Inequality is one of the most powerful grievances and complaints that President López Obrador has raised and that enlivens many in his base. There are good reasons for that, which does not mean that the president is advancing toward their diminution: rather, everything he does has seems to be oriented toward heightening it. Inequality comprises without doubt one of the characteristics of Mexican society but, instead of developing programs to resolve it, the government has devoted itself, as in everything that it does, to identifying the guilty more readily than the solutions. Better to transfer the responsibility than to assume the challenge of creating conditions for the phenomenon to diminish and eventually disappear.
The issue is not new. In recent years, the call to attend to inequality has been raised, in great measure, paradoxically, because headway in this matter has been substantial, but slower than people would desire. The paradox here is key because the president exploits social differences as an instrument of polarization without recognizing the nature of the phenomenon: the great majority of the population has gotten ahead in the last decades, but some much more rapidly than others. That is, the reforms that the president so resoundingly rebukes permitted nearly the entire population to rapidly improve their livelihood, but the fact that some became rich along the way generated expectations of swifter progress for all, which certainly has not come about. The question is why.
No less important is the focus for which the government has opted: in place of seeking to solve inequality, it has dedicated itself to putting its finger on supposed causes and guilty parties. Michael Novak said that understanding the roots of the backwardness and poverty is interesting, but more relevant yet (and, might I add, more powerful) is to ascertain the origins of the wealth. It is evident that it is politically profitable to find the guilty than to procure solutions, but what the president is doing is accelerating the inequality, impoverishing those who were already poor, but above all those who had been achieving sensitive advancement in their standard of living and their capacity as consumers, the most vulnerable part of Mexican society and, not a small irony, a sizeable source of electoral support for the president.
Three phenomena have occurred in recent decades: first, a large proportion of Mexican society raised their living standard and consumption capacity, the incipient middle class; second, the explosion of the Internet, social networks and, in general, the ubiquity of information, inciting a revolution in the expectations of the people: everyone sees who have become rich and they want to be and to have what they have, and they want it now. This wellspring of aspiration is also an enormous source of frustration, thus easy prey for traffickers in resentments; and third, another segment of society, particularly in the South of the country, has been left behind not due to a lack of aspirations or abilities, but more accurately to the cacique-like political and union bosses who impede prosperity in places such as Oaxaca and Chiapas.
The leading innovation of the Morena party and their leadership lie in their wishing to sort out these problems by impoverishing the whole population: better to raise taxes, expropriate, thwart the installation of new enterprises (and their consequent employees) than to clear up the structural causes of the inequality, which would entail the generation of novel growth sources, a more productive economy and one with better competition and less obstruction by dodgy politicians and leaders who live off the permanent pillaging.
This debate is engaged in worldwide, in each case with its particular biases. For example, in the United States the idea is discussed of compensating for the evil engendered by slavery through making financial amends to the descendants of slaves. The ethical, moral, and practical dilemmas deriving from these approaches are immense and the reason why this issue has been on the stage for decades without advancing much. The complexity of coping with a fountainhead of such great bitterness, sufferings and passions is vast, but I bring up here this issue because there’s a gamut of innovative and creative solutions being proposed that could well be adopted in Mexico.
Instead of demanding that today’s citizens, who have nothing to do with the slavery of two centuries ago, pay reparations to persons who were never slaves, the idea is to engage in investments directed toward those enduring the inequality of the direst poverty, whatever its origin. Specifically, a widespread program is advocated for the construction of schools with the best teachers and living complexes for the most destitute communities with the express purpose of breaking the vicious circle of poverty–inequality–lack of opportunity.
In Mexico, the union and cacique mafias such as the CNTE, a teachers’ union, give themselves over to the preservation of ignorance, consequently to inequality and the lack of opportunity. Perhaps there is no worse vice than that of the inequality caused by these mafias who are also Morena-party operators and whose objective it is for the people to continue being poor, submissive, and ignorant. Inequality is the product of the system that Morena yearns not only to perpetuate but to strengthen.