My Readings

Luis Rubio

The year 2021 has been quite strange. It began with nearly exponential growth in the number of contagions and ended with a downward trend. While other nations acted to quell the pandemic with perfectly structured vaccination programs, such as those that Mexico accomplished systematically and successfully some years ago for terrible diseases like smallpox and polio, the obsession to politicize everything led to an uncertain outcome: instead of capitalizing on the prime opportunities it possesses, starting with the China–U.S. controversy whose natural beneficiary, were the government to know where it is going, would be Mexico.

China has not ceased being an issue of analysis and discussion because it breaks with the patterns expected by the social sciences, opening a favorable window for serious scholars as well as charlatans to try out and build hypotheses ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. The problem is that only time will tell who was correct in their estimates regarding the solidity of the institutions and economy of that nation.   The literature on the topic is endless; a truly interesting one, entitled The China Nighmare by Dan Blumenthal, proposes the existence of a contradiction at the heart of the strategy of the General Secretary of the CCP, Xi Jinping. On the one hand, he has displayed extraordinary geopolitical ambition with all that implies in terms of military expenditure and subsidies for the construction of a project to interconnect China at the center of its logistic corridors through Asia to Africa and Europe. Nonetheless, on the other hand, the Secretary has dismantled the mechanisms engineered by his predecessors, above all Deng Xiaoping, for the accelerated development of his economy, creating an enormous internal weakness that cannot support the politico-military project. This is a must-read, due to the immense transcendence and importance, embracing all orders, of the Asian giant.

Perhaps the most simulating reading I encountered this year was Open: The Story of Human Progress, by Johan Norberg. The central premise of the work is that, throughout history, the world has advanced whenever there is an open mindset in the broadest sense of the word: an opening to ideas, to commerce and to exchange. Moments of ascent are the product of that opening, retrograde moments occur when societies retreat toward tribalism. In this manner, history is a constant struggle between cooperation and cloister. One of the best examples and one that the book describes in detail is that of China, the nation that led the world in technology, science, and wealth during the era that it stayed open to the world, only to sustain poverty at the time it retracted. The main paradox that the author recounts in multiple examples is that of the propensity to protect the status quo which, originally, was achieved due to the existence of an open regime. Fascinating reading.

A heretical and iconoclastic book on the predominant dogma is Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery. John Mueller argues that, despite its bad image, what allows for stability, development and life in society is the economic system that generates affluence:  capitalism. For its part, democracy, which enjoys prodigious recognition, is more an ideal than an effective mechanism for problem solving and improving the population’s quality of life. The reference to Ralph’s grocery is an allegory forged by a humorist who affirms that “if you can’t find it in that store, you probably don’t need it.” The idea is that, despite their image problems, democracy and capitalism have carried the day because people have accepted that those systems cannot provide everything but that, in conjunction, the populace acknowledges that if they can’t provide you with it, you probably don’t have need of it.

Few things are as heart-rending as the so-called “dirty wars” when governmental and paramilitary forces overturn the society to “cleanse it” of the evils of those who think differently. Daniel Loedel pens Hades, Argentina, a novel on the disappearance of his half-sister in the seventies, where hell is as much a metaphor as the context within which life transpires. Excellent reading.

Mariana Mazzucato, an Italian economist, has been writing a series of critical texts on the political economy of the last decades. In her most recent book, Mission Economy, she posits that the model to follow is the Apollo space program that rendered possible placing man on the moon, the program in which the government addressed itself, via an industrial policy, to erecting the conditions for this to happen. Her critique sounds reasonable in view of the better performance exhibited by nations that pursue this type of strategy, notably China. But, in the last analysis, her model sounds more like the failed Soviet Union than a map toward the future, especially because it does not demonstrate that its schema is the most effective one for the development of the technologies that, as Matt Ridley illustrates, only take place stochastically in an ambience of freedom and competition produced by the markets. As Ridley brilliantly maintains in his most recent book, How Innovation Works, no one can foretell from whom or from whence progress will materialize.