At Play

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In an episode of the T.V. series West Wing, the contender for the upcoming election is asked why he wanted to be president. The candidate mumbles and his response is anything but convincing. His advisers engage in a chuckle until it suddenly dawns on them that their chief, the president, doesn’t have any idea of why he wants to be re-elected. Something like that is happening with the present electoral match in Mexico: grand stances but little quality.
There are many ways of considering and evaluating the prospects of a presidential election. One is to study the history of the party that postulates each candidate; another is to analyze the past performance of the individual him/herself who is contending for the presidency. Maybe it’s time to incorporate other, probably more transcending, variables into the analysis.
The easy one is to go by the personality of the candidate or by his/her proposals exactly as they emerge in a platform designed precisely to convince the incautious. Election campaigns are an opportunity for each party and candidate to present their vision of the future in biased fashion, as if what one wished and desired were always possible. In this respect, campaigns end up being an exceptional occasion for aggrandizement and serving up Nirvana without the need to link up their proposals with the reality.
In the heat of the fray, the last thing that the candidates want to see or hear is that the reality is more complicated than they suppose, that their overtures are not especially innovative, or that there are limiting factors that make the implementation of their desires difficult, if not impossible. Thus, from a constituent’s perspective, it would be much better to start at the other end: the ideal would be for us to begin by defining what the problems of the country are and to see how the contenders respond to this reality. Viewed from this perspective, the citizenry would oblige the candidates to refine their proposals and to bring their grandiose ideas down to earth.
It is possible for the necessities and challenges of the country to be summed up in one word: productivity. According to Paul Krugman, productivity “isn’t everything, but in the long term, it’s nearly everything”, because it determines the number and types of jobs  that will be available, therefore, the population’s income. Perhaps one way to proceed in this electoral match is to exact from the candidates an explanation of how they would raise the growth of the productivity of the nation’s economy.
Productivity is a concept that summarizes the entirety of the challenges that characterize a society. In plain terms, productivity consists of producing a more with a lesser amount of resources, that is, optimizing the use of energy, labor, infrastructure, and raw materials in order to satisfy the largest number of persons. The reason the concept is so useful is that productivity can only thrive when there are no obstacles to its occurring.
Potential obstacles are of many types. When an entrepreneur proposes the production of goods or a service, he/she must begin by setting up shop somewhere, obtaining the requisite permits, and getting the human, financial, and material resources together to be able to do it. Each of these steps entails potential problems, each proffers the possibility of becoming an insurmountable barrier. Wherever one looks, the combination of monopolies, unions, bureaucrats, de facto powers, and extremely poor education and infrastructure constitutes formidable flies-in-the-ointment that threaten not only the productivity, but the viability of the country.
If we accept productivity as the objective to achieve, the country appears to be designed to fetter its growth. It is not a coincidence that, within this context, the informal economy is such a natural resource, because it allows obviating many of these obstacles. However, productivity entails absolute limits at which a company, thus the country, can develop and grow.
Raising the economy’s general productivity will require confronting obstacles, that is, powerful interests that today benefit the status quo: the latter of which is nowadays at a standstill. In theory, one could suppose that any of the candidates could overcome these obstacles. However, this hasn’t occurred in the country in decades, suggesting that it’s not so simple.
Faced by the need to increase productivity, our candidates, even at this late stage, have proved to be quite laconic. The PRI proposes strengthening the government for the economy to flourish once again, as it did in the sixties, when there was no Chinese competition, imports were irrelevant, and the country had no foreign commercial or investment commitments. The PRD has become more inured; they tell us that the thing to do is to ignore the current reality and its restrictions for reconstructing the 1970s because that way, as if by magic, we could imitate China or Brazil. The PAN tells us that we have to look towards the future and consolidate what has been attained because there is nowhere to go back to.
Of course each of these sketches is no more than a caricature, but the problem is that it’s not too far from the reality. Our only way out as a country is to raise productivity and that is not going to happen by spending as proposed by the PRD, by concentrating power as the PRI proposes, or only by combating criminality in the manner of the present government.
What the country requires is a convincing plan of how to facilitate the functioning of the economy, how to reduce the costs of producing in the country, and how to accelerate the formation of available personnel so we can compete successfully with the rest of the world. In other words, the candidate who deserves to win is he or she who presents us with a reasonable project that entails the following: a greater balance of powers that renders the government functional, but not abusive, in its entirety; an educative system that concentrates on the pupil and not on the demands of the teachers’ union; and a scheme that confers privilege on the citizen above the bureaucrat.
Above all else, the key of the next government lies in which candidate has the capacity and the disposition to confront the obstacles and the special interests that lie in wait, without destroying the financial stability or affecting the citizens’ rights, which have only advanced after such difficulty. Any one of the candidates could confront the obstacles. The question is which of them would do it without destroying what has indeed worked and that is crucial for development.
Instead of offering false panaceas, we the citizens should demand proposals that are likely to demolish, once and for all, the wrongs that have us paralyzed. That’s only possible by looking forward because it’s obvious that what’s behind never worked.

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Luis Rubio

Luis Rubio

He is a contributing editor of Reforma and his analyses and opinions often appear in major newspapers and journals in Mexico, the US and Europe (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio).