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.