All presidents feel themselves destined to change the world, but none have achieved this in the last half century. What difference will the next one make? Recent presidents tried everything: they've exacerbated public spending (Echeverría and López Portillo), created pacts (Miguel de la Madrid and Peña Nieto), alliances (Salinas), agreements (Zedillo), and treaties (like NAFTA). There were many plans, but the results fell short because none of these former presidents tackled the main challenge of the country: how to govern, and above all, why to govern.
President Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known as AMLO, has the opportunity to carry out a deep transformation due to his legitimacy, and also because he’s not committed to preserving the status quo.
None of these former presidents tackled the main challenge of the country: how to govern, and above all, why to govern.
When studying the past from 1964 until now, all presidents began with grand plans and proposals and, with the sole exception of Zedillo, those plans ended badly: some because they provoked uncontrollable crises, others because their acts discredited them. All promised the moon and the stars but few finished well. Without a doubt, some left transcendental legacies (as NAFTA has been) and others built institutions that have changed the nature of the national debate. All of them, each in his own fashion, attempted to reform the country to achieve elevated and sustained growth, but none procured that to be the case for the entirety of the population.
Today it is clear that no one has wished or has been willing to confront the problem at the core of the political and institutional structure: although much has changed, the government has remained the same. The country has undergone an economic transformation through the rise of an exporter economy that today comprises the most important, nearly single, growth engine. The demography is totally different from that in 1964 - currently, the population is three times greater and has dispersed throughout the whole territory, and sustains contacts and exchanges worldwide, something simply inconceivable a half century ago.
Mexicans are going through the most critical demographic moment, the so-called demographic bonus, the juncture at which young people are in the majority and on their successful incorporation into the labor market, are slated to constitute the platform of creation of the most important wealth for the future. Were this process to fail, Mexico would wind up a poor and old society in the next generation. There’s no place left to hide.
Although much has changed, the government has remained the same.
While the economy and the demography furnish huge opportunities, the security crisis, poverty, and political pugnaciousness are the sandbags that hold Mexico back. This has hindered the country from prospering and transforming itself into a power capable of successfully providing for all of the citizenry. Because at the end of the day, if the purpose of governing is not prosperity, its function is irrelevant. And the record of the last half century comes up short by this yardstick.
Three or four years ago, the government conducted a survey on perceptions about the country. The result was expressed in a bar graph in which there appeared, from more to less, the issues that the population evaluated positively, descending toward those that it perceived negatively. In this manner, there were very high bars on the left side of the graph and other, very negative ones on the right. The left-hand bars referred to the nature of the Mexican, the cuisine, the affability, the art, the history, the exports, and so on. Later there followed many small bars covering matters not perceived by the population as either good or bad, and terminating with a series of bars extending downward, each worse than the previous one. The latter referred to the police, education, the government, the taxes, and court authorities. That is, the population approved of everything that forms the country’s history and nature, while it disapproved of everything associated with the government.
That is the country’s problem: it does not have a government that functions for what is relevant, for generating prosperity.
Because at the end of the day, if the purpose of governing is not prosperity, its function is irrelevant. And the record of the last half century comes up short by this yardstick.
Politicians love to use the term "governance" to refer to the ability to do as they please. AMLO does not have that problem.The problem for him is that he must yield results. It is not enough to dismantle existing programs or have an overwhelming majority in the legislative branch. If he does not achieve the prosperity of the country, his enormous power will end up being inconsequential. History teaches that recreating the same vices, programs, and strategies that did not work in the past will not work in the future either. The country and the world have changed, which forces AMLO to look for new ways to access opportunities for the entire population.
Politicians love to use the term "governance" to refer to the ability to do as they please. AMLO does not have that problem.
If AMLO wants this to end well, the government has to create conditions for the prosperity of the population and for that, it must not only change the structure of the government, but also build means of access for the population that has always been excluded. It is not enough to be powerful. It is imperative to create a new system of institutionalized government with the explicit criteria of social inclusion.
Luis Rubio is a Pacific Council member and president of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI).
This article was originally published by COMEXI.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.