Information, citizenship and public policy

                                                                                  by Luis Rubio


Mexico has never had a fully-fledged citizenry, at least not thus far in the waning XXth century.  Yet the possibility of citizenship will come closer than ever before at the dawn of the XXIrst.   Not because the PRI will change its ways, or some other party might reach power at the federal level.  The reason everything is bound to change is that information is becoming increasingly available to all Mexicans.  While this information might lead to the destruction of our country, as in a sense is happening in the former Soviet Union, it could also help us build a dynamic, democratic and highly prosperous country.  The outcome will depend essentially on our capacity to use information intelligently.

To build a country of and for its citizens is far more difficult than it might seem.  We Mexicans have been the object of all sorts of theories, systems and studies.  But we have never been citizens–that is, people with full political rights and a legal system able to afford us protection from the abuse of authority and promote the settlement of disputes among individuals, or between individuals and the state.  The political stability our country enjoyed for decades was at the expense of these citizens’ rights.  Whether this was an acceptable trade-off is a matter of personal judgment.  Did political stability make up for our lack of rights?

Different people will have different answers to this.  Two facts, however, are indisputable.  First of all, the political system organized around the PRI was a response to the nation’s post-revolutionary reality.  It reflected the lack of political institutions, the ubiquitousness of social and political conflict, and the failure of successive governments after 1910 to stabilize the country and generate a climate favorable to economic development.  Independently of the evils which accompanied the post-revolutionary political system, it responded to a genuine national reality.  In the second place, this political system–whether good or bad, effective or not–is now coming to an end.  No one knows how the process will play itself out, or how violent it will be, but very few can doubt that the political system dominated by the PRI is more a thing of the past than of the present or future.

The only doubt lies in how, not if, the political system will change–for the transformation is already underway.  Together with this process of political change, another one is taking shape–and it is far more profound.  Mexico is now in the grip of an information revolution like that which has already swept through several other countries, beginning with the former Soviet Union.  Information has become the key to productive activity.  It serves as a channel for ideas, products, the production and distribution of goods and services and, in many ways, for life itself.  Access to information is changing labor relations, productive relations and, obviously, political relations.  The latter will be the main focus of this essay.

The context of change.


The transformation underway in Mexico is part of a generalized revolution throughout the world.  The latter stems in part from the evolution of the global economy, new ways of producing and distributing goods and, especially, changes in the field of communications.  But perhaps the deepest change is taking place in the daily life of all Mexicans, who have gradually seen alterations in the way even the simplest things are done.  In 1987, the historian Paul Kennedy described in his controversial book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers a process similar to what is happening in Mexico today:  “. . . there exists a dynamic for change, driven chiefly by economic and technological developments, which then impact upon social structures, political systems, military power, and the position of individual states and empires.”[1][1]  In Kennedy’s view, the changes that take place in the world through time are not produced by individual decisions, but by social processes which end up transforming everything.

What is most striking about the change currently sweeping the world, and which Mexico cannot escape, is its speed.  In recent years, we Mexicans have been waging a futile war to determine the guilt or innocence of our current rulers in causing our latest crisis.  Over and beyond any specific errors or possible conspiracies to plunder or dominate the country, the fact is that we have spent more than a decade seeking a new philosopher’s stone, without any maps or blueprints to guide us.  Leonid Batkin, a historian from the former Soviet Union (a country which has undergone a similar process), once compared Gorbachov to an apocryphal old man who, it was said, flushed his toilet at the precise moment of the Tashkent earthquake in the mid-eighties.  As he escaped the ruins and observed the desolation wrought by the earthquake, the old man exclaimed, “If I had known this was going to happen, I would never have flushed the toilet.”[2][2]

This analogy is as unfair as a bad political joke–yet many Mexicans, like the Russians in Batkin’s tale, will recognize in it a deeper truth:  what has happened in Mexico is very different from what our last three governments either sought or intended.  None of our leaders, since Miguel de la Madrid, planned on lurching from crisis to crisis; nor did they deliberately bring about the debacle which has afflicted countless Mexican families and companies in recent years.  If anything, the economic reforms undertaken since the mid-eighties pursued very modest goals.  They attempted only to bolster Mexico’s traditional political structures, not to weaken or destroy them, while revitalizing the economy in order to renew the legitimacy of the government and the system as a whole.

One of the most logical reasons why a far-reaching political reform was never undertaken was precisely that the original, essential goal of the economic reforms was to maintain the status quo–not to change it.  The government assumed that, once the recession attributed to the excessive indebtedness left by Echeverría and López Portillo was corrected, the country would return to its old and familiar ways.  The authorities recognized that the world was changing, which was why the economy had to be reformed; but they never understood that economic transformation would necessarily lead to political changes, as well.  Thus, far beyond the personal leanings of each president, the fact is that none of them acknowledged political change as an indispensable and unavoidable element during this phase of world history–and especially not as an inescapable corollary to the economic reforms they themselves promoted.  Perhaps ironically, the stubbornness with which they refused to engage the country in a process of political change was one of the reasons why the economy finally foundered, with the consequences now known to all.

The situation in Mexico, since the economic reforms initiated in the mid-eighties, has proven very different indeed from what was originally intended.  No leader in his five senses would have planned the political and economic crisis which has overtaken the country.  But the government’s reactions have faithfully reflected the underlying problem.   Our last three presidents have at times presented themselves as champions of change and democracy, eminently flexible and ready to take the world by assault; at others, they have acted as worthy offspring of the authoritarian system they affected to transform.  In reality, the great problem facing economic reform in recent years is that it has confronted successive governments with forces they do not understand; which change at dizzying speed, and over which (perhaps most importantly) they have no control.  The governments of Mexico have devoted their energies to taming a beast they do not understand, using criteria and techniques derived from our idiosyncratic political system.  The results are there for all to see.

Not everything that has happened in the last decade is to be criticized.  Indeed, most of what was done was not only appropriate but resoundingly successful.  Perhaps the greatest difficulty in these years, that which has caused the most damage, lies in what was not done.  If one observes the changing structure of the economy, there is no doubt that these governments have succeeded in promoting the development of a highly efficient and productive export industry.  Despite its current problems, Mexico’s road network has more than doubled; telecommunications have given us all the tools we need, at the threshold of the 21st century, to make a huge leap forward.  The positive effects of the reforms in recent years are everywhere to be seen.  Yet we cannot help but observe, at the same time, that other part of Mexican society which has fallen behind; which has not been able to climb aboard the train of economic change; which has indeed been a victim, rather than a beneficiary, of change.  Of course, this was largely inevitable within a transformation as ambitious and misguided as the one we have experienced.  But much of the damage could have been avoided if we had had a government–or rather, a political system–more responsive, more responsible, and effectively obliged to serve the citizens of Mexico.

It is the Mexican political system, with its lack of representation, its lack of checks and balances, its impunity, which has caused our recurrent crises.  Recent governments have unquestionably had the technical and political competence to carry out their plans.  What they did not have was the obligation to consider the effects of their actions.  If they had been so obliged, they would have corrected many of their mistakes or excesses in due time, thus avoiding many of the crises which have befallen us.  The problem has not been (as many have stubbornly proclaimed) excessive liberalization, or its lack of fairness, or NAFTA, or the privatization process.  The problem, rather, is that all these innovations were imposed artificially upon a social and political structure which there was no attempt to change, thus sealing their fate.  In economic terms, the authorities took the path of least resistance, that offered by large companies which could act and react the most quickly.  In the political arena, they sought to maintain existing structures.  And in social terms, they tried to mitigate the worst extremes of poverty.  In no case, however, did they contemplate–nor have they contemplated–the need to transform those political structures which hamper the liberalization of the economy, block people’s access to social and political development and, in sum, inhibit the country’s development.  Without this political change, to pretend that we live within the rule of law is just another fantasy, along with all the others that have appeared and prospered since the notion of reform was first launched during the eighties.


The world before us.


Leaders and politicians can prepare Mexico for the change that is almost upon us, or they can leave us to face the coming storm without defense.  What they cannot do is keep it away, for the same reasons that they have not been able to tame the economy:  these are changes beyond their control or their power to influence.  What they can do, however, is to continue harming the population, and prevent us from preparing for–and using to our advantage–the changes that even now loom large upon the nation’s horizon.

The world is increasingly linked by electronic networks bearing data, news, information, words, ideas and opinions at the speed of sound, throughout the planet.  The information flowing through these networks can be good or bad, true or false, but it is increasingly available to a growing portion of the world’s population.  Information and its availability are changing the way the world functions, the relations between governments and those they govern, among different governments, businesses, and the government agencies meant to regulate them.  In the process, it has opened the door to a citizens’ development hardly seen since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution at the end of the XVIIIth century.

The information era might seem remote to a relatively poor country, with as many shortcomings as ours–a country in which the only part of the economy which seems to be successful is its export industry.  In fact, most if not all of that successful economy is a combination of industry (as we now know it) and information.  Factories produce according to plans, processes and controls established by computer networks; the goods they make go to markets in which distribution, payment and delivery are fully integrated and operated by computers.  In this sense, the information economy is just as real in Mexico as anywhere else in the world.  Indeed, it is enough to see how rural inhabitants in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca or Zacatecas use e-mail to communicate with their relatives “on the other side,” to realize that the information era has arrived in our country, to a far greater extent than many believe.

The mere fact of using e-mail or a computer seems but a slight technological advance.  This will change, however, sooner or later.  Revolutions occur when people realize that there is an alternative to the way they live.  This can happen in an instant or take a lifetime–but when it does, everything changes overnight.  Our government’s control of information, decades throughout, kept most Mexicans from having that perception of alternatives.  Today, however, access to information through the Internet, satellite television, radio and other means requires only the decision to use it.  Taken to its last consequences, this process is inevitably leading to an integration of political fields; the news generated in any one place soon will become news everywhere else.  Government’s ability to deceive citizens will be drastically reduced.  In this context, the options open to governments will be simplified:  either they give their populations the means to ensure that each individual is free and productive, or else they will condemn their countries to poverty.  Mexicans are no different from citizens anywhere else:  they recognize freedom as a universal value.  As they become more free thanks to the availability of information, they will compare their living standards to those of people elsewhere, and will demand that their rights be respected by local caciques and political bosses.  They will demand better conditions to work, to start a company and, in general terms, to lead their lives.  Ultimately, they will demand a change in the relations of power.


Power and information.


Control over information has always been one of the principal bulwarks of power.  Communications and the capacity to process information, two technologies now spreading through Mexico at the speed of sound, are changing the country’s political reality.  Before, information could be hoarded and hidden; now, the essence of the revolution implied by these technologies is precisely the opposite:  communications serve to decentralize power insofar as they decentralize knowledge and information.  It matters little whether this process involves the central bank’s hard-currency reserves, the location of mineral resources, or the way houses are built.  The fact is that the new technologies make all of this information available to whomever wants it.  When there are no more secrets, information ceases to be a source of power.

Needless to say, few governments or politicians relish the idea that information about their actions should be increasingly public.  In some areas, ordinary Mexicans now have just as much information as any government official.  For instance, since the chaos of late 1994, the government has posted all the figures for international reserves, other balance-of-payment and Banco de México data on the Internet, week by week.  This means that everything the government does is analyzed in detail by thousands of observers throughout Mexico and the world.  What the politicians say no longer counts; what matters now is what the market says.  This will also begin to happen in other areas, far less suited to the widespread broadcasting of information, such as debates within the government on its course of action at particular times.  What was once reserved to our local Kremlinologists is increasingly open to public debate.  There is no other explanation for the fact that weekly magazines such as Proceso, or dailies like Reforma, receive supposedly private documents revealing to all what is happening within the government.  Obviously, whoever transmits these documents to the media does so with a personal political agenda; this creates a problem because only part of the information is made available.  Yet this process is nonetheless extending our access to information:  at a time when the most costly and scarce commodity is government credibility, public opinion is increasingly the battlefield which must be conquered.  If one side publishes its own position or account of events, the other will do so as well, sooner or later.   And when this happens, the balance of power will begin shifting toward the citizenry.

Two hundred years ago, the steam engine helped revolutionize production throughout the world.  Today, anybody can produce industrial goods; the technology to do so is widely available.  Just as the steam engine was revolutionary when it first appeared, now it is the knowledge of commonly used technologies that can generate larger added value and thus greater wealth.  Insofar as the principal resource for development–knowledge–is no longer material, all the economic doctrines, social structures and political systems which were developed in a world designed to make things in fixed places, with large work forces and under easily controllable conditions, are now obsolete.  The age of information requires flexibility, creativity and freedom–qualities hardly compatible with rigid structures such as those usually associated with caciques, labor unions, political control and bureaucratic imposition.

The clearest example of a clash between these two world views and realities took place in the former Soviet Union.  An anecdote told by Gorbachev is extremely revealing.  When he was the right-hand man of Secretary-General Andropov, and thus a member of the Politburo with access to the system’s secrets, he asked his boss for information on Soviet military spending.  Not only did Andropov turn him down, he indignantly insulted Gorbachev, stating that he was too young to know such things.[3]  Control over information, even for the regime’s highest officials, was so excessive that it eventually doomed the entire nation.  A superpower like the USSR ended up depending on traditional industries such as gas, gold, petroleum and arms, which were losing their global value and pre-eminence relative to an increasingly valuable resource:  knowledge, in which the USSR had failed to invest time, effort or money due to its retrograde political prejudices.

The reason why the Soviet government did not invest in developing technologies based on knowledge is clear:  the free flow of information implies liberating not only data and statistics, but also people and money, books and newspapers; it multiplies the access to new ideas.  There can be nothing more subversive.  The post-revolutionary regime in Mexico finally recognized that it could not control information, despite the wishes of many politicians who were closer to the Soviet notion of democracy than to its European version.  The solution, which lasted successfully for decades, was to allow access to information only to those who could get it for themselves.  The authorities did not prohibit people from travelling or reading foreign magazines–they knew that only a tiny fraction of the population could do so.  Some analysts have blamed that fraction of the population for the exchange crises of 1976 and 1982, leading one former president to launch a (futile) campaign against “bad Mexicans.” [4]  In reality, those few Mexicans were the only ones with access to some semblance of information and a perception of alternatives; this is what led them to act as they did.  In other words, these were the first instances where citizens put limits on the government’s behavior.  All this has now changed, thanks to the advent of the information era.  Information is now accessible to whomever wants it, even in the most remote villages.  Sooner rather than later, that portion of the population able to limit government action will multiply like grains of sand in the sea.


The global economy in the age of information.


The wonderful thing about this era is that nobody can control it.  The world is rapidly heading into a time of greater economic integration, which will tend to undermine political control and even sovereignty.  More and more Mexicans will in effect be incorporated into the world economy, either directly or indirectly, competing to produce goods and services with their counterparts in Taiwan, Thailand or Brazil.  These Mexicans will be better able to choose between different options, and will impose a new logic on the work of government.  All governments–Mexican or not–will have to concentrate on attracting investment, savings, persons and companies with technology (whether Mexican or foreign), instead of pretending that they can merely direct them.

All of this is far more important than meets the eye.  It might seem obvious that a computer engineer should become a top-notch developer of software, able to compete with the best in the world.  But this also applies to any peasant, no matter how isolated.  Access to a telephone network, for instance, can allow peasants to find out current prices paid for their crops.  This means they will be on an equal footing with wholesale producers, as they will have access to the same information.  This in turn will sharply reduce the possibility of abuse on the part of local caciques, or their institutional equivalents such as Mexico’s state-run Conasupo retail chain.  Such was the case in Sri Lanka:  after telephone lines were installed in rural areas, peasants were able to increase their income by over fifty percent, thanks to their newfound access to information. [5] The liberation implicit in the age of information applies to everybody.

Those who participate fully in the information economy will be its greatest beneficiaries.  The growing international network will incorporate not only economic and professional interests; its members will also gradually acquire similar tastes, opinions and other commonalities, with obvious political implications for each of the countries involved.  It is being debated in many nations whether this will be a good thing or not.  One may argue on either side of the question; but the debate itself is futile and fallacious, as can be seen in Mexico today.  Clearly, those who participate in the information economy, seeking to generate added value at the production level, tend to have larger incomes and concomitant benefits.  Those who are not in the loop tend to lose ground, comparatively speaking.  But the alternative is not to enter the modern economy, or else concentrate on the old one, which includes most of the population.  Put in those terms, the choice is a false one–simply because the old economy has no future.  Based on low added value and products that nobody wants or needs, it will continue to lose its relative position and thus its capacity to employ and pay its workers.  Those who choose this alternative do so only in pursuit of political objectives, independently of the population’s real needs or the global situation.  To deny the modern economy is to close our eyes to our surroundings; to opt for a different scheme of things, nothing more than an illusion.  The only realistic solution is to do whatever is necessary and possible to transform current economic and political structures, so as to promote small- and medium-sized industries able to compete on an international scale.

Major public-policy decisions are required to modernize a backward economy, for this implies making basic changes in the political and economic status quo.  In the short term, that part of the population which is outside the information economy must receive direct assistance in the form of training programs.  Traditional occupations–ranging from cleaning jobs to highly manual industries–must be redesigned, in order to boost productivity and workers’ potential earnings.  Short-term solutions seek only to solve the population’s immediate problems, while making adjustments for those unprepared for the new economy.  But long-term solutions require more radical measures, both for today’s children (who need an education very different from that of their parents), and for adults both present and future who must be given access to the new world of production.

The model implicitly adopted by the Mexican government when it launched its economic reform in the mid-eighties involved backing the country’s largest companies, so they would spearhead the process of economic and industrial transformation.  That priority was perhaps reasonable at the time.  A radical shift was needed, to boost exports quickly and promote new industrial investment.  In retrospect, the success of the automobile sector, for example, which has generated a highly competitive parts industry on a global scale, suggests that the strategy was indeed appropriate within that context.  However, it was taken to an absurd extreme, promoting a savage concentration of property and wealth in the hands of privatized companies.  More importantly, the industrial structure designed by the government not only failed to support, but actively undermined the development of small and medium companies and their access to domestic and international markets.  The industrial model implicitly adopted by the government–then and now–thus excluded four fifths of the country’s businesses, while foreclosing any real possibility for new companies to lead the way into the future. The problem was never NAFTA or the liberalization of the economy, but the government’s insistence on creating a plutocracy instead of spreading the wealth among thousands or millions of entrepreneurs.


The dilemma of information and citizenship.


The implicit freedom of this new age raises new problems.  As a Russian once said, it is possible for a country’s entire population to know that it is being lied to without, however, knowing the truth.  Both the Soviet and the PRI systems were built upon a series of myths and beliefs which obscured reality and made it increasingly difficult to separate myth from reality, bias from analysis.  In this context, political manipulation is always possible.  The problem lies in breaking the underlying vicious cycle.  Greater access to information does not necessarily ensure the best, or even a better, use of that information.  Nobody can tell another person how to use information–but the tools for using it are essential to future development, and are thus a central concern of public policy.

Information access and control have been the object of countless discussions, books and novels.  Perhaps the best known, George Orwell’s 1984, argued that electronic technology would inevitably increase government’s power over citizens.  However the Soviet experience, upon which Orwell based his novel, eventually proved him wrong.  Access to information finally broke the chains that had bound dozens of nationalities, religions and countries to the former USSR.  Clearly, information can be an agent of liberation, promoting citizen development and setting limits on government.  But there is another side to the coin which we must also take into account, especially in Mexico.  The sudden availability of information subverted the totalitarian power of the Soviet government in large part because it allowed growing sectors of the population to perceive the realities of the regime, its violence and falsehood.  All of this destroyed the government’s legitimacy and made possible its subsequent fall.  Information turned out to be a potent weapon of destruction, which proved incapable of providing a substitute for the previous order of things.  Even worse, it helped release a renewed wave of chauvinism, extremism, radicalism and violence.  In this sense, the means of communication which promote the arrival and spread of information are only channels; the information itself is produced by the users of those means.

Much of the criticism aimed at magazines like Proceso and newspapers like Reforma by business leaders and virtually all government officials, in the sense that they distort information or behave irresponsibly, falls precisely under this heading.  On the one hand, the availability of information clearly alters the status quo by publicizing cases of abuse or corruption, thus affecting particular interests.  On the other, the sensationalism which always accompanies such revelations can also provide a cover for falsehoods, biases and prejudices, causing undue harm to individuals or companies.  This other side of information has important implications for two central issues which will surely dominate the country’s short-term political development or involution:  the actions of government, and the responsibilities of citizens.


Public policy:  can the government change?


The grand dream of central planning, which never did much more than make rhetorical waves in our reality while leading the authorities into costly para-state activities which no sane government would ever undertake, is still alive and well in our leaders’ thinking.  The mentality of the accountant who decided not to build a new bridge because the ferry still had room, continues to permeate government decisions.  Our leaders are still trying to pretend that the economy of the nineties is no different from that of the seventies, and that the principles valid then are still so now.  Clearly, some premises must remain unchanged in the structure of an economy.  However, the advent of the information economy has overthrown all the criteria and premises held by economists for almost two centuries, since the Industrial Revolution.  The realities of today demand alternative approaches and new priorities.

Current realities require a government determined to create the conditions for two (and only two) things to occur:  it must ensure that individuals–especially children, as well as poor and marginalized people–can acquire the basic skills needed to engage the modern world.  That is, all educational and training programs, all subsidies, all social and health-care spending, must aim at the development of healthy children and the incorporation of poor and marginalized sectors into the mainstream of society.  In addition, there must be an infrastructure allowing business activity to develop free of any government or bureaucratic interference.  This can be done by developing the physical infrastructure, either directly or indirectly, as well as an independent juridical and judiciary system that is not subject to continual intervention and reform by the executive.  This will also involve defining and protecting property rights and developing an effective financial system, where the central criterion will be owners’ capacity to promote business growth and not their nationality.  Anything else would be counter-productive.

The government faces an extraordinary dilemma.  If it does not liberalize the structure of public-policy decision-making, boost political decentralization and support the rapid spread of information, the country’s economic development will founder.  If it does effect these changes, it risks political challenges like those confronting the Chinese government–challenges which have no easy solution.  To pretend that this quandary does not exist, and continue feeding the illusion or expectation that we are making progress because our macro-economic indicators show significant improvement, is a sign of blindness rather than vision.  A blindness not unlike that of the Albanian regime, which believed that all was well simply because nothing was moving.

Mexico’s dilemma is somewhat different.  For years, the government has pretended to know better than the people what is best for them.  Its leadership style, the Finance Ministry’s advertising campaigns, the scorn heaped upon any alternative political proposal–no matter how well-founded–all reflect the peculiar vision of a government which, despite some differences, has for twenty years enforced a series of intelligent and benevolent policies that lacked, however, the essence of good governance:  legitimacy.  What the government needs to do is not necessarily modify its policies; it needs to include the population in them.  This means changing its priorities.  Instead of preaching the rule of law, only to violate it whenever its own interests are at stake, the government must submit to the law.  Instead of ignoring the population, the government must include it.  Instead of placing itself above all Mexicans, it must join them.  Democracy is the most complex form of government; but it is far more lasting than our autocracy, which breaks down every six years.


Will citizens be able to deal with it all?


Information benefits and liberates citizens, first and foremost.  It can be, for them above all, a powerful lever for development.  Information changes people’s capacity to organize, take action, and become acquainted with competitors, adversaries and friends.  In political terms, information generates a vast web of potential relations with non-governmental organizations, political parties, national and foreign agencies and international pressure groups.  All of this enhances the potential power of any interest group, and serves to multiply and strengthen the institutional power of any agency or association.  It is enough to see Sebastián Guillen (aka subcomandante Marcos) and the Zapatista National Liberation Army on the Internet to observe the implications of this.  Likewise, contacts and cross-fertilization among political, ecological, human-rights and other groups accelerate differentiation within society, thus reinforcing the mechanisms needed for political stability.  It matters little what collective or personal interests are involved; the fact is that the availability of information and links to other groups and interests throughout the country and world open opportunities and means for participation that were previously unthinkable.  But this development will not necessarily lead to stability or political evolution.

As citizens increasingly take the ball and run with it (as the saying goes), the problems they face will change in nature.  It is one thing for an individual to acquire the knowledge or skills needed to enter the labor market, for instance, and quite another for that person to become a responsible citizen who is able and willing to fight for his rights within the institutional framework which is at the very core of citizenship.  In other words, to take the example of the peasant in Sri Lanka who almost doubled his crop prices after gaining access to a telephone line, the availability of information can also work in the opposite direction:  an abused child can also use the Internet to build an atomic bomb.  The difference lies in how each individual uses information–and this is a matter of personal responsibility.

As is obvious to all parents, nobody can make another person responsible.  Nobody can force a child to be responsible.  The education of children, like that of citizens, consists–or should consist–precisely of creating the conditions so that future citizens can understand their rights and obligations while making them effective.  Government cannot oblige anybody to be responsible–but it can, in contrast, encourage irresponsibility among the population.  It can also provide the incentives for it to become responsible.  When it is easier to get an appointment with a government minister by organizing a street demonstration than by calling his secretary, the population will resort to demonstrations.  In this case, the government is actively promoting citizen irresponsibility:  though people might act rationally in strictly political terms, they are not acting as citizens.

The dilemma of citizenship is very clear:   if it is to exist at all, it must be responsible.  And in order to be responsible, it must allow citizens to make full use of their rights.  One of these rights is that government should not arbitrarily change the laws at its convenience, or impose its decisions over and above society.  The idea, conceptually speaking, is very simple.  The problem for Mexico is how to implement it.  This dilemma will become increasingly apparent in daily life over the next few years, for purely demographic reasons.  An indication of things to come is that twenty years ago the “hard-core” or reliable PRI vote represented an unquestionable majority on the federal level.  Now it represents less than forty percent of the electorate.  In the next decade, its share will fall to half of that, at the most.  Before that happens, the country will have to learn how to function without the PRI.  It will have to create a trustworthy and respected legal system, able to ensure a peaceful transfer of power from party to party.  This will be possible only if the PRIístas establish a legal structure able to guarantee that they themselves will not be persecuted arbitrarily.  Members of other parties will also have to recognize the institutionality of the structure, so they won’t have the political or legal capacity to change it.  When that happens, Mexico will finally become a lawful country.  Nobody in Mexico can believe that that is the situation today.  That is why, either we prepare for the onslaught of information and competition, which implies making a lawful country, or we will go down to defeat.



–translated by Marina Castañeda


[1][1]Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York:  Vintage Books, 1989), p. 438.

[1][2]Quoted by Scott Shane, in Dismantling Utopia (Chicago:  Elephant Paperback, 1994), p. 5.

    [1][3]Ibid., p. 45.

    [1][4]Which has not prevented our recent fiscal legislation from reviving the notion, at least implicitly.

    [1][5]Walter Wriston, The Twilight of Sovereignty (New York:  Scribners, 1992), p. 41.


    [1][1]Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York:  Vintage Books, 1989), p. 438.

    [2][2]Quoted by Scott Shane, in Dismantling Utopia (Chicago:  Elephant Paperback, 1994), p. 5.