More Reforms?

“It would be blindsight to hide the obvious,” says John Womack: “that contemporary Mexico demands profound and responsible reorganization, a reorganization that conducts a cleansing of all the ends of the knot, and not only one”. If the country wants to emerge from the breach in which we find ourselves, we Mexicans will have to stop contemplating our umbilicus and begin to estrange ourselves from the wrongs that impede us from progressing. The first issue is what to change, and the second would be how.


The rhetoric and discourse on a “Reform of the State”, as well as  countless reforms directed specifically toward economic activity, are ubiquitous, but the content is always diffuse and the concrete objectives, of doubtful relevance. Some want something so great and onerous that its size alone makes consideration of it impossible. Others have such definite and particular objectives in mind that they end up trivializing the pressing need to reform the government and to make it capable of responding to the new realities confronting the country. The Mexican government over the last several years has been incapable of creating appropriate conditions to generate growth or to extinguish public insecurity, to attack poverty, or to provide Mexicans with an education consistent with the challenges defying the population in the labor market. No one is able to entertain the most miniscule of doubts that it is necessary to reform the government and the economy. But we have to begin at the beginning, at the objective. What is imperative is to create a strong State, one capable of governing.

At present, the Mexican government is everything but effective: it is large and unproductive; it impedes individual initiative and bureaucratizes productive activity; it generates instability and insecurity; it is not representative of, nor does it favor, the development of a responsible citizenry. In sum, the present-day Mexican State does not function for what is essential: to create the conditions necessary for Mexicans in general and the economy in particular to prosper. This and nothing else should be the purpose of the so-called reform of the State.


With such a clear objective, the question is why has the public debate not been oriented in this direction? Why has it concentrated on shifting themes that, despite the best efforts, are never resolved, perhaps evidencing the fleetingness, thus the irrelevancy, of these? Over the past decade, diverse and disperse themes have been discussed within this context, such as voting for Mexicans living abroad and the writing of a new Constitution, Federalism and the strength of the Legislative branch, ratification of the Cabinet, and reelection of legislators. The contrast with other latitudes could not be greater: on observing the prodigious moments of institutional transformation experienced by nations such as Chile, Spain, China, or Korea over the past decades, what leaps out at one is the disposition to think big and, at the same time, to get the entire population on board. Support of the population is crucial because without it, any reform will end up being pro forma, incapable of modifying the reality; participation of the population also would imply a greater degree of permanence. Thus, it is duly significant that, in each of those nations there was an ambitious attempt to advance a national transformation project leading to establishment of the bases for long-term development, as well as to reconciling their populations with themselves and with the past. In Mexico, there has been neither vision nor the capacity of conception. We should not be surprised at the result.


The Mexican government has been ineffective for many years, but this ineffectiveness has been exacerbated from 2000. Previously, until the mid-sixties, the government was very effective in terms of its own objectives, but extraordinarily ineffective in attending to the citizenry in any of its activities. What was important for the government was for the country to function reasonably well so that the members of the political class could reap the benefits. From this perspective, the system’s effectiveness was very high: there was stability, the economy more or less prospered, and the majority of the population accepted the circumstances with greater or lesser jubilation. This fairy-tale world came tumbling down in the seventies in part because the then-government suddenly decided to change the rules of the game, generating extraordinary levels of inflation, which began to eat away at everything: economic growth and social stability, education and family structure. The point is not to eulogize an era that, despite its achievements, was saturated with problems and conflicts, but rather, to watermark the era of decomposition and, later, the attempts at reform that followed.


Today’s brouhaha is not about specific and relatively minor reforms –of any type- but for an integral reform of the sources and distribution of power. No matter how profound and intelligent many of the proposals marauding around the public debate are, there is the risk of attention being paid a nonexistent problem, or, more exactly, that the underlying problem will not be addressed. The risk of a suite of reforms that does not resolve the problem should be of concern to all of us. If the problem is one of power, it will not be resolved with laws or reforms, but rather, with an in-depth political agreement that is subsequently codified into law. In this instance, the order of the factors does indeed alter the outcome.


The current political reality clashes with the institutional structure that characterizes the political system. If prior to that, up to the nineties, things worked badly, they have now taken a turn for the worse and, in addition, are dysfunctional. This is not the “fault” if anyone in particular, but rather, the burnout of an institutional structure designed for another age that is not in keeping with present-day circumstances and that does not respond to the realities of the power of today. It is urgent to redesign the institutions in order for these to be functional and to operate vis-à-vis the citizen. The vectors of change, of State reform, cannot be other than efficacy and rendering of accounts. But this cannot be imposed by decree: for them to work, they require a basic renegotiation of power, that is, the equivalent of the constitution of a foundational political pact: a strong State


We must not lose sight of the fact that a subsidiary objective to that of a strong State is that of conferring certainty and clarity of course on the population, and this can only be achieved insofar as there is a wide-ranging political agreement, accompanied by the mechanisms of checks and balances that make it effective. Nothing more, but nothing less.