What’s Missing

Luis Rubio

Paraphrasing Albert Camus in his speech on receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, “all governments doubtless feel called upon to reform the world.” Few achieve it. As soon as their mandate ends, the reverberations begin: what remained inconclusive, what was not done, what was done wrong. Or worse. In the Mexican post-Revolutionary era, the natural response was that of correcting the course in what was denominated as the “theory of the pendulum:” one government moved in one direction, the next one corrected course by going in the opposite direction.  This manner of functioning changed from the eighties on in that the country opted for incorporating itself into the world’s technological, financial and commercial circuits in order to achieve lasting stability. From 2018, the government has attempted to obviate that goal, recreating the risk of a pendular movement. Where does that leave the future?

Contrary to what is usually thought (and is insisted upon in the daily narrative) between the eighties and 2018 there was less continuity than apparent and there certainly was no consistent strategy throughout the period. After a clear beginning and one with strategic vision, what did ensue was an acceptance, sometimes a reluctant one, of the lack of alternatives in matters of economic policy, which translated into a series of disjointed policies, frequently inconsistent, but that advanced in the same direction. The formal objective was the incorporation of Mexico into the global economy and every action of the governments of that era attempted to make headway on certain fronts or to correct deficiencies that rendered the course of action difficult, but no integral or consistent strategy emerged.

The lacks and absences that emerged in that period are known by all because there is irredeemable insistence on them in the daily public discourse. What is not recognized, in that it would be equivalent to engaging in heresy, is that Mexico’s problems are not the product of what was done (although there were errors, no doubt), but instead that of what was not done. Claudio Lomnitz described the heart of the problem in an article appearing in the periodical Nexos a year ago whose subtitle says it all: “The Island of Rights and the Sea of Extortion.” According to Lomnitz, the reforms of the eighties and nineties created a space where there existed rules of the game and toward which resources were allotted in the form of infrastructure as well as of governmental capacity (a semblance of transparency and legality), but rather than amplifying that space for the whole society and territory, the government abandoned the Mexican who did not fit into  the former space to their own devices and it is therein that the country collapsed into a sea of violence, the absence of justice and extortion.

The paradox of the current government is that it did not have much of a favorable impact on any of those lacks or absences that it identified (and with which it won the presidency) but instead, in any case, it has accentuated, if not deepened, them. Although there has been significant improvement in the real incomes of the population, severe reversals in both institutional strength and democratic development do not augur well for the future and could undo the former. Against the expected, and despite the president’s popularity, Mexico today is more unequal and less prosperous.

For the past five years, the government was mindful of public finances and benefitted from both the reforms of the previous decades that it so much condemns, and of the increasing “independence” of the exchange rate from the public accounts. Nonetheless, at the start of this electoral year, the horizon has changed: big deficits now loom threatening fiscal stability, twenty bills to amend the constitution that would change the political and institutional panorama, which could lead to a crisis like that of the 80s, were introduced to the Congress. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the storm: nothing is written regarding the president’s popularity, exchange stability or the electoral outcome.

In stark contrast with his predecessors, the President had the opportunity to affect deeply rooted interests in diverse ambits of the Mexican society that have been successful in impeding the adoption of much more aggressive policies in matters of justice, equity, distribution of public resources and infrastructure, but he chose to rest on his laurels, as if the mere presence of a powerful President would change history. Thus, he could have been the grand builder of the future made it much more difficult and saturated with uncertainties.

On October 1, 2024, the day on which the next government will be inaugurated, the country will find itself before a sober panorama, with a divided society and a much less vigorous economy than it could, and, more than anything else, one whose productivity levels are very low, and where poverty and regional inequality will have proliferated. Whoever becomes the President that day will find herself facing severe lacks and the enormous challenge of having to correct course, which will require the support of the Mexican society. The new President’s first decision, from the moment of the inaugural address itself, will of necessity be related to whether she will attempt to unite the entire Mexican society in a common project or whether she will proceed to accentuate the divisions.

Whoever wins, here true dilemma will be how to get out of the hole in which the outgoing government will have left the country and how to get rid of its protagonist.