It is not clear whether they were betting on civilization, submission or, simply, on that material satisfaction would resolve other human aspirations, such as that of progressing, improving or participating in politics. The tangible fact is that Mexican governments from the sixties on have been betting that the Mexican citizen would endure anything without protest. In reality, it wasn’t a bad bet, except for that all those governments, including the present one, entertained a double agenda: they wanted things to get better but not so much as to alter their political projects.
The projects changed over time, but not the objective. Consciously or not, the objective always was control of the population; some wanted it to enjoy the sweetness of power, others merely to stay in power. But even in that there were levels: the reformers of the eighties and nineties did everything imaginable to accelerate the pace of economic growth; the current rulers prefer impoverishment of the population. A booming economy, the former calculated, would transform Mexico, creating a country increasingly like the successful nations of the world. In a country of the poor, bets President López Obrador, no one complains because they all depend on the government. Different projects, but control always at the ready.
The era of reforms began due to the fiscal crisis of 1982: the bankruptcy of the old Mexican State, sustained by ever more State-owned entities that served for nothing other than preserving power and enriching those running them. That crisis obliged the undertaking of a series of reforms to stabilize the economy and to make possible its return to growth. A frequently asked question during that time -coinciding with Gorbachev’s reforms of the former Soviet Union- was on the viability of carrying out economic reforms without analogous political reforms.
In the end, this mattered little. As books like that of Acemoglu and Robinson (The Narrow Corridor) illustrate but, above all, as does the most recent one by Guriev and Treisman (Spin Dictators), the fearsome Leviathan finds its own way of adapting, staying in power through presumably clean elections, largesse toward the population, and a moving narrative to obviate the commonly accepted democratic practices. What’s important, say Guriev and Treisman, does not consist of being democratic, but instead being seen as such. The prototypical examples charactering that type of tyranny in those authors’ perspective are Putin and Chávez. While they could have come to power via the democratic route, years later they would not pass that test.
The Mexican economic reforms did not achieve their integral purpose for three principal reasons, none of which appears in the catalog of allegations that procured the presidency for President López Obrador. First, the government abandoned its responsibility on generalizing the reforms: engulfed in the crisis of 1995, the government let the economy function on its own, without its engendering conditions for general prosperity. The modern part of the economy, fundamentally linked with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), acquired an extraordinary dynamism, as portrayed by the states of Aguascalientes, Querétaro, Nuevo León, and other, mainly northern, regions. The rest of the country succumbed to organized crime, violence and the absence of justice and, in general, of government. Rather than the government adapting to the new economic reality, the government abdicated its responsibility and no one, outside of organized crime, has assumed it since.
Second, regardless of the number of reforms embarked upon in the economy, there was no advance in properly political matters. Mexico ended up with a strange hybrid: one of the most modern and competent electoral systems of the world confronted by a despotic government and with no counterweight whatsoever, as AMLO has demonstrated. This can be appreciated in all ambits: from the private monopolies to the teachers’ unions or to the flagrant violation of the laws (e.g., the electoral ones) in recent times. The language of democracy is abundant, but the reality of tyranny has not varied: in any case, it has become more and more underscored, especially in the present presidential term. Finally, the combination of incompetent governments, the absence of legitimacy, the evidence of uncontainable corruption and violence have had the effect of driving away private investment, the sole source susceptible to raising the growth of the economy, generating jobs or improving incomes.
One of the constants in the writings of Thucydides (c.400 BC) is the fragility of civilization, the provenance of wars, social degradation, revolutions and disease. The Mexican governments of the last decades have had the effect of degrading the Mexican civilization and putting it at a grave risk. Before, at least the rhetoric promised advance; today, in place of progress, as was the wager of the reformer governments, the bet is generalized impoverishment. The despotic Levithan wants to stay in power at any price.
Lord Acton could not have said it better: “Liberty: Power over oneself; Opposite: Power over others.” It is in the hands of the Mexican society to decide which wager is most seemly for it.