If Not Progress, What?

Luis Rubio

At the beginning of this century, Russia found itself at a crossroads. The end of the Cold War had opened limitless opportunities, but its process of transition -from an economy that was controlled, centralized and one without private property to a market economy- had been disastrous. Instead of spreading the property among millions of families and potential entrepreneurs, the enormous Soviet industries had been overtaken by a group of plutocrats who sold off the public resources, beginning with the oil, as if they were theirs. By 1998 the contradictions of the privatization and adjustment process had become uncontrollable, giving rise to one of those financial crises that Mexicans have long known. The backlash led to power the individual who to the present day continues to be the acknowledged ruler, Vladimir Putin, who, with prodigious skill, concentrated the power once again and submitted the so-called oligarchs.

Armed with a new plan and with centralized control, Putin reorganized the economy and reestablished economic stability, gaining with this the support of the public. Great changes, ideas and projects followed to reactivate the economy and transform the productive base, attempting to move it away from its (nearly) sole source of wealth, the oil.

Years later, Viktor Chernomyrdin, once Putin’s Prime Minister, aphoristically encapsulated the country’s often tragic past by saying, “We hoped for the best, yet things turned out as usual.” Will the “fourth transformation” end up the same?

The point of departure for the AMLO government is that everything done from the eighties until now was bad. Everything is corrupt, nothing works and those who led to this are traitors. The names vary, but the tonality is the same: the country was better when it was worse. A placard outside a restaurant summed it up impeccably and relentlessly: “We are worse, but we are better because before we were well, but it was a lie; not like now that we are bad, but it is true.”

The grand plan of the government is easy to discern: concentrate the power, go back on all the reforms –as much as possible- which advanced from 1982 on and, with this recreate the nirvana that existed in the seventies so that, perhaps, the President can be reelected. It is not a complicated plan, although the political management with which it is conducted makes it look so. The objective is clear and moves ahead step by step. The tactics are modified along the way, but the core project goes ahead.

What is relevant is that an extensive portion of the population is convinced that the project is worthwhile and that the President is heading it up without conflicts of interest and without looking back. That the economy is going downhill, consumption being at a standstill (or diminishing) and that public finances can undergo problems in the medium term appear to be of consens to no one. The majority of the population is spellbound believing that it is possible to achieve what one wills without having to work or construct it. The President is convinced that just desiring it will make it happen. If something is going poorly everything will be resolved –or a shortcut may be taken- with the emollient of more transfers to clienteles and identifying the guilty as scapegoats.

Given that the causes of the disaster evidenced by the robustness of the middle class (and of a country that, with all its defects, did advance), those who had some participation in the government during the last thirty years, the wellspring of potential conservatives, poseurs and turncoats, is literally infinite. If to that one adds all of the companies –and their employees- who are increasingly more productive and successful, the potential to identify those who caused that national disaster of which so many of us are so proud (and that is the sustenance of the economy), is doubly infinite.

There is not the least doubt that the country is undergoing many ills and that the sum total of an unstoppable technological change with an (almost) totally integrated global economy renders it difficult to resolve all of the problems in one fell swoop. It is likewise certain that the solution does not lie -it is not possible for the solution to lie- in the fact of concentrating the power or in revitalizing the cadaver of Pemex, since the core problem consists in the rejection of the future that is evidenced in the government’s incapacity –this and all of the former of the last half century- in carrying out an educative reform that privileges learning in the digital era above union blackmail. The political project is transparent, but the difference between the seventies and the present is that the economy is open and this in itself alters all the premises.

A dear friend says that “Mexico will never be a developed and civilized country, at least, not in the next 100 years” because rather than building a consensus that allows for broadly-approved decisions, “the government endorses discord and polarization, strategic arms in its arsenal of destruction of the present.  What we will indeed be in brief –quicker than a cock crows- is a less civilized country, more primitive, more unjust, more polarized, one with more spitefulness, one that is less desirable…” Up until now, more than 70% of the citizenry has given AMLO the benefit of the doubt. The experience of the last half century is less generous: when the fiscal, political and civilization equilibriums break down, the crises will not be long in coming.