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.”