The handiest hypothesis on the causes of the electoral result of the past year refers to the population’s being fed up, the evident corruption of the government of the moment and, above all, the paltry outcomes of decades of reforms in terms of incomes, poverty and equity. All of this is doubtlessly valid, but it does not explain the truly extraordinary change exhibited by the electorate between January and July of 2018, in which the preferences of the body politic for today’s President mushroomed from 30% to 53%. Part of the explanation surely lies in the poor conduct of the other two presidential candidates (each in his own way) and, especially, of the former President, but it appears evident to me that a high percentage of voters decided that the promise of “more of the same” would not improve the economy of the country.
The proposal of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to alter the course seemed attractive to more than one half of the electorate and, from the day after the election, he has devoted himself to implementing his vision through decisions, many of which have been controversial and costly. The result to date, scarcely a few months into the new government, is not commendable: instead of a project, the evidence reveals that the President and his complicated –and strikingly diverse- coalition entertains more obsessions, occurrences and opposing agendas than a plan structured and headed toward constructing a platform for development.
For several years, AMLO has been very clear in his conviction that the country lost its way from the beginning of the reforms in the eighties: his central approach is that the government should be the rector of the economic process, that is, the conductor of the country’s development because “neoliberalism” has done nothing other than produce poverty and a growing inequality.
While it is evident that the reforms have not solved the country’s problems, an integral evaluation of the phenomenon that Mexicans experienced during these years in which Mexico incorporated itself into the world’s commercial, technological and financial circuits, requires understanding the international context within which all this has come about, in that the phenomenon is, in general terms, global in nature.
Three books attempt to explain what happened and why. Each of the works has its own objective and bias, but together, they create a very interesting patina. Charles Dumas* offers an essentially technical analysis of what took place in the decades during which world commerce accelerated and in the way productive processes were altered (concentrating on the production of parts and components to raise the quality of goods and services and reducing their cost), but above all the incorporation of India and China, especially the latter, into the industrial process. From Mexico’s vantage, China purloined from Mexico the export market that NAFTA promised; without China having competed for the industrial production that withdrew from the U.S., the past thirty years would have been very different.
Robert Kuttner** contributes a diagnosis that is very consistent with AMLO’s vision: the world worked well when the unions were powerful and had the capacity to defend the interests of their members, the welfare state satisfied the interests of the population above that of the capitalists, the economy was focused on the internal market and there were no short-term financial flows across borders. Although he refers to the U.S. (and admixes Europe along the way), Kuttner’s argument –more political than economic- is nearly indistinguishable from the vision that AMLO has sketched in his books and speeches. Like AMLO, Kuttner’s vision is nostalgic: he says that there are no easy ways out, but that what exists is not good and that the mainstays of development that worked in the past must be recuperated.
Barry Eichengreen*** studies the evolution and future of populist movements over time in the U.S. as well as in Europe. Assuming an analytical stance, this author observes that behind citizen anger and disillusionment with the Western democracies lies the combination of economic uncertainty, governments incapable of responding to the populations’ demands and needs and the threats to the integrity of the identity of the citizenry. His reasoning is lucid with regard to the causes as well as the consequences: he concludes that the “technical” solution is not difficult to elucidate, but that governments generally do not have the political capacity or vision to do this, while populist governments do not see the need for attending to the causes of the phenomenon.
Where there is an absolute coincidence between AMLO and these authors concerns the unpopularity of the bank bailouts in Mexico and the U.S., respectively. For AMLO, the bank rescue comprised a catapult in his political vision and in his perspective about what is wrong with the country. The other coincidence is that relative to migration: for Trump’s Americans, migration constitutes a menace to their identity; for AMLO, migration represents a failure of Mexican economic policy.
Eichengreen concludes that non-conventional governments are typically indifferent to the restrictions imposed by the markets, the availability of labor, or the needs of private investment. The latter will probably end up being AMLO’s greatest challenge in the years to come.
*Populism and Economics. **Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? ***The Populist Temptation