Category Archives: Uncategorized

Nostalgias

Luis Rubio

One way to summarize (inevitably simplifying) the last decades is the following: on the one hand, a struggle between two visions of developmentalism and, on the other, attempts to deal with their consequences. Both processes have been fruitless, but their main characteristic is that both approaches have meant looking back to the past. For at least two decades Mexico has been trying to return to a world that was not desirable but, more to the point, that is not possible. Nostalgia is not a good guide: what Mexico needs is to build a different future.

The developmentalist visions are obvious: in first place we find the current government with its grandiose development projects: highways, great and ambitious reforms, infrastructure and dreams of recreating an idyllic world. Emphasis is on the long term and on monumental objectives that, sooner or later, would lead to recognition of the grandeur of the government that promoted them. In second place is Andrés Manuel LópezObradorwith a similarly nostalgic vision but immediate in conception: his perspective embraces facing up to the challenges of the moment and managing the interest groups that are politically key; perhaps there is no better example of his thrust than the second-level beltway overpasses that he built when mayor of the former Federal District: major works that the governor bestowed upon the citizenry to enhance their comfort.

The common denominator is the magnanimous government acting with largesse for the good of the citizens without ever consulting them: the government is above all of those petty items, such as the populace, and its sole responsibility lies in magnificent works, infrastructure and actions that these should serve the citizens, and the government is not there to be questioned, to respond or to be accountable but to impose its own decisions. The two, the exiting PRIist and the Morena Party ex-PRIist, are much more alike than either imagines or recognizes.

The PAN has been quite distinct during its passage through the government: Fox straightforwardly lived out the end of the PRI era without bothering himself with the details of breaking with the pre-Columbian institutions that had sufficed for containing and keeping the population in check. Rather than dealing with the past and constructing new institutions or convoking the development of structures tailor-made for the XXI century (in contrast with those of the thirties of the past century that continue to be the essence of Mexican politics), Fox implemented the dead man’s float and that is how it went for him, and for the country. Calderón responded in the face of the old system’s consequences and Fox’s superficiality with a contention strategy against the criminal hordes, without ever taking upon himself the necessity of a new foundation for day-to-day security at the service of the people. A distinct vision, but likewise adhering fast to the rearview mirror.

Developmentalistic projects are not concerned with consequences because the government always knows better; the PANists do not worry about the consequences because they cling to what exists. Thus, none of them constructed government capacity for the future of the nation: none have engaged in governing in the sense of creating conditions of security, stability and credibility that would allow citizens to devote themselves to increasingly productive and relevant activities for their lives and, as a result, for the country. No one has advocated for the country of the future.

Governing does not comprise imposing preferences from above, but instead solving problems, generating conditions for the progress and prosperity of the people and, in a word, contributing to the citizens’ enjoyment of a better life. The function of those who govern is not composed (at least not fundamentally) of impressive public works, although there can be these, but instead in serving the citizens: winning them over, and their vote, by serving them. In other words, nearly the inverse of the rationale  typifying Mexican politics, which understands the citizen as an obstacle and the government as the solution to all problems.

How many of those who have been in charge of the government thought of curtailing the painful wait time -on occasion many months- for a person to receive medical care at the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS)? How many of our supposed governors have built infrastructure to drastically reduce commuting times in the country’s big cities, with today’s workers using up to five hours of their day for transport to and from their job every day? How many of our civil servants have sought to simplify the payment of taxes? How many of our politicians comprehend the day in, day out anguish produced in millions of parents by the absence of a reliable security system?

Governing of course includes reforms and works of infrastructure, but none of these is going to improve or solve public life if these are not conceived for and with the citizens. Today’s political system was engendered to stabilize the nation and to control the population, circumstances that were fitting for the country’s reality and that of the world one hundred years ago, in the post-revolutionary era. At present, practically one hundred million Mexicans later, that system has been totally outstripped and remedial gestures -such as the electoral one of recent decades- are no longer sufficient.

Mexico must build a new system of government, one that confers certainty and that obligates the elected leaders to govern and to serve the public. Without that, we will stay in the past, and worse in some scenarios.

 

www.cidac.org

@lrubiof

 

 

Connectivity for the Future

                                                                                                                                   Luis Rubio

 

Not too many decades ago, geography imposed limits in the capacity of the development of nations. Distances and lack of infrastructure determined whether poor countries would remain poor, with few possibilities of progressing. However, technological advances have transformed the planet on permitting it to escape from the “prison of geography”, as it is called by Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton: “Billions of people have joined the global marketplace by building connectivity despite ‘bad’ geography and institutions”*. Technology opens colossal opportunities because it permits access to new ideas, business practices and technologies to the most recondite spot of Earth. In spite of the opportunity, Mexico has not taken advantage of these more than marginally. Not everything is about elections or NAFTA.

According to Parag Khanna in his book Connectography, the future of the world will be determined by the supply chains that are established within and among nations. The capacity to bring products to markets and raw materials to production centers is what will determine the wealth of nations in the connectivity era. The key to success in these ambiences lies in connectivity and this is determined by the infrastructure and the adoption of technologies that permit connectivity.

It has always been known that infrastructure is crucial for development, but not just any infrastructure is relevant: only that which allows breaking with the limits of geography and poverty. “There is no worse corruption than the oppressive inefficiency of societies where the most basic mobility is hampered by nonexistent infrastructure. It’s like life without the wheel”. And Khanna goes on: “So desperate is their lack of physical and institutional foundations that we should seriously consider that the biggest problem with state building is the state itself… It is not foreordained that all states achieve territorial sovereignty and political stability. In many postcolonial regions, the supply chain world is taking root far more quickly than competent governance. Instead of taking today’s political geography as sacred, therefore we should get the functional geography right first, stabilizing and connecting urban areas inside and beyond their national boundaries to better align people, resources, and markets. This means that city building should be seen as the path to state building ─ not a by-product of it…”.

Khanna’s point is that infrastructure should be conceived as a means for promoting proximity among persons, resources and markets, so that this becomes a springboard to development. In this respect, it is critical that the infrastructure projects promoted serve to raise connectivity because resources are scarce and not all contribute to development. It is imperative, says the author, to understand the map of a country, of a region and of the world as an ensemble of productive hubs that, on linking directly, sanction the surmounting of the limitations of weak States and compass-less governments. From this viewpoint, there is no investment more important than that of the infrastructure that countenances that connectivity.

Instead of the empires of the past devoted to riding roughshod over great expanses of territory and wellsprings of resources, notes Khanna, the true dispute at present concerns the generation of value by means of connectivity as a means of accelerating the growth of economies. On studying China, the author asserts that that country does not have the intention of controlling vast regions of Africa and Asia (like previous empires did), but instead on acquiring access to their markets as fountainheads of resources or as destinations for their products. That is, the leading theme of the future is logistic in nature.

In that future world the companies are essential actors because they will be in charge of providing goods, resources and jobs; acting beyond their borders will recast the dynamic among businesses, governments and unions, which will demand novel forms of the rendering of accounts not only for the government but also for the enterprises. In fact, states Khanna, “As states come to depend more and more on corporations, the distinction between public and private, consumer and citizen, melts away. When the national citizenship provides little benefit, supply chain citizenship can matter much more”.

From this perspective, enticing supply chains constitutes the fastest way to raise the growth rate. But this is not only about attracting investment, but also chains of suppliers that feed them, so that employment opportunities and generation of wealth are broadened. As an additional benefit, the integral incorporation of the worldwide economy (something that in Mexico is only partial because a sizeable segment of the industrial plant continues to be -relatively- isolated from global trade), has become a vehicle for social transformation, of worker rights and, in general, of the rights of individuals.

“Connectivity is the platform for fuller societal development”. Even more so, “the opportunity to advance one’s own dignity through access to information -has become a fundamental right both for personal empowerment and for economic productivity…”. Connectivity has another benefit: as Deirdre McCloskey argues in her most recent book,** it is ideas and their dissemination that make development possible, ideas for electric motors and free elections, but above all the liberal ideals of equality, freedom and dignity for ordinary people.

It is not the capital or the institutions that made it possible for some nations to become wealthy, but rather the ideas that dignified the innovator and gave flight to his imagination. The supply chains would allow for the dissemination of all of what has been impossible for centuries in Mexico, including development and wealth.

 

*The Great Escape
** Bourgeois Equality

 

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof

Government vs. Elections

Luis Rubio

In the Odyssey, Ulysses returns home having learned to distinguish what is essential in life: to separate the sacred from the profane, as well as the existence of limits for the exercise of power. Ulysses had destroyed the sacred citadel of Troy to obtain food for his companions, a pragmatic calculation that entailed the desecration of what was worthy of respect. The experience teaches Ulysses that he must learn to be reverent before the sacred, a metaphor that Homer employs to explain the limit of things, the need for self-restraint.

Political debate in Mexico is critical and on occasion violent, but always amusing, above all because it reflects what is natural: the interests, but also the passions. What is peculiar about the debate is the personalization of the matters:  whether former President Calderon started a “war against drugs” or whether López Obrador had the 2006 election stolen from him. As Leonardo Curzio states, we have had more than two decades of alternation of parties in government in a multiplicity of states, municipalities and in the presidency of the nation, but the political fight on electoral issues pretends that the old PRI era remains untouched. Things change, the actors blend in, and the nature of the problems ends up being another, requiring responses that have to be distinct.

Our problem is one of government   –governance- and not of an electoral nature.  Of course, I have no doubt that the electoral processes could be and should be improved and advance to a stage in which practices in breach of the spirit of the law would be eradicated, thus finally reaching absolute legitimacy of the results. However, the fact that we have not made a clean break from these vices suggests that the problem we are facing is not found in the electoral ambit since it is evident that those who play the electoral games as if their lives depended on it are the very ones who make the rules and are willing to -in fact, are decided on- violating them as soon as the ink is dry on the government gazette.

Mexico has a nominally federalist government but it has in fact a centralist spirit. The phenomenon of the supreme boss (jefe maximo) or caudillo, installed in the presidential seat is reproduced at the state and municipal level. Formerly, with an asphyxiating centralism, the president served as a counterweight before the governors, restraining them from their worst excesses. Now, with a centralist system in ruins but that remains ubiquitous, we have kept all of the vices of centralism without its sole potential virtue, that which today characterizes China: being able to focus all of the resources on development, whether the population likes it or not.

Our federalism exists only on paper. There are no institutional structures to make it work, above all at the state and municipal level, where the old asphyxiating centralism survives, but dedicated nearly without exception to the enrichment of the current governor. Nonetheless, there are exceptions that are revealing: independently of whether the temporary governor becomes wealthy, there are states in which the realities of power –i.e. the existence of de facto checks and balances- make excess much more difficult. For example, it is not a coincidence that there are many fewer scandals of extravagant corruption in states such as Querétaro and Aguascalientes, where the presence of enormous foreign investments have become a factor of stability and systematic advance (in infrastructure, security, etc.) not present in more diversified states or in less successful states in attracting these investments. With this I do not wish to suggest that these states have a better system of government, only that there are real checks and counterweights and these alter the logic of the exercise of power. That is, the incentives of the governor are very clear and restrictive.

Just as presidents formerly “supervised” the governors and, frequently, removed them from their posts, today many governors follow suit with the municipal presidents.  The methods have changed in some cases, but the phenomenon remains the same:  the notion of the “single command” for security purposes is precisely that, the search for subordination with the pretext of insecurity.  What has not improved –nor changed- is the way of “governing.”

Government (and security) start from below. If we want to have a well governed country we will have to build a municipal government system that works and that begins with a property tax, because this is the way a link of checks and balances is established between the citizen who pays and the municipality that spends. From the bottom up: just the opposite of what exists today.

When the state of Michoacán “exploded” at the beginning of this presidential term, the government sent in the Army and the federal police to stabilize the place, at the same time deploying a government agent who devoted himself to purchasing the will of the people with neither rhyme nor reason, but also without success. It would have been much better to take advantage of the presence of the federal forces to build local capacity: new police officers, a proper tax system, a strong citizen counterweight and so forth.. In other words, build a new system of government.

There is no lack of opportunities, but the correct diagnosis continues to be absent, probably because that would change the balance of power that is, at the end of the day, our underlying problem.

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof

Bad Government by Consensus

Luis Rubio

Democracy was not invented to engender agreements or consensus but rather for precisely the opposite: to manage disagreements. For its part, politics is the space for the negotiation of distinct types of solutions to the affairs and problems of the society and, inevitably, it engenders winners and losers. The difference between democracy and politics is clear-cut and evident, but in Mexico it gets lost because the country has not resolved the legitimacy of access to power via the electoral route, at least by one party and its key political actor. If I win, it was democratic; if I lose it was fraud and, in both cases, I posit the political agenda. Any doubt about the main source of uncertainty regarding 2018?

Guillermo O’Donnell wrote that “the basic reason for the disenchantment of Latin-American citizens lies in having believed that the cornerstone of alternation of political parties in government was the dwelling place of democracy.” As simple as that: in Mexico we wagered on a series of electoral reforms as a means for transforming the system of government, a means incompatible with the objective that was being pursued; what was achieved throughout decades of reforms was the inclusion of political forces that were alienated from the traditional “system”, the central objective of the reforms, above all the first relevant one of these: that of 1977.  That is, we have had a half century of electoral reforms whose objective was access to power, not the construction of a new political order nor, much less, a new system of government.

In that duality one can perhaps observe the main challenge that the country faces today: the political reforms -from 1977 on- were conceived by and for the political parties themselves; no reform contemplated the society or the citizenry. The political, economic and security chaos characterizing the country at present derives from that plain and simple fact: the priority has been the political class that expands with each reform, but not the solution to the problems that the country is suffering through and that directly affect the citizens. There is no more patent example of this peculiarity than the Reform of 1996, in which the second and third political parties were incorporated into the system of privileges instead of creating an open, competitive system among the parties.

If one accepts that the principal problem today does not reside in access to power but in the functionality and quality of the government, the solution will not be found in the electoral processes (more reforms, second rounds etc.). Democracy serves to define who accedes to the government and, in a broader sense, what the procedures are for decision-making in the society; however, the entity devoted to the administration of decisions and compliance with essential functions that society demands from the government depends on the government itself and therein lies the weak link in the current Mexican reality.

Mexico’s system of government is a legacy dating back in time from the era of Porfirio Díaz and that, however well it might have worked then, it now possesses no capacity whatsoever for responding to the real world and the circumstances of the XXI Century. In that far gone time, the nation was small in population, very concentrated geographically and the economy was circumscribed unto itself, fundamentally, in primary activities. More importantly, the communications of today did not exist nor did the ubiquity and instantaneous availability of information and the power of the government -organized, centralized and totally focused- kept order in any way it wished. The simple life called for a simple educative system and, in its majority, biased toward the urban zones and the middle classes of the era.

Today, the country is enormous in population, its diversity and dispersion is extraordinary, (nearly) everyone has instant access to what is happening in the rest of the world and the income of a growing number of these persons comes from outside. Additionally, today’s economic success does not depend on the manual activity of persons but rather on their creativity in the most comprehensive sense of the term, which implies the need for an educative system of another nature.  The point is, pure and simple, that the system of government that we have may be of service in governing downtown Mexico City, but the reality in the rest of the country is ever more the absence of government. Worse yet, although there is no government, there are indeed governors who pillage and plunder.

When I was in university in Boston, Professor Elliot Aristotle Machiavelli Montesquieu Feldman proposed an enigma on the first day of class: in Boston’s aldermanic races of the day, the candidates were spending as much as a quarter of a million dollars to acquire a job that would pay them an annual salary of $15,000.  “Think about this, and let me know what you conclude.” The odd thing about the subsequent discussion was that while the Americans got lost in theoretically possible scenarios, none of the Latin Americans found anything strange about it. For them it was life as usual.

We do not have a shortage of problems, but none has the dimensions of the foremost deficiency of our days: absence of government. Nothing compares with that because we live in a system of extortion and institutionalized corruption, albeit, yes indeed, by consensus, but without the capacity or inclination to govern.

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof

 

The Future

 Luis Rubio

We Mexicans are peculiar, at least our governments are. We have been reforming for decades, but we avoid changing in order to convert the reforms into an implacable kick-starter toward development. The result is the mediocrity in which we find ourselves: reforms that are richly embossed but a daily reality for which a solution is not found; an educative system that is reformed time and time again but that in day-to-day practice continues the same as always and with worse results; an economy with enormous potential that does not translate into growth, attractive jobs or improvement in expectations; and, above all, a social setting deprived of hope rather than one imbued with optimism, anger instead of satisfaction and a million wasted opportunities. Our circumstance brings to mind that famous quote from Kolakowski on boarding a streetcar: “Please step forward to the rear.”

This has been possible for one very simple reason: Mexico has for decades counted on two instruments that have permitted things to plod along at the minimum, without creating a social or economic crisis, while preserving the political status quo and the privileges accompanying it. These two instruments -migration to the U.S. and NAFTA- will no longer solve the problem in the future and that leaves us only one way out: get on with the task that has been obvious for years, but that no one has wanted to tackle and that is none other than to raise the levels of productivity, the sole manner existing to elevate standards of living. The way out does not lie in more of the same or in returning to what did not work in the past but that continues to generate such nostalgia.

Instead of a serious discussion on the measures necessary for taking that step forward, we have two contrasting discourses. On the governmental side, all the rhetoric from 2012 forward has been concentrated on the “great” reforms that would be implemented by themselves and with which Mexico would enter into the ineffable Nirvana. But it is precisely in the implementation that things got bogged down, diminishing the reforms’ potential benefits. For ALMO, the proposal is for Mexico to concentrate on the internal market, create well compensated means of livelihood and return to an economic ambit with protections from the outside, favoring the producers. Both visions have their foundation, but neither is adequate.

The country requires a strategy of development that must begin by engendering conditions for it to be possible. Having many reforms is not worth anything if there are not suitable condictions for these to advance and the promotion of the internal market is worth nothing if it does not raise productivity. That is, there is no contradiction between reforming and promoting the internal market: the contradiction resides in the pretension of being able to impose development without producing the conditions for this to be possible.  Reforms -of Peña or of AMLO- are mere tools; without a strategy to articulate them, development is impossible. And, of course, any plan of action for development should take into account the domestic market as well as the globalization of production; two faces of the same coin, both necessary for raising life levels.

The two mainstays of the status quo of recent decades, migration and NAFTA, will not be viable in the future. Migration has changed because demand for labor in the U.S. has decreased, but also because the demographic curve in Mexico has been transformed; in addition, the growing difficulties involved in crossing the border certainly discourage migration. For its part, the reality is that the transcendence of NAFTA has declined radically: with Trump the notion disappeared that it is untouchable and this has caused investment to collapse.

Without investment, the economy is not going to grow no matter how many reforms are forged or how much the internal market is emphasized. The only thing left as a possibility is the creation of conditions that make development possible and that is nothing other than raising productivity. How can that be done? Productivity is the result of the best use of human and technological resources and that requires an educative system that allows for the developing of knowledge, skills, and capacities for the productive process; that is to say, it requires that education stop being at the service of the political control that the unions exercise for their own benefit and to concentrate itself on the development of persons to prepare them for a productive and successful life. It is the same case for infrastructure, communications, the treatment that the bureaucracy affords the citizenry and, naturally, the judiciary. The point is that development does not just happen nor can it be ordained by decree: it is the result of the existence of a climate that renders it possible to raise productivity aloft and everything should be dedicated to it.

Our system of government has made development impossible because everything is designed so that the control of key processes that breed power and privilege is in the hands of a few, as is the case of education. Inasmuch as that does not change, the economy will continue to stagnate, whether or not the project is the one of the grand reforms or of the internal market. It’s all the same. What has changed is the environment: the subterfuges that made it possible avoiding proactive actions have vanished from sight; we better do the job or stay stuck. “The best way to predict the future, says Peter Drucker, is to create it.”

www.cidac.org

@lrubiof

 

That’s No Joke

Luis Rubio

The old Soviet Union and Mexico had a distinctive element in common: jokes. There are books of Soviet jokes that were also told in Mexico: both societies were reflected at a distance with respect to the authorities and the contempt that the latter lavished on the population. Faced with the lack of access, the population jested, generally with bitterness and cynicism. Things have changed, but less than one would think. Ridiculing the politicians and their actions is no longer news because not a day goes by that opportunities are not generated and the social networks have become a perfect medium for the expression of the citizenry. But the jokes do not contribute to solving the problems of the country just when these are accruing and they are coupled with the process of succession, the most sensitive moment of any political system.

Jokes lessen tensions and allow for the channeling of the discontent toward a dimension of political stability so that both violent and totalitarian governments such as that of the USSR as well as that of the bland Mexican version of authoritarianism understood it as such and they used it to their benefit. The extreme was a governor of the state of Coahuila in the seventies who, wanting to know what the population was thinking, disguised himself as an ordinary citizen and ended up in jail after a bout of fisticuffs in a bar… Keeping a finger on the pulse of the population is a key function in the art of governing; however it is nonetheless no substitute for governing, but that has become, unfortunately, the reality of the country in recent decades: the citizens scoffed at the politicians and these scoffed at the citizens, nothing nor no one built the future that, one would suppose, is the main responsibility of those in government.

In the midst of jokes and memes, we are drawing near the succession process without any certainty about what is in store for Mexicans. A glance at the political panorama reveals, in the traditional phrase, slim pickings but, different from the past, a crisis of the political parties that does not augur well. One should at least ask oneself, in a world in which the old instruments and criteria for predicting elections have ceased being pertinent, why should Mexicans be distinct? That is, in the same way that the results in Nuevo León and of the other seven states were not predicted correctly in 2016, what makes one think that it will be distinct in 2018: what makes us think that we are not advancing toward a political crisis?

On the one hand we find the citizens and their voting rationales; on the other, the parties are no longer the appurtenant reference for a good part of the citizenry due to their aloofness, indolence and corruption. On the other hand, the PRI is living through fateful days: it may have won two of the three recent electoral bouts, but the derision is unending; certainly, I suppose, the PRIists will think that it is better to win by losing rather than losing by losing, but this is no consolation for the party that has the greatest responsibility for the permanent crisis that the country is currently undergoing. The PRI has no lack of competent potential leaders, but it has for years devoted itself to not governing, which is, from my perspective, Mexico’s true challenge: governing with sights on the future.

The PAN, on its part, is not doing any better: its internal divisions are legendary, its incapacity for governing patent and its contradictions –derived from the clash between their surmised moral principles and their pettiness when (un)organizing themselves- incorrigible. Today there are three ambitious precandidates dedicated to ensuring that the other does not make it: in their unmistakable ritual, they would rather finish off the party than support a credible alternative.

The PRD confronts a dilemma of a party that cannot win by itself but that cannot afford itself the luxury of entering into an alliance that would make it disappear from the map. Morena is the new political force of the Left that survives by being the victim instead of attempting to govern. Like the PRI, although for distinct reasons, it avails itself of the status quo and prefers to remain there.

The tangible fact is that no one worries about creating a better system of government so that the country can grow and prosper. Engulfed in a useless discussion on the permanence of this or that social or economic policy, we have lost sight of that what is important is not only who enters the government (or even how) but instead what they get there for; precisely what matters to 99% of the citizenry. Worse yet, the electoral processes no longer even generate legitimacy. Under these conditions, it is not inconceivable that the citizens would opt for decisions that the parties would consider heretical.

For me there is no doubt that our great deficit is one of government more than one of democracy, not because the latter functions like clockwork, but because democracy is solely a method for making decisions, but these do indeed have to be made; insofar as Mexican democracy commits itself exclusively to changing authorities but does not have the capacity to oblige them to govern –that is, for them to guarantee security, pave the streets, do not abuse the citizens- the citizen will end up losing. That is why the jokes are increasingly bitterer, uncouth and direct; with the lack of government, everything is a caricature: what is important has vanished without a trace and that’s no joke.

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof

The Return

Luis Rubio

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he changed the history of Rome. That step, says Lawrence Alexander, implied “that a decision was made. That there was no turning back. It also meant that the Republic was finished, that whatever forms were kept, the new reality was that Rome was now going to be ruled by one man.” As at that moment, Mexico entered into a new era in 2012 and it is not impossible for the circle to close in 2018: consolidating the way toward the PRI of yesteryear that Enrique Peña Nieto as well as Andrés Manuel López Obrador represent.

The similarities are many more than is apparent: for whoever recalls the notion of the pendulum in the era of the “old regime” of Mexican politics, the presidential successions, it was said, tended to vacillate from Right to Left, and vice versa, depending on the coalition that backed the successful candidate. EPN is the heir to the body of followers that, from Miguel Alemán up to Carlos Hank González, commandeered the most moderate economic positions and, within the canons of the epoch, liberalizing. For his part, AMLO is the scion of the other tradition, that headed by Lázaro Cárdenas, Luis Echeverría and José López Portillo, who procured a preponderant role for the government in the development of the country. Although the politico-ideological differences were much less extreme than they are today, the impact of those shifts on daily life and on the functioning of the economy was enormous. That old PRI –with all of its characteristics, while not all its practices- returned five years ago and could consolidate itself into becoming the new national reality. Were this so, as with the immortal alea jacta est of Caesar –the die is cast- we could return to a time past from which there would be no going back.

With these statements I do not wish to minimize the differences between the Left and Right of the hard PRI age, or to argue that the economic policy of today is similar to that of the 1960s but, instead, to highlight the likenesses. Both currents conceive of the government as the heart of domestic life, thus they propose centralization of power, control of the population and the factors of production, although with very distinct objectives and rationales. President Peña, moored to a XX century political vision, promoted, with great pragmatism, some of the most transcendent reforms for the XXI century. AMLO proposes to reconstruct an economic platform of the XX century: founded on the internal market, fueled by subsidies and public expenditure from the government and protective of the production factors from external competition.

The point of departure of the old system, to which both subscribe, is the call to create sources and engines of internal growth following a logic of power that feeds off the dissatisfaction of recent times as well as the nostalgia. Evidently, economic growth is necessary, but none will be possible, from an ahistorical post-Revolutionary-era vision. The old system did not collapse because of the will of a person or a group, but rather due to its effeteness and lack of viability in an era of the knowledge economy, integrated production of supply chains and the ubiquity of information. The centralization to which the present government aspired served for the purpose of corruption but not for confronting the structural challenges the country finds itself faced with.

Nor would it go better for AMLO were he to win the presidency. His project is emotional and sentimental poetry but not a strategy of development. To begin with, he underestimates the degree of popular support for the economic liberalization (the beneficiaries of imported goods and of competition with national producers are not few in number) and the deep-seated presence of the middle class in rural zones, all the product of the remittances from abroad. In second place, the domestic industry that would presumably become the hub of the intended “national regeneration” does not entertain any capacity of sustaining accelerated growth: an industry that is barely surviving at death’s door and that does not produce the goods demanded by the domestic consumer or required by the most advanced industrial sectors, which grow fastest, cannot be revived. It is, in a word, a fallacy to suppose that a nation can retrench and, by that means, revitalize its economy. Once liberalized, there’s no going back: the alternative is inexistent. More to the point, once liberalized, the die is cast. The economic liberalization that took place in the eighties was to save industry, not kill it. That difference is incomprehensible from the perspective of the PRIist vision of the fifties or, more to the point, the seventies.

The problem with the AMLO project does not lie in its ideological thrust or in its objective of development, but in its incompatibility with today’s Mexico, not to mention with the world in general. It is evident that there are many things lagging behind and many people who have been left behind which deserve to be and should be seen to, but the solution does not reside in pushing back the entire country, but, rather, in creating create conditions and the opportunity for all to join the development in integral fashion.

The members of PRI that will be gathering next week should face this challenge head on, looking towards the future and abandoning that which cannot -and should not- be.

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof

 

 

Our Democracy

Luis Rubio

Mexican democracy is in problems: for some, it is the cause of the rise in criminality; for others, it has permitted the decentralization of power that, in turn, gave free rein to the governors to waste resources, incur in all types of acts of corruption and thrive in impunity; for the majority, democracy has not brought with it a better system of government, a more successful economy or a more egalitarian society. According to these diagnoses, the solution -implicit, because (nearly) nobody dares to be so politically incorrect as to propose it openly- rests in the reconstruction of the old political system or something similar.  That is precisely what Morena wants and what many members of PRI will seek at their coming convention.

The debate on the validity and viability of democracy is universal. The electoral “surprises” of recent times speak for themselves: the decision of British voters to withdraw from the European Union (the so-called “Brexit”); the election of Donald Trump; the electoral strength of Marine Le Pen in France; the referendum to grant virtually unlimited powers to the President of Turkey; and the envy that the capacity of the Chinese government to impose decisions and reforms generates in vast political and intellectual circles. All these are nothing other than examples of the pummeling that democracy is the object of throughout the world.

The wrangling between the critics of democracy and its defenders and proponents is burgeoning and sharp, not to say violent. Many attribute the resurgence of populism to the defects of democracy, others to its excesses. In the political revolts that lie behind Brexit and Trump the perception, and the anger, is noteworthy that democracy has become dismembered because voters no longer have the capacity to influence -or decide about- things that affect them: this is the same whether it concerns a distant regulatory body that oversees what can be imported or exported or a supranational entity that exacts standards that are different from those favored by the local community. In a word, some criticize democracy because of the problems that it (supposedly) engenders, while others bemoan the erosion of it. There is no unique pattern.

The complexity of the moment through which we are living -elections, insecurity, corruption, the absence of leadership and a lengthy etcetera- accentuates the perception that this is an exceptional and exclusive phenomenon of our era. However, more than two thousand years ago, Plato argued that tyranny can emerge from a mature democracy on employing the mechanisms of democracy itself, while Thucydides stated that Athens was “in theory a democracy, but in fact ruled by the foremost individual.” Then, as now, some deplored the limits of democracy while others viewed it as the grounds for extant quandaries. Little has changed over these millennia.

Whatever the reason for the unease and disfunctionality discerned from all quarters, the result is a revolution in expectations, perceptions and electoral behavior. The gap between the polls and the outcomes of diverse ballot boxes worldwide -on occasion dramatic- suggest that the population in innumerable nations happens upon no answer in the existing democratic forms, whether these are relatively new as in Mexico or ancestral as in the Athens of old.

Nor is there consensus concerning the nature of the problem: for some, those who attempt to justify the ascent of populism, the issue is the fault of the politicians, who do not know how to lead, who decide according to their own interests and who have alienated the populace. For those for whom the subject of dispute stems from democracy itself, the blame is placed on the technocrats, who ordain their own predilections above the electors’ prerogatives: something especially disparaged about the European bureaucracy in Brussels, but also by NAFTA dispute-settlement panels. There are also those who assert that the issue at heart is the product of the self-same representative democracy in that, on the voters’ transferring their jurisdiction to the popular representatives (congressional members and senators), politicians have become insulated and do not feel obligated to the voters. This comprises a triangle in which each vertex entertains greater or lesser incidence in each country, in accord with the local circumstances. What is universal is the notion that democracy does not satisfy, which frequently generates strange and surprising outcomes.

Is democracy to blame? Above all, the question entails at least two assumptions: first, that there exists a sole democratic form and structure; and, second that democracy is thoroughlyfunctional. All we Mexicans know that our democracy embodies enormous flaws, but the main fault, to my way of thinking, is a very simple one: we have adopted some democratic configurations (such as electoral competition), but we have not embraced democracy as a system of government. Our problem is not democracy but rather the persistence of the authoritarian system of yesteryear, but now without its time-honored muscle or capacity of action. The point at issue is very straightforward: as the current government has proven, returning to the past is not possible. The alternative is to be resolute in aimlessness or build a new political structure.

 

 

www.cidac.org

@lrubiof

 

The Little Things

Luis Rubio

The first vacation I remember was at the then new Oaxtepec Center of the Mexican Social Security Institute, a paradise in the state of Morelos that had just been inaugurated by the outgoing President of Mexico. There was a block of rooms for guests where we stayed and practically all of the rest of the center was still under construction or semi-abandoned. Notwithstanding this, at the entrance there was an enormous plaque commemorating the inauguration that, surely, had been only one of many Pharaonic acts that are a fixation of our political class: what is important is not the result but the intention. That malady can be appreciated in everything around us, for example, the preference for “great” reforms instead of solutions to little problems that, oftentimes, are more important and transcendent, albeit accompanied by less bogus applause.

Of course, epic reforms that can transform sectors, activities and lives are necessary for creating new conditions for the functioning of the economy, the development of society or the adoption of novel ways to solve problems. A country with such timeworn forms, structures and institutions (that were never designed to be adaptable or for transformation and development but for control and pillage) evidently requires many reforms of the most diverse nature. However, although some of the reforms of the last decades have produced great benefits, many have got stuck due to the haste with which they were conceived –and the purchasing of votes in the Legislative Branch-, which limit their capacity to delivering their entire potential. Above all, because of the manner of advancing the reforms, they tend to alienate rather than connect with the population.

Perhaps the weightiest of the absences in the reform processes has been the lack of social agreement with respect to their goodness or, even, the need for the latter. The reforms are evidently necessary, but what matters is not hanging an engraved nameplate (in the figurative sense) of the reform but that the reform gets underway and benefits the citizenry. There are countries, like India, where the negotiating process is arduous and complex because it involves all kinds of parties, groups and interests, but once a settlement is reached, the obstacles have been removed. Contrariwise, in China reforms are implemented from the seat of power. What is interesting here is that, beyond the method, in both nations reforms have been achieved that not only benefit the population, but have met with its approval. Our case has been very distinct.

Mexico has made many reforms, some ambitious and profound but, only exceptionally, has there has been the least attempt to join with the population or convince it of their potential benefits, even in the long term. The boons of many of those reforms are evident in the lower real prices (after inflation) of innumerable products, in the increased availability of high-quality goods and in general, in better life levels for the lower-income population.  However, in contrast with China and India, in Mexico pessimism and malaise abound.

My impression is that the differences lies in a very concrete factor: in addition to great reforms and with multidimensional impact, in those nations there has been the understanding that it is necessary to tend to matters that appear little but that are the ones that afflict the population day to day and that have permitted perceptions to improve swiftly. For a homemaker it can be difficult to perceive that the shoes that her children wear cost less in constant pesos, because in current pesos they cost more.   However, her perception would change radically if suddenly, a person had access to an IMSS (social security) physician in less than thirty minutes, instead of having to wait hours, and sometimes months, to be treated. Something similar could be said about public transportation: on any given morning one can observe the torrents of people arriving from places like Chalco or Ecatepec to work in Mexico City, a process to which they devote up to three and four hours every day. Resolving these problems that the population suffers through may seem like something minor, but it is much more important for the ordinary person than the “great” reforms.

How long have we been discussing public insecurity without having defined the character of the problem? Rather than recognizing the momentousness of the problem and identifying its causes, politicians strive for solutions –such as the single chain of command- that they do not recognize such simple causes, for example, as the hugely rampant corruption in the State Police. That is, instead of understanding the extraordinary and disruptive impact of insecurity on families and the daily lives of the population and the urgency of seeing to the phenomenon, those who pretend that they are “governing” seek control of municipal presidents and the population in general.

The point is that solutions are required for improving everyday life and that is much more important, and often many times over, than all the extremely consequential reforms put together. Of course, one is not a substitute for the other, but the absence of those little things helps to explain in great measure the reason that the current government is so unpopular: the worst is not only the absence of solutions, but the lofty contempt from on high.

 

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof

 

 

Citizenry vs. Status Quo

Luis Rubio

We Mexicans have witnessed a myriad of reforms in all orders and many of these have transformed the country, in the economic as well as in political ambit; this has created opportunities for transcending toward the development, that were inconceivable in the seventies and the beginning of the eighties when the old world collapsed and the viability of the economy as well as that of the post-revolutionary system had clearly given its all. What the reforms did not solve, nor did they even propose to address, was the constitution of a new system of government, coherent with the consequences which the very reform processes brought about with them.

That is, on modifying the bases of decision making in economic matters (above all with the liberalization of imports and investments) and of the manner of access to the power (with the electoral reforms), the political reality of the country was altered -the very entrails of the power- but nothing was done to institutionalize those new realities and power sources. Even less was done to modernize the system of government that, in its essence, was created at the end of the 19th century, under Porfirio Díaz. So many and such profound reforms have not changed a fundamental thing: the power structure.

The political parties and the political class have done a juggling act and played musical chairs, but the same have ended up continuing to bask in the system of privileges. The way of acceding power has been reformed but not who accedes to it; that is, these have been reforms for the benefit of the political parties and the political class: the citizenry has been absent from the scene and their problems and demands, although known in these ambits, are not recognized as valid or relevant. Yes, there is prodigious insecurity and violence, but what can we do; yes, there is rampant corruption, but it is something cultural; the infrastructure is of the worst kind, yes, but we are attempting to find a competent contractor to address it.

After decades of reform, it is unmistakable that a reform to make the country functional and viable will not derive from those who do not want that reform. If it is not going to come from there, could it come from the society?

In a recent investigation on this phenomenon, I applied myself to the study of what the society has been doing while the politicians pretend they are governing. What I found is an immense social effervescence: a society that is no longer willing to wait, essentially because it has no choice but to deal with the insecurity that is its reality.

The Mexican society has appropriated an uncustomary militancy over the last decades. All types of civil organizations have come into being, accusations are presented, manifestos proliferate and discontent grows. There are organizations that propose solutions, others that evaluate the government; some denounce corruption, others engage in combating delinquency and criminality. Some of these entities are the product of specific circumstances or events –an abduction, a murder, the construction of a new airport-, others respond to more general concerns. Some seek immediate impact, other a long-term one.  Many of these organizations are not visible, other are permanent protagonists. There is some of everything in the public arena.

Much more transcendent, and revealing, is the manner in which innumerable communities, in all nooks and crannies of the country, have organized themselves to attend to their most basic needs, the needs that, in a serious nation, would have been seen to by the government. There are extraordinary examples of communities that, as in Cheran, Michoacán, have taken the initiative, above all in matters of violence and criminality, and have taken it upon themselves to safeguard their localities and convert them into territory where the entry of bands of criminals is not permitted. In Santiago Ixcuintla, the story is distinct, but the result is similar: in this municipality in the state of Nayarit there has not been a sole abduction in more than six years. In Monterrey, Sister Consuelo Morales of the CADHAC human rights league has achieved the adoption by the Attorney’s Office of a model for more efficient work by the public prosecutors; in the states of Veracruz and Morelos (Tetelcingo) the families of missing persons have come together as groups, have trained themselves in forensics (women who have become experts in DNA and forensic samples) and in the search for clandestine grave sites. In some cases, the authorities have accompanied them in their efforts. These are mere examples of the thousands of stories that proliferate throughout the entire country: years of violence and criminality have forced the population to stop hoping that the government will respond and they have organized themselves to attend to their community needs.

It’s impossible to conclude from these few examples that the country is at the brink of a grand scale transformation. The obstacles for such a feat are immense and the capacity to organize and mobilize is obviously limited; however, nothing impedes that, little by little elements or organizations will arise that catalyze these initiatives and change the political reality of the country. This plainly offers obvious opportunities to the traditional mountebanks, but also to social organizations with a national presence.

What is beyond question to me is that the country will change when individuals and organizations of very distinct origins join together despite their differences and, then, take the step that the old system persisted for decades in rendering impossible.

 

www.cidac.org
@lrubiof