The future is not something that comes about on its own. Rather, it is the product of decisions that are made, or not made, day to day. The entirety of the decisions made by a government, as well as the accumulation of actions and decisions undertaken by each and every member of a society, shape what that future will be. In this regard, if we don’t like the present, we need to think about the actions that would be necessary today for the future to be not only very different, but also much better.
The future is built. According to St. Augustine, time exists in three facets: the present, which is presently experienced or considered; the past, which is presently remembered, and the future, which is presently expected. This perspective of time and the future tells us that the present determines our vision of the future as well as that of the past. However, that of the past is solely explained in terms of the memory that we have today of what happened yesterday. In the case of the future, what is fundamental is that our actions of today determine what the future will be tomorrow. This is the perspective that animates the construction of a better future.
If we accept Saint Augustine’s conception of time, the future is no more than what we do today. This manner of observing the world is the same whether we devote ourselves to the future in full consciousness or whether we simply conduct ourselves as we always have. That is, the future is erected with what we do and with what we fail to do: everything comes together to fashion the traditions, policies, constructions, and social and economic organizations that befit the future. In this sense, the future is being built every day. But if there is no clear sense of purpose, no explicit objective to pursue, any road will lead us to the future, since they are all the same.
All societies that have achieved transforming and modernizing themselves, from Singapore to Spain, Portugal, Chile, and Korea, each with its own characteristics, have procured this thanks to the creation of auspicious conditions for this transformation process. Hence, their success is not due to things having suddenly changed, but to their doing everything necessary for this to occur. This is an intentional process that enjoys broad social legitimacy. To generate this sense of direction and organize the population and the government to reach this is our key challenge at present. It is the gauntlet thrown down to all of the political forces.
In the midst of the democratic and decentralizing maelstrom that has distinguished the country over the past decades, we lost something basic: the sense of direction to development that the country appeared to have found after a long period of indefiniteness. Nothing is worse for a nation’s development than the absence of bearings, because it is in these that the sensation of clarity concerning the future is forfeited, expectations are quashed, and, as if all this were not sufficient, special interest make their appearance, and their benefits grow at the expense of the rest of the people.
Clarity of course was lost between the sixties and the seventies: at the beginning due to structural problems, and later to the political conflict that we experience to this day. The era of reforms during the eighties and nineties, including NAFTA, was an attempt to define a new tack and to secure social support for this. Unfortunately, the crisis of 1995 destroyed the fledgling consensus and opened Pandora’s Box vis-à-vis the future. Neither democracy nor alternation of parties in government have modified this reality. Political conflict has become a permanent feature. It is also the prime cause of the country’s economic stagnation because it is a source of perpetual uncertainty, investment’s worst enemy.
For some years, proximity with the most dynamic markets conferred an exceptional competitive advantage on our economy. Mexico not only achieved privileged access to the U.S. market, but in addition this proximity, conjointly with NAFTA, made the country an enormously attractive marketplace for the location of new industrial plants. However, these advantages eroded inasmuch as we did not raise the productivity of the internal economy and other economies left us behind. We, resting on our laurels, allowed countries like China to displace us in the export markets. Although some would attribute mythological conditions to the Chinese success, there is hardly a question that Mexico has lagged in all orders: from the educative to the infrastructural, passing through the fiscal system and elimination of bureaucratic obstacles. While the Chinese remove impediments to the creation of new enterprises, in Mexico we render the privilege of contributing to the growth of the economy ever more onerous.
We again find ourselves before a change of great magnitude in the world’s trade and economic circuits, which generates enormous potential opportunities for the country’s economic development, but these will not engender themselves. Regrettably, there appears to be neither clear-mindedness nor a willingness of the political forces to convert these opportunities into reality. The latter is particularly relevant: the essential characteristic of the construction of the future resides in continuity of public policy. The success of Brazil in recent years has been precisely that: its governments have changed but its development strategy prevails, transforming itself into the best incentive for investment. In other words, our future requires a political entente that enables continuity.
The last decades have been an authentic testimony to our incapability of articulating a development strategy that provides a sense of direction for the country: but the problem not only lies in the inability to articulate this, but also in the inability to achieve political consensus on its adoption; i.e., we have not been capable of sustaining a transformational process, which is the only manner in which a country can modernize itself and, along the way, create the jobs and opportunities that the population justifiably demands.
It is evident that the future of the country will require diverse reforms and changes, but the only way to contribute to the construction of a positive future in the Augustine sense is constructing political pacts aligned with a future to which all political forces and, of course, the society, are willing to subscribe. Our problem is not one of specific reforms, but of the political conflict that impedes according certainty to a population desirous of emerging from the present impasse to begin to construct a different future.