The numbers do not lie, but they tell two very different stories. On the one hand, the president enjoys an unprecedented level of approval; a parallel indicator, that of consumer confidence, reaches figures not seen in almost two decades. The paradox is that these figures are not related to consumption, which has been diminishing both in automobiles and sales in general. The enthusiasm shown by the citizens is not the result of an improvement in their personal welfare, but in their perception of the president and the expectations that he has generated. On the other hand, INEGI’s index of business confidence entered negative territory in January, while 75% of investors consider that the country is in worse condition than a year ago. The big question is whether these two groups of people live in the same country.
Each one will have his explanation for the phenomenon of contradictory perceptions, but I do not have the slightest doubt that the nodal factor lies in the leadership exercised by the President, who has acquired almost mythical dimensions in certain segments of society. The combination of a longing for leadership with a hope that current and ancestral problems will be resolved turned out to be an exceptional combination that the President has been able to take advantage of brilliantly. Perhaps the key that separates the two cohorts -those who are full of hope and those who see the future with concern, if not fear- is the almost religious bond that exists between a part of the first group with the President, just as the second group attempts to explain to itself, in a rational and analytical manner, something whose central characteristic is precisely that of not being based on rational considerations.
At the heart of the mismatch between the prosperity that has been experienced in the past three decades and the unease of half of the population that led to the election results of 2018 lies the inability and unwillingness of all governments of that period to explain and convince the population of the complexity inherent in a world of integrated economies, technological change, the digital dilemmas and, in general, the key in which productivity -and education- have become as a factors of progress. Faced with this absence, AMLO has managed to discredit all that era by calling everything “corrupt,” obviating the need to explain or propose an alternative program that is viable, capable of leading to high growth rates.
There will come a time when the discredit of the past will prove insufficient to preserve the legitimacy of the government, but nobody can deny the astuteness and excellence of the political and media management that AMLO has brought and how easy it has been precisely because of the vacuum of legitimacy that existed in the past decades, especially since the 1994 devaluation and the crisis that followed. In fact, what is shocking is that he did not have, nor is he having, any competition to the narrative that, since 2000, he has been advancing. This was accentuated after Ayotzinapa in which the current president took control of the narrative and never faced any response or push back from the then president or his government.
The two stories that characterize the country today are opposed, but inexorably they feed back: both end up depending on the progress of the country. Expectations can be manipulated for a long time, finding new scapegoats every time the car is stuck, but what counts, at the end of the day, is a sensitive improvement in living standards. Palliatives as the subsidies that the new government is scattering right and left diminish the urgency of delivering results but, in the long term, they will prove insufficient, simply because there is no money in the world to compensate for lack of delivery. However, as Fidel Castro showed, in the presence of plausible enemies it is possible to achieve a systematic impoverishment of an entire country for many decades.
For its part, the economy cannot prosper without investment and for that the willingness of companies and of new investors is required. In contrast to the era and geography of Fidel Castro, the Mexican is an open economy and the country is characterized by a huge border with the largest market in the world. The recipe for polarization has real limits.
The investment depends on very clear factors, such as the market, opportunities, the dynamism of Mexico against other economies, and how the US economy is doing, because, through exports, it is Mexico’s main engine of growth. No doubt, new infrastructure projects help, but they are not enough.
However, at the end of the day, the most important thing for investment is the confidence that the government generates towards national and foreign businessmen and this depends, almost in its entirety, on predictable and stable rules of the game. The latter is precisely what the President wants to alter: he wants to impose new rules of the game and subject them to changes determined by his political considerations. In this scenario, the investment will not materialize. Sooner or later, this factor will clash with the massive support that the president has today.