Luis Rubio

Disproportion, or the sin of pride, which the Greeks called hubris, consists of believing oneself to be more than other humans, failing to recognize and trespassing imprudently beyond the limits of our condition, forgetting one’s insuperable finiteness. This disproportion, or lack of moderation, says Aníbal Romero, includes disdain for the costs that the loss of the sense of scale can exact from others, in terms of anguish, pain and disillusion. A government devoted to capriciousness without an iota of concern for the tie-in between penalties and potential benefits is an inexorable example of disproportion.

Propensity toward disproportion is a constant in human nature. In The Iliad, Homer depicts the diverse forms in which Helene, Achilles and other personages lose their sense of reality. That is what occurs every time a government makes decisions according to myths, dogmas or preferences without repairing on the obvious: the resources it uses are not theirs. Governments utilize resources from the taxes they levy on the population; and they are, or should be, accountable to it. This clearly has not been the case of the present government of Mexico.

Governments, driven by their immense size, allocate their resources as they consider best, impacting daily life by commission but also by omission. The current government designed three emblematic projects whose cost should be measured in two ways: first, by the investment itself and the alternatives available; equally important it is indispensable to assess the consequences of the projects. There is no better example than the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA): the cost of constructing it, the cost of destroying the New Mexico City Airport (NAICM), which already entertained a nearly 40% advance, and the cost of having to build a new airport in the future because the combination of the two airports presently in operation, the AIFA and the Mexico City International Airport (AICM), is dysfunctional and, in any event, insufficient.

The government has distinguished itself by its opacity in the management of public investments, so all the available information leads to mere estimates, but published calculations suggest the following: the cost of AIFA was 5 billion dollars; the cost of demolishing the Texcoco Airport, including repayments to bondholders, borders on some 16 billion dollars. In addition to this, as all users of the old airport know, but that remains a secret for the President, is that sooner or later a new airport will be required to replace the present one (AICM) and that the new one will never be the one in Santa Lucía. The new airport will cost at least another 16 billion dollars. In sum, the president’s stunt will turn out to cost some 37 billion dollars.

Something similar happened with the Refinery and the Maya Train. The most recent estimates indicate that the Refinery will cost nearly 18 billion dollars and that the Maya Train will reach an amount of approximately 11 billion dollars. As with the airport, the calculation must be twofold: what the projects will cost and the potential benefits that the latter will come to supply. If current trends in matters of electric automobiles materialize, the best that could be expected would be that a refinery conceived to function for decades (the refinery that Pemex acquired in Texas was constructed more than a century ago), will operate for a maximum of 10 years: from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties. That is, another enormous waste. The Maya Train constitutes a wager yet more rash, in that it does not even communicate the peninsula’s three important cities: it does not touch either Mérida or Campeche.

There are many ways to quantify disproportion, but the fundamental one is that deriving from dogmas, which never underwent any sort of screening process. I don’t know whether the Texcoco Airport was localized in the best place, but I have no doubt that the two airports existing today share the same airspace and therefore, do not add to, but rather subtract: a zero-sum game. All of this was to demonstrate Who Decides Here, as the title indicated of the book that the President placed near his armchair the day he announced the cancellation of the Texcoco airport. It’s all about power. Thanks to the absence of checks and balances, Mexican presidents wield enormous power during their term of office and exhibit a tendency toward the excesses noted herein, but none like the present one.

Arrogance and arbitrariness mix to produce not only excesses, but also devotion to each other, the best measure of hubris, that very Mexican capital sin so costly to the country throughout its history. For many years, today’s President criticized, with full legitimacy, the excessive cost of the bank rescue of the 1990s, estimated at around 12% of the GDP. The cost of his investment projects will tally close to 6% of the economy. The difference is that excessiveness in the past was the product of a poorly managed crisis; this one was intentional and self-inflicted.

President Benito Juárez portrayed beforehand the events that would take place about one hundred and fifty years after death:  “A democratic system and eminently liberal, such as that which rules us, has as its essential base the observance of the law. Not the whims of a sole man, nor the interests of certain classes of society, form its essence. Under a noble and sacred principle, it bestows the most perfect liberty, while repressing and punishing licentiousness… It is therefore evident that in the name of liberty it is never lawful to commit the least abuse”.