By Luis Rubio*
The achievement of stability and high growth rates after the revolutionary era was nearly miraculous and contrasted with the interminable South American dictatorships. Everything suggested that Mexico had procured a successful and permanent formula. It worked until it ran out.
But what is significant –and what was of virtue- of that era was the fact that the diverse components of the clockwork that made it work in general were in sync. The economic autarchy coupled with the authoritarian political system and the structure of vertical controls that was a key component of the PRIist system to keep the state governors in line. The scheme responded to the reality of the moment in which it was constructed –the post-revolutionary epoch, and, above all, the post-War era- and permitted the country to progress.
Of course, the fact that there was progress in some ambits did not imply that the system was free of contradictions. When these made themselves heard, the system responded: this was how it acted with (annulled) independent presidential candidacies when these presented and how it repressed guerilla movements and, towards the end of the era, the student movement. The preference was always cooption and that ever-so-PRIist tactic: subject the dissent to the general corruption of the system under the aegis that there is no greater loyalty than that springing from complicity.
The problems began when the contradictions stopped being minor and the traditional response no longer solved the problems. For example, without recognizing that it was a structural problem emanating from the evaporation of monies to finance imports, President Echeverría responded to the (very mild) recession of 1971 with a sudden and massive increase in public expenditure, breaking with all of the fiscal equilibria known until then. Fiddling with it “just a little” ended up undermining the old stability, destroying the confidence of the population and positioning the country on the threshold of hyperinflation.
The equilibria now broken, attempts at a solution eventually began, all of these conceived to preserve the essence of the PRIist system but in turn supplying the economy with oxygen: a flagrant contradiction, but logical within its context. Russell Ackoff, a U.S. thinker, wrote that “there are four ways of treating a problem― absolution, resolution, solution and dissolution ― and the greatest of these is dissolution”. Of all these, says Ackoff, only dissolution allows eliminating the problem because it entails the redesign of the context within which it arose. That is, what Mexico required (and requires) was an integral transformation similar to that which today’s successful nations experienced –each on its own terms- such as Korea, Chile and, before the euro, Spain and Ireland.
What in fact was done was to attempt to respond to the problems by seeing to their most evident manifestations and trusting that those would disappear (“absolve” in Ackoff’s terminology). That is how it went through diverse political reforms as well as with partial and fragmentary economic liberalization. It was not that there was bad faith; rather, the ultimate objective resided in the preservation of the essence of the political system and its beneficiaries. Viewed from this perspective, the most emblematic of the electoral reforms (1996) was nothing other than going from a one-party system to a three-party structure, and not to full democracy. The expanded regime extended the benefits to new participants and created a scheme of competition that did not alter the essence of the old system, but only “democratized” it.
What it did not solve were the contradictions. One by one, these have come to wage an attack on occasion in creative, but always limited, ways. In one epoch the support was procured of “men-institutions”, responsible persons who understood what hung in the balance and who took care that the equilibria were not shattered (and there were –and there are- many more of these figures than one might imagine); in another epoch “autonomous” and “citizen” entities were constructed under the notion that the members of their boards would not lend themselves to shady dealings and that they would guarantee the seriousness and reliability of their actions in electoral matters, on issues of economic regulation and, most recently, in matters of energy. I do not dispute the logic, convenience or potential of this type of response, but it is evident that they have not been sufficient for solving problems that can only be solved with a much more polished transformative vision. They work while they work and then they begin to be costly. In any case, they depend on the individual person.
The elections are nearly upon us, the candidates and parties attack and counterattack each other but, save for exceptional cases, these do not offer attractive alternatives. In the case of the governorships, who end up being proprietors of the lives and souls of their entities, the difference between a good one and a poor one is absolute and that’s why the elections are so hair-raising. The majority only want to get rich or utilize each post as a stepping stone to reach the next one. As an old politician once told me, “some do their job but the majority devote themselves to constructing the next one”.
That’s what Mexicans have got to work with. In Miguel Hidalgo, in the Federal District, a peculiar case is unfolding: a rough-spoken but effective candidate, as only she can be, and without any ambition for another job, contending for the opportunity to govern the local government (which de facto finances the entire Federal District) but that has been badly managed and misgoverned for decades. Xóchitl Gálvez gets my vote because she is a straight-arrow person who is devoted to what she does and who does what has to be done.
* Global Fellow and Member of the Advisory Board of the Mexico Institute at the WWICS and President of the Center of Research for Development (CIDAC).