Luis Rubio

Plying the compass has not been the strong suit of most of Mexico’s governments, certainly not during the contemporary era. But some, such as the current one, knock the ball out of the park. From the end of the Mexican Revolution, more than one hundred years ago, there has not been a sole government that has not placed economic growth as its central objective: some achieved it, others failed, but all entertained the objective of raising living standards and accelerating social mobility.  Some were pragmatic, others ideological, some profound and clear-of-purpose, others frivolous and superficial. Some were distinguished by employing competent technocrats, others despised the latter; some were (more) corrupt, others extraordinarily ambitious, but all attempted to elevate the population’s per-capita product. That is, all of them, except for the present one. This government preferred to bet on the loyalty proffered by a citizenry that remains poor.

The point of departure the present-day government has been that the causes of the symptoms must be attacked: the inequality, the poverty, the corruption and the violence, all of these in turn symptoms of the structural problems afflicting Mexican society. But the government opted for modifying the logic: it never proposed to resolve or at least attack those causes, but only the symptoms, which have not been attacked either, but that’s another matter. Now, in the waning period of the presidential term, only the international context remains, which can equally be benign or full of storm clouds, for which the government never prepared.

It is at these moments of political transition that discussions ensue on the “viability” of the country. The imbalances -the new ones and those of always- accumulate and the worries grow: prices, jobs, incomes, assaults, protection money. Each one of these elements pile up, engendering an environment of uncertainty, the greatest risk any society can face, especially at times of presidential succession.

The moment is not like that which preceded the crises of the past century’s last decades.  Mexico today boasts an export-driven manufacturing plant that constitutes the main engine of the economy and that permits a comfortable situation in issues of balance of payments, the principal weakness at those former times. For their part, public finances, although deteriorating, are not in catastrophic straits. In addition, the real disposable incomes of Mexicans have increased. In a word, the seeds of the crises of the seventies to the nineties are not there.

What is indeed present is a country that progressively disintegrates before the incessant violence and two dramatically contrasting realities in the world of the economy: the Mexico associated with the exports and the rest. The former exists in an ambience of relative certainty, productivity and growing opportunities; the latter depends on the former, but exists in uncertainty, poverty and corruption. President López Obrador held all the cards and the skills to close that gap consuming the country, but rather opted for making it deeper and razor-edged, all with the object of developing a social base dependent on crumbs from his table in the form of cash transfers, which inexorably entail the preservation of porverty.

If something demonstrate the one hundred years that preceded the current government -from the end of the Revolution- it is precisely what systematically eludes the President: the desire for progress, the aspiration to improve and develop that is a trait of the whole population. That in which (nearly) all those prior governments failed and that the present one has done nothing to change is found in the lack of instruments in the possession of the population to materialize their desires and aspirations. Governments come and go, but the causes of the sluggish progress and of some of the undesirable consequences, of which the President speaks so often, are not seen to.

The history of bad governments was not born today. Instead of focusing on addressing citizen needs and creating conditions for their progress, Mexico’s history is plagued by governments that ignored and shirked their responsibility to create conditions for development. Nothing illustrates this better than the failure to build an effective security system (previously a product of the overwhelming weight of the federal government, not the existence of a functional security system), or of education, which was never conceived as a means to advance social mobility, but for political control. How can a country retain viability when its structures are focused on other purposes? Worse when the objective is expressly the preservation of poverty, not development.

Of course, there have been honest presidents and functionaries who committed themselves to ministering to these phenomena, but what counts is not the moment they acted or their intentions, but instead on the result, that which determines the population’s quality of life. Additionally, it is obvious that the nature of these problems is complex and that they cannot be immediately dispelled, but what is equally clear is the fact that rhetoric always prevails over action.

All this reminds the words of Bevan, the British Labour leader: “This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organizing genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time.”