In the Meanwhile…

Luis Rubio

While Mexico sprints toward an uncertain, irreproducible and, certainly undesirable past, the rest of the world runs at a frenzied speed. It is not only the fact of proceeding in reverse, but also that the inherent risks regarding what is destroyed along the way implies that the country will forfeit the possibility of, finally, achieving high economic growth rates. The matter is not one of governmental preferences or popularities; the issue entails strategies of development in the era of globalization, in the XXI century.

No place in the world evidences the direction of the development of this era, and in such brutal fashion, as Asia. In that region, the dispute embodies everything for the future: who will procure the highest rates of per-capita income in the shortest time. One by one, each of those nations, with its culture, history and form of government, has been constructing the foundations of its development, but all these nations share characteristics in common, beginning with their devotion to education, infrastructure and technological development. In that region, it would be unimaginable to attempt to return to an idyllic past because nostalgia has no place in the future and everything hinges upon, at the end of the day, in a better future.

A recent visit to three countries of this region left me with observations and learning experiences on the way they conduct their affairs and, above all, their priorities: the differences among nations such as Korea, Singapore and India are stunning, but the dynamism comprises solely one, common to all. India is an immense nation in population and territory, with an ethnic, religious and economic diversity that, even when one comes from a country as complex as Mexico, is absolutely incomprehensible. And, notwithstanding this, the entire country appears to be imbued with a drive toward a future that, without breaking with its traditions, would be radically distinct from the past.

The first time I visited Korea, in 1998, the country was emerging from a financial crisis, similar to those Mexicans had undergone so many times. What impressed me most on that occasion was the sense virtually of guilt exhibited by my interlocutors in the government and in academia. For them, the fact of having had to resort to external support (the IMF) was equivalent to losing face, demonstrating incompetence and, in the main, having chosen the wrong path. Their response was not to return to the poverty of the past, but to change their strategy in the extreme, confront their problems and take a great leap forward to bring to fruition the results of which their citizens are so proud today.

India and Korea entertain evident similarities with Mexico because they are large nations, with a long and proud history, but where dramatically distinct is in their determination to shatter the ties of the past and build a new society, dissimilar, capable of satisfying the needs of an ambitious and driven population. Korea, a nation without natural resources, opted to convert education into its comparative advantage: instead of yielding to traditions or interest groups, it propelled a fundamental change in education until rendering it the means through which poverty and its natural impediments could be left behind. India, a nation with more than a billion inhabitants, decided on a similar path, but one situated in the environment of the enormous complexity typifying it. Despite its social contrasts, the nation’s full impetus can be appreciated on every block and in every conversation.

A member of the Indian government explained the challenge with a clear and simple argument: in spite of its similarity in size to China, India is a democracy and has to deal with its problems within that context, something that for the Chinese government would be utterly inconceivable. The difference, the functionary went on, is that the Chinese will always continue to be enthusiastic to the extent that the government goes on satisfying them with economic growth; in contrast, India will continue on its road to the future, on occasion jolt by jolt, but with the support of a citizenry that only has the future because the past holds no attraction. On hearing that, I wished this were the discourse of our president.

Singapore is not a model for Mexico (nor for India or Korea), plainly because of its scale. An island-nation where everything works, the infrastructure is unsurpassable and the order excessive, Singapore knows from whence it came and where it wants to go, to which it devotes resources and efforts incessantly and even mercilessly. Nothing obstructs the path of the world’s best-paid civil servants (there the reverse is understood as true:  well-paid functionaries commit themselves to their work and to nothing else), all are specialists consumed with their mandate.

Some decades ago representatives of the World Bank and other analogous organisms affirmed that Mexico had perhaps the more competent governing team; it was without doubt top-notch, but that of Singapore is categorically matchless, one after the other. It is not by chance the world’s wealthiest nation in per capita terms.

Three nations edifying their future: with their vast differences and features, each of these possessing clarity of course and, chiefly, without complicating their lives with a past impossible to recreate. Impossible not to be tremendously envious.