Reforms in the Era of Globalization

Luis Rubio

The contrast between the discourse of the politicians and the reality in the streets  wields a great impact. As if it were about two contradictory worlds, which mutually ignore each other. There’s a lot of that in Mexico and in the provincialism of its politics, but I’m not referring to Mexico or not exclusively to Mexico. The great revelation of the film The Square is that today no one has a monopoly on information. The pertinent question for Mexicans is whether the recent reforms are on the same page with that change in the reality.

The film, a documentary on the student rebellion in Tahrir Plaza, is a profile of six activists from the beginning of the demonstrations until the Army’s retrieval of the power after overthrowing Egypt’s elected President. It is a powerful testimony to a spontaneous social mobilization although perhaps incited by years of contention and political repression. But the most transcendental message of the film does not lie in the demonstrations themselves but rather in the narrative of the mobilization.

When it began and the so-called “Arab Spring” took wing, many observers noted that the electronic media, the social networks and other instruments of the globalization era had made this phenomenon possible. Some historians, less passionate, demonstrated how European XIX-century revolutions had followed a similar pattern: the example had taken longer to spread, but had had the same impact. In other words, technology has precipitated the times but has not changed the dynamic. What technology did achieve was dissolving the monopoly on truth.

As one of the lead characters in the film says, formerly history was written by the winners, now each tells his/her own. The politicians are no longer the possessors of the truth and their affirmations are immediately questioned, frequently with relevant data and relentless information. Now the traditional media compete with bloggers and, in fact, with anybody with a cell phone cum camera in his/her pocket. No longer is there a sole truth or a sole perspective. The political implications of this fact are extraordinary.

To start with, no one controls the events and the capacity to manipulate diminishes drastically. It’s not inconceivable that, having occurred one or two decades previously, the attempt at impeachment of Lopez Obrador (2005) would have been successful, but today it would be impossible because no one controls all the processes, including the government.

As Aníbal Romero says, politics is not defined in the plane of good intentions but in that of results “and events often take a distinct and even contradictory tack with regard to what was intended”. This is dramatically magnified with the multiplicity of contradictory sources of information and the heightening of expectations, all of which fundamentally alters governmental activity.

The world of yesteryear was a paradise of controlling politicians and the population had few resources within their reach. Kings and feudal seigneurs (whatever their title) dominated thanks to their capacity to control basic goods. While there were exceptions, that capacity of control and manipulation remained unaltered until just a few lustra ago. Today, as David Konzevik remarks, expectations swell 5% for each 1% of a rise in income, that is, they grow exponentially and it’s not necessary for any person to more than watch TV to know what she wants and that she wants it now. Governing within this context exacts a very different way of understanding the world and of acting.

In the Mexico of the many reforms, the question is whether these are synchronous with today’s reality. On occasion, it seems to me that instead of attempting to position the country ahead of the curve, what’s really being done is legalizing or codifying the industrial revolution at the emergence of the XIX century.

There are various things that appear very clear: first, it is no longer possible to hoodwink the citizenry or trade gold for shiny beads; second, the population is light years ahead of the politicians with respect to their desires and expectations and there’s no way to satisfy these and certainly not with the instruments available at present; and third, given that the government cannot control information flows or expectations (and it would be ridiculous for it to try to do so), its function should be to concentrate on providing people with the instruments and capacities to be successful in their own right.

The following list does not feign to be exhaustive, but its implications in the terrain of reforms is evident: these must concentrate on unleashing the productive capacity of the population (labor reform); give the people tools for them to be able to avail themselves of these in such a complex and complex world (education, health); furnish them with access to information (telecommunications); and create conditions so that their rights are protected (political-electoral and security). The key is their focus: what are they meant to accomplish?

I’m left with two doubts: first, although the potential energy resources are evidently enormous and merit intense, rational and successful exploitation, why concentrate on that, the XIX century, instead of the XXI? Another doubt: To what degree do the reforms that have been approved, and whose implementing legislation is in process, adhere to the logic of advancing what is crucial for the future?

In one of his films, Cantinflas said that what’s most interesting in life is to be simultaneous and successive, at the same time. That’s how the government should be thinking, but its concentration seems to be on other things.