The Political Dilemma

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I haven’t the least doubt that when the Peña-Nieto government was inaugurated, its main consideration rested on how to reconstruct the capacity of action of the State. It’s evident to everyone that governing capacity has been deteriorating over recent decades and that no country can prosper with a weakly government, incompetent and paralyzed, which is also overwhelmed by factors outside of its control. From this perspective, the proposal of an “effective government” that Peña-Nieto uttered during his campaign summed up not only a political philosophy, but a categorical imperative. Now more than ever.
The important question doesn’t reside in the need for constructing an effective government but rather in the causes of its ineffectiveness. One way to see it is to suppose that the government worked well before and that, due to diverse circumstances, stopped doing so. With a diagnosis such as this, what proceeded was to recreate what there was before, with adroit adjustments. But there’s another way to consider the problem: what if the former government was not so successful or not so competent, although some things worked well?
What there’s no doubt about is that the old political system – with its hits and misses- functioned within the context of a very distinct country from that of today: a country much smaller in population, with an authoritarian political system and an economy basically without liaisons with the rest of the world.
In the eighties and nineties, the country embarked upon a process of reform oriented toward recovery of the economy’s growth capacity. With a government still strong and fundamentally capable of administrating political processes, the reforms of those times modified basic structures (through privatizations, deregulation, liberalization of imports). Much change ensued, but the country did not attain raising the growth rate in a sustained manner. On the other hand, the forces that were triggered by that process changed the political reality of the country, creating the plight of the weak government of today, so visible in the atrocities of Iguala.
During that same epoch, the one-time Soviet Union undertook a similar objective, for which Gorbachev conceived a dual reform process: Perestroika would reform the economy while Glasnost would open up politics. Within the Mexican government, the Russian case was much discussed and the government at the time decided that a political opening prior to economic consolidation that Gorbachev was implementing would lead to a catastrophe. In retrospect it’s clear that the Mexican reading of the USSR was correct, but that didn’t imply that the diagnosis of what Mexico was finding fault with was right.
Without proposing it, the new Francis Fukuyama book* describes the Mexican dilemma in laser-sharp fashion. For Fukuyama there are three key components for the ordered functioning of a society: a strong State, the Rule of Law and accountability. He affirms that, although all three are indispensable, none works if the State is weak and dysfunctional. That is, for a country to be successful, it requires a system of government capable of complying with basic functions such as security, the legal system and economic regulation. The sequence, says Fukuyama, is key: countries that democratize themselves before having constructed the capacity to govern themselves effectively always fail because democracy exacerbates the problems and deprivations, eroding the government’s capacity to exercise its authority on finding itself submitted to a surfeit of conflicting demands.
The diagnosis is absolutely clear and devastating. The Mexican political system worked in an environment and within a context that no longer exists and that reality has rendered obsolete. Part of its obsolescence sped up with the reforms of the eighties and nineties, but a reasonable and realistic reading of history would reveal that the problems began much earlier. In reality, the reforms of those years were nothing but an attempt to correct the problems that had been coming to light and accumulating since the mid-sixties. The country’s growth problems date from that period and the political capacity to deal with them exposed its limits in the 1968 student movement, in the economic strategy of the seventies and in the virtual bankruptcy of the government in 1982. Behind the poor economic results lies the poorest of political performances.
A weak government creates a milieu in which growth of the economy is impossible in part due to its own dysfunctionality, but also because it is incapable of solving the problems ailing the country. The dilemma resides in how to resolve the weakness of the State. One way is centralizing and attempting to control all instances and chinks in the armor of political and social life. The government is trying to tap into this aspect, but rapidly finds itself contending with its own limits. A strategy like this exacerbates tensions that later need to be mitigated away with exceptions, creating a vicious circle. That’s what happened with the Educative Reform and with the security conundrum in Michoacán, two obvious cases. Iguala has shown the unviability of the strategy.
The alternative would consist of constructing a system of modern government, one appropriate for the internal and external realities of today’s world. The core change would reside in a distinct vision, in which the objective is government functionality and not control and where political participation is a means and not an objective. The government would professionalize itself, providing the population with certainty. That is, it would entail the recognition that the current system of government is obsolete and requires a thorough transformation. Only then would it be possible to consider its viability and the success of the country in the long term.
*Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy

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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).