Biases and Realities

Luis Rubio

In the movie Life of Brian, John Cleese plays Reg, the leader of the People’s Front of Judea. In one memorable scene, Reg finishes the haranguing of his troops with the question “What have the Romans ever done for us?” One foot soldier in freedom-fighting outfit replies “the aqueduct?” Another says, “the roads.” John Cleese starts getting annoyed until the other foot soldiers add “irrigation,” “medicine,” “education,” “wine,” “public baths,” and “it’s now safe to walk the streets at night.” To which Cleese’s character replies “All right, but apart from education, irrigation safety, roads, sanitation, wine, public baths, and medicine… What have the Romans ever done for us?”

Mexico was not born yesterday nor was it invented in 2018. The past decades yielded innumerable benefits and gains that are now the sustenance of the economy from which the president profits.

When, in Reg´s style, the president accuses “What did neoliberalism do or what did those who designed neoliberal policies do for their benefit?” the answer is similar: they laid the foundations for an economy capable of channeling the forces and capacities of Mexican society in the turbulent era of globalization, the conflicts between the superpowers, and the digital dislocations of the 21st century. In addition, when the economy was liberalized to favor the free concurrence of the various economic agents, the mooring ropes that kept society controlled and subjected were eliminated, that is, they created conditions (consciously or not) for the democratization of the country. “Neoliberalism” allowed Mexico to survive in a changing world. Not a minor thing…

Of course, not everything that was done in those decades was spotless or successful. The list of errors, biases, bad decisions, corruption, and perversions in some decisions and in many implementation processes is legendary. But the result is infinitely more benign than it was when the much-talked-about reforms began, which the president disqualifies without rhyme or reason. In 1982, after two authoritarian governments dedicated to the destruction of public finances and the petrolization of the economy, reforms were inevitable. In those twelve years, the world had been transformed because the Arab oil boycott of 1973 had forced a comprehensive rethinking of the way of producing, led, to a large extent, by the Japanese automotive companies.

Lost in the mirage of an easy future that politicians imagined due to the oil discoveries (Mexico’s problem would be to “manage abundance,” said López Portillo) the country was absent from what was happening in the rest of the world. Paradoxically, the way the Japanese reengineered production opened opportunities for Mexico that had never been possible before. The Japanese created what is now known as supply chains where a car is no longer produced from A to Z in one place, but each plant specializes in the production of parts and components for a final assembly. Each gear in this process depends on local capabilities, the availability of skilled labor, and its geographic location.

In their essence, the reforms undertaken since the 1980s were an attempt to incorporate the Mexican economy into this global logic, which has happened in countless industries that now link Mexico with our two North American partners in a structural way, becoming the main engine of growth of the country’s economy. Unfortunately, a large part of the population and some regions of the country were left out of this logic due to all kinds of obstacles and political interests that continue to plunder and prey on ordinary Mexicans. This is the deficit that urgently needs to be corrected.

The liberalization of the economy, especially the negotiation of NAFTA, changed the face of the country because, once the floodgates were opened, the entire society had the opportunity to transform itself. Thus, different ways of thinking and being of the citizens began to manifest themselves, social organizations appeared to represent or attend to problems of various kinds and institutions that satisfy needs that the government cannot take care of. All that the president denounces are evidence of a society that grows, develops and matures: a society that acts on its own and that, in many ways, faces problems that the government is unable to solve.

In the president’s vision, the government should take care of everything, even if it does not take responsibility for anything. From his perspective, in the country there is no longer violence, corruption, poverty or deficiencies because the government acts and solves everything, all for the mere fact of wanting it. The problems that persist in this imaginary arise from everything that the government does not control, which is why the solution to the country’s problems lies in controlling, centralizing, and eliminating any manifestation outside the government domain.

Whether the president likes it or not, in an open society like Mexico’s, the population manifests itself in the various fields of the economy, society and politics because it cannot be otherwise, nor can it be reversed.