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.