The key to development lies in the joint action of millions of individuals exercising their freedom and making their own decisions, within the framework of rules established by the State. When those rules are coherent and, above all, derive from the recognition of human nature as it is and not how some politician would prefer these tenets to be, development is attained and flourishes. There is perhaps no better way to exemplify this than the contrast between Mao and Deng: Mao devoted himself to persecuting and impoverishing his population; Deng made it possible for his nation to thrive. In Deng’s words, “it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” The difference: Deng accepted human nature instead of attempting to adapt it to his political or ideological predilections.
Deng recognized that people are in quest of their personal benefit and that the sum of millions of persons making decisions in economic matters translates into an enormous collective benefit and in that fashion, the development of his country advanced. The decisions of those millions of citizens over time -intertemporally- contribute to development and are rendered possible to the degree that there is an environment of certainty to which those individuals can adhere. The difference between Mao and Deng ended up being that Deng, on discerning that facet of human nature, dedicated himself to creating the politico-normative fabric that would make it flourish. The result was that the Chinese government created a milieu of trust for its population, the most integral explanation for the prodigious success of the past decades.
The lesson of this for Mexico is obvious: the country has prospered at times when there is certainty and has stagnated or retracted when this disappears. For many decades, that trust depended on each sexenio, the six-year presidential term of office. If one were to observe Mexican economic cycles, these always lasted six years: the first year was recessive because investors and savers awaited signals from the new government and sought to understand how it would attempt to reinvent the wheel; when the rules of the game were clear, the upward cycle began, only to wind down toward the term’s sixth year, when the process started again. That is, everything depended on the president-in-turn, in that his power was (is) so vast that he could change the rules at any moment. That is the reason why the trust factor in the governor acquired such great transcendence.
This method of functioning entailed three evident costs: first, long-term projects were never developed; second, the propensity for recessive cycles to become sharper was huge; and third, everything depended on the president, each of his expressions would take on cosmic dimensions, for good as well as bad. The lack of factors of long-term certainty led to the crisis era of the seventies, eighties and nineties and it was not until the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was consolidated that the country underwent, for the first time since the Mexican Revolution, an era of stability and clarity of rules, at least for part of the economy.
An intelligent government, one capable of perceiving the deep-rooted nature of the phenomenon, would have extended the rules regime inherent in NAFTA to the whole economy and to the entire national territory. However, as things turned out, the nation entered into an epoch of two Mexicos and two velocities that allowed for there to be great growth in one part of the country and stagnation in another. On top of that, Trump came along, the first President of the United States during the NAFTA period who had no knowledge about and much less interest in the political relevance of NAFTA for Mexico, removing the existing “safety pins” from the entire framework.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has many virtues but does not give rise to the same wellspring of trust as the original NAFTA and to that one must add the rhetoric of President López Obrador, which has had the immediate effect of undermining certainty and generating mistrust in a broad spectrum of the population, as could be appreciated in the recent electoral processes. In contrast with the PRI-era presidents whom he seems to admire, López Obrador has not the least intention of engendering a framework of trust for investment. His discourse and treatment as adversaries (when not as enemies) of all those not in agreement with him have resulted in economic stagnation.
In these times of the ubiquity of information, political and private messages are indistinguishable because they immediately become part of the political process and yield a binary result: either they occasion trust or there is none. The strategy of confrontation, expressly designed to divide, whets social animosity, closes the spaces of potential dialog and spawns uncertainty. Instead of forging a milieu of peace and tranquility, crucial for attracting investment and savings, this becomes impossible.
It was Mao himself who affirmed, in an interview with Edgar Snow, that to govern requires “A popular army, sufficient food and the confidence of the people in their governors.” “If you were to have only one of the three things, which would you prefer? asked Snow. Mao replied, “I can do without the army. People can tighten their belts for a time. But without their trust it is not possible to govern.”