nearly one hundred years ago have nothing to do with the reality of today’s world. Each component of power –politics, governance or governability, bureaucracy and the Rule of Law- should be viewed in this dimension.

Politics is personal, emotive and driven toward negotiating, convincing and uniting. This is the daily exercise of power, and its main instrument is the pulpit and the one-on-one conversation: it is there that agreements are arrived at for “things to happen.” It is said that a good politician can even squeeze water from stones.

In contrast, governance is dull because it does not show, except in the results. It is there that the law comes into play in the form of authority, power and the rules of governmental operation. It is in this ambit where the authority is determined that the legislature delegates to the executive power, both elected, but also to the bureaucracy and the regulatory entities, which are not. Governance is the point at which the government interacts with the citizenry.  While a great politician can attain many things in so far as a mediocre one gets stuck along the way, neither of the two can exceed, within a context of effective counterweights, the authority conferred upon it by the legislature, consistent with the constitutional framework.

The term bureaucracy is frequently employed pejoratively, but it is what makes successful governments work in all sectors: a professional body that performs in non-partisan fashion and that operates in efficient and institutional mode, following the guidelines of the elected government. Thus, the destruction engineered by the current government of the administrative capacity that existed is so pernicious: though mediocre, that capacity worked.

What makes a country function are the rules of the game: what is valid and what is not. That is what is codified in the laws, from the Constitution down and in what is known as the Rule of Law. Laws should be clear, known, precise, strictly applied and difficult to change. In Mexico the laws tend to be aspirational rather than normative in character, tending also toward inapplicability, affording such a wide margin of discretion to the enforcer that they cannot comply with the objective of conferring certainty and protection on the citizens’ rights. And worse yet when a president has the power (legislative control) to change the laws at will and later claim that her actions adhere to the law.

Governability cannot consist of faculties so broad -by law or by legislative control- that they give rein to the violation of citizen rights, but they also require incentives for the legislature to cooperate and to avoid the capriciousness of paralysis. The counterweights can come to be disagreeable for the president, but it is the only way to guarantee that no one can abuse the power. To the extent that Mexico continues to elevate the degree of complexity in its economy, society and politics -a natural and desirable process- counterweights will become an indispensable requisite for being able to function.

The mission of a government does not entail their being able to do what they want, but rather the carrying out of their project within the limits imposed by the law. Two very distinct things.



Luis Rubio
In memory of Luis Alberto Vargas

Governments come and governments go, but one thing always stays: corruption. The actors change, but the phenomenon is perennial. And Mexico is not the exception to this: in his 1976 book on Russia, Hedrick Smith* writes “I think”, Ivan says to Volodya, “that we have the richest country in the world.” “Why” asks Volodya. “Because for years everyone has been stealing from the State and there is still something left to steal.” In his work on the Soviet collapse, Stephen Kotkin** explains how corruption was consuming everything, but that it was impossible to live without it. The phenomenon is as Russian as it is Mexican and no government is safe from it, including that of the “other” data.

Corruption, first cousin of impunity, has formed part of Mexican national life for centuries, but not necessarily because of that must it persist. The great question here is what makes corruption part of the national being instead of its being a blight that should be wiped out. Part of the explanation derives from the nature of the political system that emerged at the end of the revolutionary era (1910-1917): the system rewarded loyalty with access to power and/or corruption; corruption was (and is) a central component, inherent in fact, to the exercise of power. The old system rewarded with access to corruption, the “new” system purifies it: same song, different tune.

What has changed is the context within which corruption is generated today. In these times of instant communication and social networks, corruption is not only obvious, but also visible, thus ubiquitous. While for the average Mexican corruption is an inevitable tool of daily life (individuals offering places to park in the street as if it were theirs, official procedures and red tape, inspectors, the police) that involves exchanges with public functionaries as well as with  private actors, one the greatest achievements of recent decades being the consecration of a set of reliable rules for the functioning of large enterprises, especially for that related with foreign trade. But the most visible and relevant species of corruption in political terms and in the legitimacy of governments, is the highway robbery taking place in and around the government, much of which is linked with private actors, though not always.

There are two factors that make corruption possible in Mexico and that differentiates it from countries such as Denmark and the like: one is that the Mexican government was built to control the population and not for, well, to govern, and that difference entails fundamental consequences. When the objective function is to render development and well-being possible, the government becomes a problem-solving factor; when its objective is that of control, what is relevant is that no one flies the coop. The promoter government procures high growth rates and devotes itself to skirting obstacles to achieve its mission; the controller government submits the population and creates spaces of privilege, opening interminable opportunities for corruption. Concurrently, in a control-oriented government, impunity becomes a categorical imperative: if corruption were punished it would disappear, wiping out impunity.

The other factor that makes corruption possible derives from the latter: Mexican legislation is distinguished from that of countries dedicated to development in that they procure general rules, known by all and applied in systematic fashion. While governments always maintain discretionary margins, in Mexico the laws nearly always border on arbitrariness because they confer such broad-ranging faculties on the authorities -from the most modest inspector to the president- all of which end up making the rules irrelevant. The present government, that which was to put an end to corruption, has widened that margin in irrepressible fashion, to the degree that everything that before involved general rules is now negotiated directly with the president, morphing these into favors that are granted and that, therefore, can be taken away. Suffice to observe the way that cases such as those of the gas pipelines, the airport and the electricity generators were “resolved” to appreciate the dimensions of the change that has occurred, thus the potential for corruption that opened, in areas where the latter practically had been wiped out.

Could corruption be eliminated? The arbitrariness with which the current government has conducted itself implies the very grave possibility that the country could return to its most fateful moments. Suffice it is to see Russia to appreciate this:  Misha Friedman, of the NYT, says that “Corruption is so pervasive that the whole society accepts the unacceptable as normal, as the only way of survival, as the way things ‘just areʻ.” Mexico is not very different.

Not the least doubt exists that corruption can be eliminated, but that would require going through the elimination of the discretionary faculties enjoyed by those in charge of “governing.” Without that, impunity will continue to reign…

There are no bargains in this world: progress requires a trustworthy footing of certainty in terms of security for families as well as for their patrimony and that, paradoxically, is much more transcendent for the least favored population. International treaties help, but the solutions must be internal. There are no bargains: a government is required that indeed does understand what its nodal function is.


*The Russians **Armageddon Averted

Where is the Choke Point?

Luis Rubio

While the candidacies advance the political risks increase. There are three factors that drive the possibility of the country having to confront critical situations during next year. The first is the most obvious of these: the presidential cycle, everywhere in the world, follows a natural logic that initiates its ascendent phase during which the president accumulates power, it reaches its zenith and then begins its descent.  The second factor derives from the erosion and eventual disarticulation of the mechanisms of political control the system could count on. The third, and the one entertaining the greatest risk during this period, is that issuing from the inexistence of game rules for politics, in conjunction with the growing incapacity to enforce the few rules that remain in force. Each of these elements will play its part in the upcoming months.

The great success of the old political system lay in the existence of precise rules for the functioning of public life. Some of these rules, starting with the first -the president is in command-, were constant while others varied from administration to administration. The cycle of investment and economic activity typically got underway toward the end of the first year, when the government’s own tonic and its specific rules became clear. With respect to succession, the rules were permanent: no one could dispute the legitimacy of the president, but contending for the succession was valid. This and other peculiarities of the system came to be denominated “metaconstitutional” faculties because they were “unwritten rules”, but ones enforced at all costs.

Many of the worst of the current vices derive from that way of conducting public affairs because Mexico never erected a legal system that was compatible with economic development and personal freedom (as indeed does occur in nearly all Latin-American nations). Mexico achieved stability and growth for many decades along the XX century because it had in place an exceptional political system in which the law was irrelevant and what mattered were the unwritten rules. That worked in a country that was small, provincial and relatively isolated from the rest of the planet, but it has now turned into a hindrance to development for a nation that is big, diverse, disperse and extraordinarily interconnected with the exterior world. The old system, which in many senses persists, is a formidable obstacle for the construction of a different future.  What previously were virtues, are now sources of risk and potential instability.

Going back to the factors mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the political cycle takes place in all nations since it is, in a certain fashion, the cycle of life.  Notwithstanding this, what makes things different in Mexico is that while in most nations the president loses power in their descending phase, in Mexico what they lose is control, but not the power bestowed to the presidency because in normal countries power is limited by the by laws and institutions, which explains extreme situations such as  expropriation of the banks,  expropriation of the lands in the Yaqui Valley and other anomalies (and crises), which have almost always occurred at the end of the six-year presidential term of office.

The second element that the political system was able to rely on throughout the past century was the assemblage of institutions, above all the unions, which granted the presidency enormous capacity of control. The structure of the unions, federations and confederations, such as those of workers and peasants of the so-called popular sector, each with its characteristics and vicissitudes, constituted a formidable mechanism of regulation and authority that gave the country decades of stability, all this at the price of the exercise of individual as well as collective rights extant in other latitudes. Trade liberalization altered the scheme by undermining or eliminating the entire control structure exercised by the government on the workers and businesses (except for unions linked to the government, not subject to competition).

The third element is key. In truly democratic and institutionalized countries, the rules of the game are those established by the legal framework: the laws guide the process and determine the faculties and limits for the diverse actors. In a country where the laws comprise no more than a moral guide and what matters are the formidable discretionary (and arbitrary) powers that the authority rests on at every all level, the law is irrelevant and the only thing that matters is power. And a powerful president such as the current one makes and changes the rules according to the time of day and his corresponding moods.

The challenge for Mexicans is expressly that: how to build a system of rules and laws that cannot be modified or defined by a sole person, but instead through an institutional system such as that established by the Constitution. Mexico’s main problem lies in the fact that the president (the present one and his predecessors) can change the rules (and the laws), literally at will. The issue thus is one of power, not one of laws nor, strictly speaking, one of institutions: How to delimit the true powers of the presidency? The day Mexicans achieve that, Mexico will have entered the world of development and civilization.


Luis Rubio

India advances uncontainable, but in an exceedingly peculiar manner, deftly skirting the obstacles imposed upon it inexorably by its extraordinary linguistic, religious and ethnic diversity.  An extremely complex and stratified society coming up against enormous barriers to progress, it has found innovative ways to break through fiefdoms, dogmas and ancestral practices. There is much that Mexicans could learn from its experience.

“India lives in all centuries at once” says ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. That characteristic, with which Mexicans can clearly identify, has not impeded India from undertaking one of the most impacting transformation processes in the world. The obvious contrast is China, countries with similar population levels, but with radically opposed politico-social natures. While in China the government controls all the processes and has shown the capacity to impose its vision of development on the totality of its population, India is a democratic nation and, at the same time a remarkably diverse, disperse and disorganized one.  For these reasons, the challenge for India has been that much greater.

How, under those circumstances, can change be implemented for the sake of achieving development? Such has been the quandary of that monumental nation throughout the past three decades. How to crack the ancestral mental, social and religious barriers? How to attract new, productive and promising investments, in an environment plagued by bureaucracy, corruption and interminable regulatory decision-making processes? How, in a word, to break through those obstacles, tenaciously deep rooted as they are, as an indispensable condition for raising the growth levels of the economy and to be able to aspire, from that point, to development?

The solution found by the most recent governments, and more so with the drive of the present one, headed by Narendra Modi, has been to leapfrog, to leave out stages, that is, not to copy the experiences of other nations, but instead to strive for quantum leaps. Perhaps there is no more illustrative example, albeit an obvious one, than that undergone in the ambit of communications: rather than investing in wire telephony in a nation where 80% of the population has never had a land-line home phone, the decision was to develop cellular telephony in accelerated fashion. Fewer than two decades after launching this initiative, the country rose from having twenty million land lines to 1,150 million cell phones. The next step was to break with the monopoly of financial services, creating a payment system sustained by mobile phones, through which the entire population is now in the possession of an ID card, thus the possibility of paying and receiving limitless funds at no cost.

To appreciate the size of the obstacles that the reformers have come up against, an example is sufficient: until up to five years ago, each of the 28 states making up that Asian nation levied a different sales and value-added tax (VAT) and demanded payment in cash on crossing each state border. The consequences of this requirement were interminable queues of trucks lining up to make their payment to unhurried bureaucrats. After more than ten years of negotiations, a system of federal taxes was finally agreed upon that respects the different rates, but that permits electronic payments, eliminating the customs barriers between each of the states. Something like that would have been resolved in one month in China, but in India it dragged on arduously for years and now it has transformed the logistics of all of the companies, which previously had to conform to a bureaucratic rationale for their distribution systems and warehouses. Some goods, above all foods, dropped suddenly in price. The point is that conditions have been being created for solving problems, often without changing what exists (such as the bureaucracy or the banking regulations) rendering it irrelevant. The result has been two decades of high rates of economic growth, the birth of an enormous middle class and generalized and contagious optimism.

The great difference between India and Mexico in terms of their transformation process lies in that the government of India   is crystal-clear in terms of its need to incorporate itself swiftly into the XXI century and has been willing to face (sometimes going around) powerful business, political and union interests and, no less important, the traditionalistic dogmas that for centuries have perpetuated the oppressive economic and social system in force.

At a conference that I attended in India of late, the words most frequently articulated by governmental, social and business speakers were: middle class, Internet, development, education, technology, productivity, interconnected world, health. None of these words is found in the daily presidential morning press conferences in Mexico these days.

Although at times reluctantly, Mexico has been advancing along a similar course, but now the dogma that the poverty of the past was always better has been officialized. A total of 1.3 billion citizens of India demonstrate that that is not the pathway to success.

In India, I ran into the following dialog: Charlie Brown: “There are many smart people in the world.” Snoopy “Yes, but the majority is asymptomatic.” In India those who are moving forward are those who see through to the future.



Luis Rubio

Between the seventies and the nineties, Mexico underwent an era of financial crises, the product in good measure of the laxity with which the public finances were managed: enormous deficits, huge levels of debt (mostly in foreign currency) and little attention to the profitability of the public investment. Between 1976 and 1995, Mexicans became inured to crisis at the end of each six-year presidential term that, abruptly, impoverished the population and eroded the social cohesion. The lesson that today’s president derived from that experience was clear-cut:   the public finances must be looked after to avoid falling into that pattern. The question is whether he did not lose sight that the world, and Mexico with it, had changed.

Nearly three decades after the last foreign-exchange crisis the message emerging from the daily address at the pulpit, the mañanera, usually ironic in tone and accompanied by abundant disqualifications, is that governing in Mexico is very easy. Perhaps it would not be amiss that the President recall one of his predecessors -Porfirio Díaz- who, during infinitely less-complex times, uttered that “governing Mexicans is more difficult than rounding up turkeys on horseback.” The Mexican paradox of today is that the principal challenges are being presented by the political, not by the economic, flank.

Despite the prodigious obstacles that persist for the economy to truly excel, self-inflicted limits that arise from well-entrenched interests that prefer poverty under their thumb to accelerated development, the factual evidence is very clear: the country’s economy is functioning. Not the least doubt exists that there are vast regions of the country that continue to be left behind or where the potential for growth is infinitely greater, but, given the circumstances, the country’s economy is growing and, despite the existing fiscal fragility, no one is suggesting that the situation could become complicated in the mid-term future. The latter of course does not imply that everything would be a bed of roses, but instead only that the economy appears to have divorced itself from the political cycle: exports and remittances have bestowed on the economy a degree of stability that is in good measure immune to the avatars and excesses that characterize the government.

On the other hand, political complexity grows day by day and the rail guards that gave it shape and expression -in addition to limits- have been evicted almost completely, in part due to their natural erosion over time, but to a large extent because of the intentional destruction of institutions that implemented the present administration. The country evolved from a political system that was very structured and one with concentrated power based on “metaconstitutional” rules (that is, what the overlord of the day wished) toward a process of transition ending in democracy, but one without moorings, map or compass beyond the electoral. Today the country is besieged by extraordinary challenges in its federal structure, in the relations among the branches of government and in the capacity of the government to lead the country. The crises of justice, security, poverty, corruption and inequality are not the product of chance.

It is within this context that it is necessary to ponder the priorities typifying the government and the dangers that these involve with respect to the looming succession process, where the risks are inexorably exacerbated. In contrast with other successions starting with those in the seventies, what seems to be in order is the economy, while political viability is exceedingly uncertain.

The matter is crucial. The great constant that distinguished Mexico throughout the XX century was its political structure. When an economic crisis arose unexpectedly, the country always possessed the capacity to restore order and stabilize the economy. I do not propose a return to that schema because, in addition to its historical impossibility, the country in the present day bears no resemblance with that circumstance. But that does not resolve the fact that Mexico is immersed in a process that will inflict pressure on and strain the political structures, opening the door to potential situations that have not been seen since the times of the revolution, more than a century ago.

The economy is advancing and exhibiting solidity and resilience, not thanks to the current government, but rather to the reforms of the nearly last four decades, whose rationale was precisely that of isolating the modern component of the economy from the political ups and downs. In absolutely irresponsible fashion, the present government has attempted to undermine these sources of stability, but it has been unable to achieve that, despite all its attempts. On the other hand, the deficits are evident: solely one part of the economy and the country enjoys the privilege of functioning: the remainder perseveres under the yoke of extortion and the worst of governance. Mexico is far from having erected a solid and sustainable platform for the creation of wealth toward integral development but, compared with past successions, it finds itself at present in a benign situation.

The country is governed today as if it were a feudal lordship and not as the twelfth largest world economy with a population of nearly 130 million that demand not only solutions, but also clarity of course and limits to the potential excesses of its rulers. The coming months will demonstrate whether that type of government is adequate and, above all, viable, for the complex reality characterizing Mexico. No serious country should be subjected to that kind of test, with all the risks it entails.


Sans Serif


Luis Rubio

In the early nineties, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Enrique Krauze explored the implications of those events on Latin-American countries, arriving at the conclusion that the last Stalinist would not die in the USSR, but rather in a university cubicle in Latin America. His sole error concerned the venue: the last Stalinists are to be found in the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City and in its equivalents in other nations in the continent’s South. The messianism characterizing this wave of governments and their retinues is late, aberrant and nostalgic, but not for that less powerful. And destructive.

Victor Sebestyen, the Hungarian historian, writes, in his history of the Russian Revolution that “The men and women who made the Russian Revolution wanted to change the world… The intention at first may have been to overthrow the Tzar and a dynasty that had ruled Russia for three centuries as an autocracy… But it went way beyond that… their faith was no less than to perfect mankind and put an end to exploitation by one group of people -one class- by another… The appeal of Communism was religious, spiritual and the Party was t Church. Trotsky wrote:  ‘Let future generations of people cleanse life of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.ˊ The messianic scale of the Bolsheviks’ ambition made the scale of their failure so vast and shocking.”

The Soviet Union did not collapse because it was a good idea but poorly implemented, as many Socialists argue, but instead because it was a bad idea that clashes(ed) with human nature. Worse yet, in order to put it into practice, the Bolsheviks resorted to a regime of terror that consisted of, in the words of Robert Conquest, another historian of the USSR, more of a nightmare than a dream. Although (fortunately) the plan of the Mexican messianic is less violent than that of those who inspired it, the obstinacy of denying human nature is always present in their manner of acting, as exemplified by their science policy, the new textbooks and, in general, their vision of excluding the citizenry from the diverse tasks and activities of the nation’s development.

Now that the twilight of this administration is under way, it is unavoidable to evaluate the costs of a project that did not come together (fortunately) because it did not fit with the reality of the XXI century, because it did not count on the natural creativity of the Mexican (our famous jacks of all trades), because the economy is infinitely more complex, deep and successful that the government considered and, above all, because it was a really bad idea. Additionally, as demonstrated by the way they assembled the new textbooks -by people driven by an attempt to preserve a vision that clashes with the world in which today’s children will have to live when they reach adulthood, as well as its vindictive nature-  the project did not even entertain an objective of development, but rather a messianism whose only purpose is electoral: that everyone, today’s adults and, through the indoctrination of the children -the adults of the future- would vote for Morena.

The messianism of the project is evidenced in the expectation of a complete transformation without there being any groundwork to achieve it, except, perhaps, to polarize, disqualify and attack. The flip side of that coin is the triviality of the objective: staying in power. The contrast between the maximalist rhetoric and the baseness of its purpose speaks for itself.

But none of that lessens the damage or the consequences. Before anything else, there’s the opportunity cost: all the time and resources that were wasted instead of employing them in the construction of a better future. Then comes the destruction -literally- of assets, such as the new international airport, appropriate for the needs of a country that aspires to grow and enjoy life and, first and foremost, that their children would enjoy the prosperity for which increasingly more Mexicans scan the horizon and that which too many governments have ignored in terms of the imperative of smoothing the way in that direction (such as dealing intelligently, but effectively, with organized crime, the extortion and the local political bosses -caciques- opposed to progress that proliferate chiefly in the country’s South). Finally, maybe the greatest of the damages is the absurdity of attempting to go against the proven formulas for development that characterize nations as diverse as Canada, Vietnam, China and Spain.

Mexico finds itself at a unique moment in the history of humanity: technology has favored economic integration among nations, geography has gifted Mexicans with access to the largest world market and geopolitics have created the opportunity to come by hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, with the consequent potential for the creation of wealth, jobs and, in a word, future. All that is lacking is to focus on creating the conditions for this to materialize, so that the drip-by-drip of nearshoring turns into a cascade of investments.

The messianism of this government has led to the cancelling out the opportunity with its political strategy and its criminal weakening of the health and educational sectors, its attack on the judiciary and the destruction of the infrastructure. What it has not destroyed is the aspiration for a better Mexico and therein lies the true opportunity because that, in contrast with the other elements, does not depend on the government.

Government For What?

Luis Rubio

“The stability of a democracy depends very much on the people making a careful distinction between what a government can do and cannot do,” stated the academician, diplomat and politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Seeking what it cannot achieve implies “creating the conditions for frustration and ruin.” All societies procure finding an equilibrium between what is possible and what is desirable, what leads to progress and what entails excessive risks. Conditions of equilibrium are crucial, but there is congruence only if the objectives pursued match the provision of elemental services.

In Mexico there is great confusion with respect to what corresponds to the government and what concerns the society.  Mexicans tend to mix social philosophy with the practice of government, which has produced enormous swerves back and forth over time, but at the same time it has impeded the consolidation of functional government at the service of the development and the progress of the people.

One thing is the management of public affairs, another very distinct is the criteria for the allocation of resources. What is basic for any society, in any country and under any circumstance, is for the existence of conditions for life to function, which implies, for example, infrastructure of potable water, sewers, streets, security, education, health and everything that make it possible for daily life to work in normal fashion.

On the other hand, there’s the philosophy of who presides over the government and that, as a point of departure, entails the allocation of resources in the broadest sense.  Will it privilege the development of an individualist society or of a more corporativist? Will it invest in streets for the circulation of vehicles or in public transportation? Centralized education will be favored, or a multiplicity of service providers will be promoted? The market will be emphasized as a mechanism of decision-making in matters of investment and production, or industrial policy? and What will the balance between these two models be?

There is no single philosophy of government and the voters, on electing a governor, endorse distinct ways of facing the challenges of development with discrete visions and models as long-term objectives. In contrast, in the most elemental, there is only one way of creating conditions under which daily life can be possible. That is not to say that providing a certain service (e.g., water) should necessarily be public or private, but that there should be sufficient water at a competitive cost so that the entire population would be satisfied.  The same with all the other indispensable factors for quotidian life.

On a more elevated level, one of the key elements of the governmental function in the process of engendering conditions for progress and prosperity is the creation of what economists call “public goods,” that is, services that benefit the whole of society and that are necessary for its development, such as security, education, knowledge, infrastructure, rule of law and health. No country can prosper in the absence of these factors.

In this context, one cannot do other than ask what the rationale is in suspending the provision of statistical information on justice or education, two obvious public goods, on the part of the governmental entity dedicated to that purpose, Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). The only explanation possible is that for the government the less information afforded the greater control of the population. If one were to extend this logic to the budget cuts that the health sector, scientific development, and the infrastructure in general have undergone, one can only conclude that the change spearheaded by AMLO’s Fourth Transformation (4T) does not include the development of the country, but instead the submission of the population.  If one then adds the systematic attacks on the judiciary, especially on the Supreme Court of Justice, on the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data (INAI) and on institutions such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the project becomes transparent in the end.

The spirit that drives the bill on administrative reform promoted by the federal Executive branch is revealing.  It involves recreating, in one fell swoop, the discretionary component enjoyed by the Mexican government in the seventies: the era of arbitrariness in which a public servant could decide on the life or death of an investment, the viability of an educational project or the possibility of consolidating a scientific investigation liable to transforming vast regions of the country.  The rationality of the bill is evident, but its costs and consequences are unmistakable, not due to the philosophy that stands behind it, but instead because it fails to separate those two pivotal components of the governmental function: the philosophical and the administrative.

The world’s most successful governments, the majority of these in Asia, divide those two elements, contracting professional functionaries for the administrative part for there to be continuity in the provision of services, while political decisions orient the long-term investment projects. On blending together, or confusing, both functions, Mexico sacrifices its development on the altar of personal and short-term obsessions.

One can approve or reject this or that policy, but no one should be against the existence of better public services that make prosperity possible. Lest the true objective is another.



Luis Rubio

The “liar’s paradox” is one of the most amusing logic puzzles: If the liar is indeed lying, then the liar is telling the truth, which means the liar just lied. In today’s Mexico, lies become truths, corruption is purified and impunity flourishes, confusing both those who narrate daily life as well as those who live it: endless contradictions.

The daily presidential rhetoric, with all the falsehoods that pass through there, is nothing more than a permanent construction of myths, with a strong component of hate oriented to creating prejudices and loyalties. That covers the immediate issues but, in the world of the concrete, myths are pernicious creatures that obscure more than what they illuminate. Denying the existence of factors of reality –such as insecurity, extortion, few economic opportunities and poverty- acquires mythical dimensions. Except that this clashes with what Mexicans observe and live in their daily life and, more importantly, neither square with what then-candidate López Obrador denounced as the great evils that afflicted the country. The contradictions cannot but become more acute during the coming period of succession.

The great paradox that has been showing up in these years is that the president has been able to destroy innumerable institutional structures that hindered concentration of power in his person, but he has had much less impact upon the economy or in the factors on which he built his presidential bid and that are an inherent component of his narrative, such as poverty, corruption and inequality. However, the post-pandemic economic performance has been much better than expected not only by the government itself, but also by the main banks and national and foreign analysts.

There may be no better evidence of the contradictions that characterize the country than the exchange rate: the peso has not only strengthened, but it keeps less and less relationship with what happens in the economy at large and, certainly, with the deteriorating politico-institutional sphere. Violence affects exports such as those of avocados, corruption remains embedded at customs, extortion alters the lives of both the population and of companies, public finances are weaker than it appears (now aggravated by the insatiable appetite of public funds by PEMEX) and the President keeps attacking the Supreme Court of Justice. And yet, none of this seems to impact the peso. The obvious conclusion is that the factors that affect the exchange rate have changed. JP Morgan has just published a study that argues exactly this: that factors such as exports, remittances and commercial exchanges that Mexico keeps with the outside have become structural and, therefore, less susceptible to the ups and downs that characterized the past.

An alert and sensible government would conclude from this fact that what is required is to strengthen the factors that contribute to multiplying investment and stabilizing the economy to tackle phenomena such as poverty and corruption. However, what the government has produced are obstacles to trade and investment, unnecessary conflicts in energy, and a total absence of mechanisms to attract and secure the new manna that is falling from the sky in the form of the so-called nearshoring, as if economic success were pernicious. Regrettably, the perception within the government is precisely this last one, as revealed by the new textbooks aimed at impoverishing the population because they do not contribute to the development of skills among children, so that they can make it in life. Rather, they aim at saturating children with ideological prejudices. The same could be said of the institutions, starting with those dedicated to justice, where there has been a systematic attempt to degrade and subordinate them to the President.

Contradictions are present everywhere and reveal both the government’s objectives and the economic and political reality of the country. The economy has proven to be more complex, mature, and resilient than the government supposed, less susceptible to the President’s attacks. Its structural connection via exports with the US economy has given it enormous dynamism and thirty years of trade liberalization have translated into rising real incomes. In a word, the government is benefiting from the very actions and policies undertaken over the past three decades that it derides so much.

Contrarywise, the past five years have shown that the country faces a political challenge of enormous dimensions. The ease with which the President attacks and dismantles institutions proves that Mexican democracy is far too fragile, and that the citizenry still has not managed to impose itself to exercise its rights. What remains to be determined is whether the political frailty will end up undermining the economic strength.

A few months ago, the authoritarian Polish government approved a law aimed at purging the country of all Russian influence.  The use of Stalinist methods to eliminate Russian influence does not cease to be ironic. Not much different from what is happening in Mexico today.


Luis Rubio

Radicals -of any stripe- tend to perceive themselves as being the advance party of a society that shares their truth and desires a thoroughgoing transformation, right away. But that notion clashes with an obvious truth: most people want nothing other than to live normally: work, enjoy security, educate their children and have the best possible of lives. The notion of normality naturally recalls nostalgia for the “good times” of yesteryear but does not for that reason lack relevance for the majority of the population, thus entailing political consequences.

In plain words, how far can the elastic band be stretched in a society that, while preferring something better, remains unwilling to break with all that exists? Mexico -and, in many respects, the world- is undergoing a series of crises, maladjustments, and contradictions that are the product of the inevitable clashes between expectations and realities, promises and failures to honor them. The tensions caused by those disagreements are the natural ingredient for politics, which is additionally exacerbated in electoral times.

“The supposed crisis of politics, says Daniel Innerarity, is nothing more than a crisis of the modern apotheosis of the ideological certainties, their guarantee today more provisional than ever. I think that it corresponds to us at present to develop some novel inclinations to think up and carry out another politics, without heroism but more responsibly and democratically. Perhaps the normal is not the ideological confrontation under which our habitual political dispositions have been formed, and it may be that the current lack of ethics, mistrust of politics or the difficulties of governance constitute the new normality, outside of which there is nothing but nostalgia.”

Crisis or not, no one can doubt the growing complexity characterizing daily life, mollified in customary fashion by the political rhetoric emanating from the President and those parroting it. The sum of the changes in the way of working, the ups and downs in the demand for goods and services to which the population dedicates itself, the rises in prices and the uncontainable long-windedness emanating from politicians, influencers, YouTubers, aspirants to candidacies and of the urban hubbub create an environment of conflict and anxiety. If one adds to this the effervescence generated by the political processes of the nomination of candidates and later the campaigns, the notion of normality is in the end clearly nostalgic. The world we live in is one of constant clashes and misunderstandings.

The precandidates and their parties have good and bad ideas for dealing with the problems confronting the country, but instead of pushing for solutions, they devote themselves to mutually disqualifying each other because their mission, especially within the group in the government today, is not that of governing, but of perpetuating themselves in power. While the country requires a vision of development, the politicians offer a proposal of power. On discrediting the opponent as traitorous and antipatriotic (whether in the internal nomination process or, later, in the constitutionally mandated contest), the extremists triumph and the citizen and the country lose. What should be abnormal ends up being not only normal, but also systemic reality.

The internecine skirmishes that have poised the legislature against the Supreme Court are not more than manifestations of the confusion Mexico is living through, but also of the clash of two ways of perceiving the world and the citizenry. One believes that the legitimacy bestowed upon the Executive Branch through the citizen vote grants it full powers to command and impose its vision of the world; others see the system of separation of powers, which appeared since the First Constitution of 1824, as being there to avoid excesses and protect minorities. The presumption should be that both ways of understanding are legitimate, but the everyday events of recent times demonstrate that the differences are about irreconcilable perspectives. The question is whether Mexicans presently find themselves before an exception or facing the beginning of a new normality.

Mexico today is an assemblage of ferociously opposing forces, all these believers that they are the sole legitimate party, surely by divine right, face to face with the absolute illegitimacy of the others. For Lord Acton, that great scholar and power practitioner who coined the famous phrase that power corrupts, the great confrontation lies in that freedom calls for the separation of powers while absolutism requires its concentration. When the political offer is the disqualification of counterweights, freedom and, therefore, the opportunity for development, fade.

Innerarity concludes with “we must bid farewell to absolute consensus, irreconcilable differences, rigid counter positions between us and the others. We need projects that are not predetermined, which are not safe from criticism, nor are they irrefutable, and do not provide absolute securities nor complete protections.”

Mexico is in waiting, in transition toward a new stage. The unknown factor is whether this will be a new normal, a changing new reality within frames of reference compatible with development and peace, or whether, contrary to that, the last few years herald a process of permanent and systematic destruction. Not a small difference…




Luis Rubio

The brew is complicated in itself: an unsatisfied electorate, a culture hardly prone to reaching compromises and considering the rights of others, and a tradition devoted to dividing rather than adding up. The past years have displayed the best and the worst of Mexico’s primitive democratic culture and our scant disposition for venturing into the search for solutions. While the surveys show elevated popularity for presidents while in office (all except for one since the nineties were as popular or more so than the present one), the majority of votes since 1997 have been cast against the incumbent political party, especially governors and presidents. An unsatisfied electorate.

The Morena party and the alliance that the opposition has built share more traits than their members are disposed to admit. That is not strange, in that they respond to factors of culture and tradition that are equal across the board. Morena, as a movement, incorporated citizens of an extraordinary diversity of origin and essential features; the alliance of the opposition embodies historical contradictions due to antagonisms dating back to the thirties of the past century.   Forging accords and building lasting mechanisms, but above all efficient ones for the achievement of their objectives (presumably power) has not been simple.

Morena had achieved it because it is able to count on an exceptional factor of unity in the figure of the President, but, as the current internal contest illustrates, the factors that divide are always more powerful than those that unite. In the state of Coahuila, Morena was incapable of avoiding division and low blows among aspirants to the presidential candidacy are more prominent than their attributes.

The case of the alliance is equally revealing: although the opposition overall won more votes in 2021 than Morena, its success was due to a much greater degree to the disappointment and anger of a broad swath of the urban population than to the ability (and willingness) of the political parties to bring their structures to operate together and to assure that their capacity of mobilization would be maximized. The case of the state of Mexico is a proverbial example: there the candidate was nominated by one of the political parties in the alliance and the other members of the supposed alliance essentially abandoned ship.

The difference between the two coalitions (because that is what Morena is) is not as large as it appears. The opposition has been losing ground at the gubernatorial level because of Morena’s thrust with its leadership and its capacity of extortion, but now that Morena is the incumbent (in the presidency and in 23 governorships) it will no doubt begin to undergo the same phenomenon: an unsatisfied electorate.  This process will deepen to the extent that the factor of unity in Morena, the President, is relegated to that of second tier.

The point is that the political culture is not naturally compatible with democracy.  The country has over several decades dismantled the structures that made the one-party system function, but it has not advanced much in the construction of a new form of governing nor in the development of a citizenry capable of defending its rights and asserting its preferences. While Mexicans have experienced a severe democratic regression during these past few years, the permanence of the current clique in power will be brief, given that structures and scaffolds susceptible to providing continuity were not built. The concentration of power in a sole individual does not constitute an enduring alternative.

All of this suggests that the country is found on the threshold of a new political era, one more like that lived through during the political transition’s first era (the 2000’s) than to the more recent one. But with an enormous difference: the accumulated frustration of decades of unsatisfied promises, saviors who proved incapable of saving anything, and tensions caused by a style of government effective at generating loyalties but not for advancing the country’s development. A complicated brew that will exact outstanding political skills to start over… one more time.

But between today and the moment when that immense challenge must be dealt with, the process of succession will take place, one that shows signs of being not only competitive, but also potentially highly conflictive. The divisive factors will be prominent and the propensity toward conflict even more so. There will be manifested all the deficiencies of the country’s primitive democratic culture: the difficulty in accepting a defeat, the inability to join forces with whoever wins (in both the internal competition and in the constitutional election), and the indisposition for recognizing the merits of the others. On top of this lies the mindset of the clique around the president that believes that a coup is in the works.

The challenge for whomever turns out to be Morena’s nominee will consist of uniting the divergent support bases that sustained each of the contenders. Easy enough to say, but without the factor of unity, the President, this will be remarkably difficult. The challenge for the candidate arising from the opposition will reside in persuading the parties sustaining his or her candidacy to bringing their structures forth, as well as in forsaking the complex tradition of competition and antagonism amongst them, that is explained by history but that, to win, would of necessity have to be abandoned once and for all. Neither candidate will have it easy.

The great democratic advance of Mexico lies in that no one has a sure win: its great deficit lies in that many forces and interests persist that are dedicated to eradicating democracy as a form of government.