Why improve if one can keep on being the same? Why change if all is well? The natural tendency, perhaps the easiest, is to stay where we are, reject any change, and pretend that we are fine. As in the Middle Ages, our businesspeople take shelter behind the protector government in a search for the modern equivalent of the moats that tended to surround medieval castles. The circumstances were others, but the assertion is the same: impede things from changing. Impede prosperity.
Rejection to change is ubiquitous. The business chambers are perhaps the most vociferous, but are far from being the only ones. Their argument is reasonable, but absolutely erroneous: first let’s fix what’s wrong and then we’ll talk. Of course, the objective is to postpone this “we’ll talk” as much as possible, leaving the economy and the consumers to pay the piper. It is true that many things do not work or that they work poorly, beginning with the fact that the economic liberalization has been very unequal. However, the opposition of the business sector to any opening is ludicrous.
Perhaps there is no better example of the absurdity of its opposition to opening than that relative to the negotiation of a free trade agreement with Brazil. The argument of the private sector is that the Brazilians saunter around Mexico feeling right at home, while Mexican products and companies encounter a world of protection and discrimination in that nation. If this appreciation turns out to be true, what the private sector should be doing is to demand from the Mexican government, in the most energetic terms, that it proceed to negotiate the immediate opening of Brazil to Mexican products, because equity can only be achieved in this fashion. Despite this obviousness, their argument is exactly the opposite: no treaty or agreement should be negotiated until things within the country change. One can only conclude that, one of two: Mexican businessmen are lying with respect to “unjust” Brazilian competition (that in reality would be beneficial for the domestic consumer), or they lack any logical argumentation. It also could be that they prefer not to change anything. There’s no other choice.
The business community’s attitude is not wholly distinct from that which characterizes other societal sectors or groups, an attitude that is reflected in the poor performance of the economy, in the skepticism and pessimism that have become axiomatic and, in general, in the disorder that our country is experiencing. Of course there are reasons that explain some of these attitudes, but what is astounding is the total indisposition to face the reality in which we have been slated to live. As Hayek once wrote, opposing everything is equivalent to attempting to hold back a great amount of water with a small floodgate: sooner or later, the water ends up not only overflowing the dam, but also sweeping away with it everything in its wake. Out-and-out opposition does nothing except negate reality: it does nothing save impeding things from improving.
A better perspective is offered by Héctor Aguilar Camín and Jorge Castañeda in their excellent new book entitled Regreso al Futuro (Return to the Future): “Removing the PRI from Los Pinos was the battle cry for the year 2000. Leading Mexico to prosperity, equity, and a functioning democracy should be the clamor of 2012. In 2000 we wanted nothing less than democracy. In 2012, we should want nothing less than prosperity”. It comprises the important question that we Mexicans all should be asking ourselves: what is needed for establishing the bases for the construction of growing and long-term prosperity.
The ills of the country are many and very pronounced. However, they are not especially distinct from those that characterize other nations. The difference is, in good measure, that we have decided to bestow privilege on the problems instead of attempting to advance solutions. The paradigmatic case is, without doubt, that of Brazil, where violence is greater than that in Mexico and where the infrastructure is much poorer, and, notwithstanding this, the attitude of its population is exactly the opposite: there, the question is what shall we do despite the problems that we face, and not what shall we do to continue without change.
The case of the business chambers is frankly pathetic. Instead of demanding better services, respect for the law, equity in trade liberalization, and the end of abuse, their demand is for privileges, less opening and, in one word, arbitrariness for my benefit and for no one else’s. This can be one definition of modernity, but it is certainly not a wise foundation for the construction of prosperity.
The paradox lies in that the first great beneficiaries of economic liberalization would be the very businesses who today regard any change with dread. One would expect that the entrepreneur would be seeking better ways of doing things, new technologies, improving its processes, raising quality, and, in order to achieve all of this, pressure the government to make a systematic boost of productivity possible. The Brazilian businessmen may enjoy many protection mechanisms, but their attitude is that of a booming sector that is desirous of improving. Our attitude is that of preserving and, inevitably, purposefully or not, abusing the consumer.
It is evident that the country possesses innumerable businesses and enterprises that are as good as any others anywhere, that are capable of competing and that engage in this daily. These entrepreneurs have demonstrated that the entire surroundings do not have to be perfect nor fully resolved in order to be able to compete and be successful. That is, they are successful despite the difficulties that the scenario imposes, despite the governmental regulations, the lack of security, and all of the obstacles that the bureaucracy can conjure up. However, instead of devoting themselves to holding the country back from progressing, they attempt to drive it. Of course, they all defend their interests, many of which are undoubtedly legitimate. The political process –within the government, in regulatory and in legislative instances- is there, or should be, to ensure that the general interest prevails, beginning with that of the consumer. Being successful does not clash with having a long-term vision that allows for discriminating among the themes that justify opposition to those that are necessary for the advancement of the country.
The history of the most recent decades shows that free trade agreements have served to improve the conditions for the functioning of the economy and this has benefited everyone. These are clearly themes that merit support –and strategy- instead of fanatical opposition. We cannot aspire to prosperity while preserving that which generates backwardness and poverty.