The roof was falling in, the leaks had disappeared and were replaced by holes more than 30 centimeters in diameter where the rain, snow and trash came through. One would think that this was about an abandoned property in the middle of nowhere, but it was one of the Mexico’s most important embassies abroad. Confronted by the inexistence of funds to repair the roof, the ambassador had gone ahead with the only alternative left to him: close the upper floor and pretend that the problem did not exist, aggravating the situation and making the later repair process much more costly. The notion that one needs to budget in order to maintain existing assets goes against the grain of Mexicaness… Even worse if it involves planning for the future.
The deterioration of the country’s physical infrastructure is visible in all its ambits: it can be observed in the Mexico City Metro, in multiple condominiums throughout the country, in the scarcity of water in diverse regions, at the Mexico City airport, and, as illustrated by the case of the referred embassy, in many governmental buildings. The problem is not limited to the government: condominium owners are reluctant to pay the fees for the maintenance of the buildings in which they live.
The water crisis in the Mexican city of Monterrey laid bare an entire sewer of criticisms, political stances and attacks regarding the heavy users of the precious liquid. Crises always present opportunities to draw political advantage, but few take time to realize that this does not concern a situation that came about all of a sudden, but instead one that it is the consequence of not having done the work required, in this case, that of infrastructure, for decades. Since it cannot be seen, politicians prefer to circumvent the need for building capacity in anticipation of upcoming growth: everyone wants growth, but no one is willing to invest for it to be transformed into a great benefit for all.
A few decades ago, a comparative study was conducted[i] on water management in two similar cities -Phoenix and Tucson- both localized in a desert with very little access to natural water sources. The study arose from the extraordinary difference in water consumption per inhabitant that characterized two cities separated by little more than one hundred kilometers in distance. While in Tucson an average 640 liters of water were consumed daily per household, in Phoenix average consumption was 1,040 liters. The difference lay in the management of the water: while in Phoenix water was seen as a human right, in Tucson it is considered a scarce resource. The inhabitants of Tucson pay dearly for their water, but they never confront problems of water scarcity, which does happen in Phoenix. The same is true in the northeastern Mexican state capitals of Monterrey, Nuevo León, and Saltillo, Coahuila, cities typified by like physical circumstances and geographies, except that in Saltillo water is never scarce. In Monterrey the administration of water is governmental, in Saltillo a company responds to the citizenry.
As the population grows (and, during these years, the economy less so), problems of infrastructure will increasingly beset Mexicans. More inhabitants imply more streets, more water, more communications, schools, hospitals, etc., all of which entails investments in infrastructure and funds for the maintenance and improvement of what already exists. However, none of that is evident in the criteria driving the annual governmental budgets or in plans for development. In technical terms, this is called entropy, i.e., the gradual deterioration that leads to disorder, the absence of predictability and, potentially, chaos. As Héctor Aguilar-Camín[ii] pointed out a few days ago, “the government’s decisions on the airports have placed Mexico City in a Kafkaesque dilemma: the more airports you have, the fewer airports there are that function.” Chaos.
The present government has distinguished itself by its total contempt for anything that could produce economic improvement for the population or the country, but the deterioration it inherited and that its apathy accumulates does nothing other than magnify the situation, as witnessed by the botched handling exemplified in its response during the pandemic. Rather than a coherent plan for modernizing the institutional structure of the health sector, the elimination of popular insurance in Mexico happened at the worst possible moment and without a duly articulated plan of action to replace it. The chaos that it caused was not particularly distinct to that of its predecessors, but its indolence exacerbated the predicament due to the government’s indisposition to act in the face of a critical situation. Lack of investment in basics and their maintenance.
When a (system of) government refuses to prevent these extremes, chaos becomes inevitable. Steven Pinker[iii] says this in an exceedingly clear manner: “Closed systems inexorably become less structured, less organized, less able to accomplish interesting and useful outcomes until they slide into an equilibrium of gray, tepid, homogeneous monotony and stay there.” Whoever watched the recent scenes of the Morena elections for its congress will appreciate this in its maximal expression…