Daily Wrongs

Luis Rubio

I do not know, dear reader, whether things in our daily lives seem normal to you that are not normal: the problems that are not solved, the corners at which people are robbed, the floods that return, the traffic jams and all the “little” things that make life unnecessarily complex, which is already that, and then some. It surprises us that the population does its utmost to aid the needy in times of difficulty or crisis, but we are not surprised that things that should function fail. In reality, this is about two sides of the same coin: the citizenry alienates itself when it sees that nothing works as it should, but acts precisely because it knows that it can make a big difference at a given time. This is a problem of authority.

“Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary,“ wrote GK Chesterton a century ago. And they doubtlessly are: what should be ordinary emerges as extraordinary. Here are some examples of this in everyday life:

  • It never fails to surprise me that traffic jams transpire in the same places. In some places this is simply the insufficiency of the infrastructure, even when the latter is new and can only be fixed with huge, additional, investments. However, there is an infinity of places in Mexico City (CDMX) where traffic gets strangled because of the lack of authority: for example, at the beginning and end of schooldays, when parents believe it is their divine right to double- and triple-park and there is no authority at all to regulate or discipline them. The same is true in front of Metro or Metrobús stations, where taxis cue up and compete for passengers without it mattering how. The point is not to impede parents from dropping off or picking up their children from school or passengers from taking a taxi; the point is that the authority is there, or should be there, to ensure that the rights of all the citizenry are countenanced and respected. This is about day-to-day circumstances: known and predictable.
  • Something similar happens with the floods. We always are surprised that the rains leave large puddles in the same places time after time. That is, the governmental authority is privy to thorough knowledge of the sites where drainage does not work or is inexistent even with minor rainfalls, and does nothing.  They do not repair the streets, avoid flooding or attend to points that, commonly, frequently and repeatedly, hinder circulation. All of those points are well known in advance and the authority could clear them up without encountering many hurdles or costs; nonetheless, that does not come to pass.
  • It is frequent that in the social networks there are rumors that “there are muggers at such and such a corner.” That information spreads like wildfire; notwithstanding this, the muggings continue, as if they were an economic activity deserving of respect and protection. In the country all types of illegal activities are permitted, such as unregistered taxis which are “tolerated,” food stands, street vendors and all kinds of paraphernalia for sale by purveyors of goods and services. While formally illegal, they form part of the quotidian scenario and, at least, satisfy a need, because were this not so, they would not exist: that is to say, there is a demand for those services, which illustrates, presumably, why the authority lets them be. I would like to believe that the thieves do not enter into that category, but one never knows, given its devotion to political clienteles…
  • The pavement in the streets appears to be imported from war-time Vietnam: there they decided to repair the country after decades of war and we surely have imported the stray shards of pavement that they had left over, only in this manner can we decipher the streets of CDMX: the potholes, the larger holes, the ditches. The streets are not fixed or maintained, they are only repaired, patchwork style: all that is left before a sinkhole…

The common denominator is all this is the lack of authority, the absence of a government that complies with its raison d‘être, which is security and supplying services for the population. With local and regional differences (and some notable exceptions), there is no municipality or delegation in the nation that does not display abandonment, disinterest or disregard. All this leads one to question regarding the function of the authority, or rather: What does it do all day? The reality is that yes, it does work, spending long hours devoted to attending people’s demands, but not those of all citizens, only those of their “machines,” their “bases,” their clienteles. Therein lies the heart of our system of government: the coddled groups, the private profits (or rents, as economists call them), the seeking of power and its preservation at all costs.

Fukuyama affirms that in order for a government to be successful it should be capable of fulfilling basic functions such as security, the legal system and economic regulation, but sequence here is key: nations that  democratize prior to having built the capacity to govern effectively always fail because democracy exacerbates the quandaries, the privations and the challenges of the existing order, eating away at the capacity of the government to exercise its authority on its perceiving itself as submitted to too many contradictory demands. In Mexico’s case, the problem is not that the demands confront each other, but instead that they are concentrated on certain clienteles that often are not presentable, but are very powerful.