My Readings

 Luis Rubio

Inequality of opportunity is one of the greatest maladies of Mexico, perhaps the worst of all. The deep-seated notion in the mythology that any Mexican that can echo Benito Juárez’s arrival from a remote rural place to the presidential seat of power is clearly false, at least for the overwhelming majority of the population. Raymundo M. Campos Vázquez* has penned a treatise on the theme, focusing on the latter from distinct perspectives. HIs argument is clear and convincing: without creating conditions that permit any Mexican to entertain similar opportunities from the outset, the country will never resolve its problems of growth, development or security. Although I take issue with some of the specific measures that he proposes, his central proposition is indisputable: Mexico requires a non-partisan professional bureaucracy -a State that functions- to attend to that central malaise hampering the country’s development. I would add that a State of that nature would resolve not only that but much more.

“No Blank Check”, a book by Reeves and Rogowski, analyzes the traditional distrustfulness of Americans regarding the power of their president. The authors study the constitutional limitations boxing in their federal executives such as the surveys along time to determine the degree of freedom or restriction with which the presidents of that country count on to act. The conclusion to which they arrive is that the U.S. electorate is more concerned about the results than about the means employed to achieve them, but that, above all, the electorate is disgusted by presidents who give rein to their free will.

The best book I read this year, perhaps the best in at least a decade, is “The Tragic Mind”, by Robert Kaplan. It includes a profound reflection on the order, anarchy and leadership capable of leading a country under perennially difficult conditions, where the alternatives are not black and white, but the consequences of a bad decision can be tragic. The value of the book lies in its clairvoyance: the importance of knowledge and wisdom in decision making, which permits the differentiation of what is possible from what cannot be achieved or of what is accessible from what can easily lead to chaos.

Yeonmi Park is an immigrant from North Korea who was able to escape from her country and then experiencing the worst poverty until her graduation from Columbia University in the U.S. Her book, While Time Remains, describes the precariousness of life in her native country, the brutality of China’s ambition, and its apprehensions concerning how U.S. cultural wars evolve, explaining how the new religion of gender, equity and language is poisoning the interaction between people and politics in general, to the extent that the U.S. is beginning to look like the land of her birth. This presents a crushing history that is worthwhile reading.

“Why Empires Fall” is an imposing book that disputes the arguments of Edward Gibbon (1776) in his book “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. According to Heather and Rapley, Rome did not have to end up collapsing as it did, but rather there was a series of decisions that led to its fall and, especially, to actions that were understood but that were not undertaken to avoid the empire’s erosion at all of its borders, as in point of fact occurred. Deriving from that reading, the authors compare the becoming of the West during the past decades and conclude that the descent is evident, but that this can be reverted if the structural ills are attended to, above all the budgetary and financial affairs afflicting the main Western nations and that, as in the case of Rome, could be the ultimate cause of their undoing. This is a powerful line of reasoning although the parallels that the authors establish do not always seem reasonable.

In “The Russian Revolution”, Victor Sebestyen tells the most stark, iconoclastic and heretical story that I have read on this iconic event. He begins his description in terms of the nature of the leadership of the movement that led to the building of the society that would produce the “new man” and then proffers the most devastating story of destruction, oppression, and abuse that one could imagine. A well-told story that explains much of what today’s world is living and suffering through.

When China in the eighties decided to open its economy and incorporate itself into the international commercial circuits, the expectation in the West was that it would advance toward a democratic transition. That most certainly did not happen, but as Bethany Allen counters in her book “Beijing Rules,” China had its own plan and opted for applying it systematically from the start and, though this only became evident decades later, innumerable investors in China and diplomats who lived through that process observed it and understood it completely. The book contains an extraordinary description of the manner of evolution of the decisions that came to give shape to the development of that great Asian nation.

Spinoza en el Parque México, by Enrique Krauze, is an erudite tome and one that teaches a lesson that, despite its moments of hauteur, portrays a distinctive vein of Mexico, of the world and of history that should not be missed.

Happy holidays!

* Desigualdades. Por qué nos beneficia un país más igualitario