Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

August 22, 2005

Whither Mexico?

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:04 pm

Mark in Mexico — who is from the United States but has lived in Mexico for eight and a half years — has drawn a bead on what’s wrong with Mexico. The fundamental question is why Mexico, with similar natural resources, population density, and location to the United States, and on average better weather, has so profoundly underperformed economically.

Before I start, let me tell you that I live in Mexico. The whys and hows as to my presence here are not too important (I’m not a fugitive from justice). I teach English. That’s about it. But I live here. …

Why is Mexico such a mess? It’s the culture. Don’t scoff. I live here, remember? Mexicans do not understand the very basics of Rule of Law. They don’t understand them and I don’t believe they ever will. The single missing ingredient here is accountability. You can steal just about whatever you want to steal here, and if you share the spoils with the political powers that be as well as local, state and federal law enforcement, you can get along quite nicely. Kind of like Chicago.

I used to live in Chicago, and he’s sure drawn a bead on what’s wrong with Chicago. I hated living in Chicago. The locals all thought it was because of the weather, and I let them think that to be polite, but it was really because of the culture, which is pretty much just like Mark describes above. And the irritating thing was not just that everybody was stealing — this didn’t really affect me personally because I didn’t really have anything worth stealing but a trunkload of luggage once — but the complete lack of moral indignation on the part of ordinary city residents who were on the receiving end of all the public malfeasance. They just didn’t care that they were being taken advantage of — or at least, couldn’t imagine that things might ever be better. Snow unplowed on your street? Well, you can’t expect better if you aren’t the precinct captain — stop complaining. Voter registration canceled? You should have known not to vote in the Republican primary. (And if you ever buy a house make sure at least one spouse registers Democrat if you expect your garbage to be collected.)

It’s not just that all this stuff happens — it’s that people there think it’s normal, can’t imagine an alternative, and therefore refuse to do anything about it and ridicule anyone who thinks something ought to be done about it. And these are the people who are paying for, not benefiting from, the corruption. I suspect from Mark’s description that the same is true of Mexico, and a lot of other places as well.

But I digress. Mark continues:

Mexican politicians believe that it is their right to enrich themselves at the expense of their constituents. It comes with the territory, so to speak. Mexicans as a whole are not capable of viewing society as a whole. They do not understand that what is injurious to society is injurious to the individual. My father used to tell me that one’s rights end at the beginning of the other fellow’s nose. Mexicans don’t see it that way. A Mexican believes that his rights extend as far as he can push or bully his way. That the extension of his rights might be deleterious to society as a whole is a thought which never crosses his mind. A basic lack of civility abounds.

This too is “kind of like Chicago” — though perhaps not in every sector of society. But it is certainly true in the sectors of society that interact with city, county, or state government.

Mark continues with a thumbnail sketch history of Mexico that anyone the least bit interested in Mexico should read — even if you think you know the history. (I thought I did, but he lays it out much better than I could have before reading it.) It’s amazing. just read the whole thing.

He has an interesting proposed solution to the problem. Basically, he proposes locking down and militarizing the border between Mexico and the U.S., but allowing any Mexicans who want to immigrate to do so legally provided they agree to certain conditions designed to promote assimilation into the U.S. and prevent ghettoization that might preserve those aspects of the culture that he views as causing Mexico’s problems. It’s an interesting idea. I think that as a practical matter his proposal is unworkable, but it’s a good first draft and the basic idea is a good starting point.

Like I said, read the whole thing.

(Hat tip: The Glittering Eye.)


Clayton Cramer has some comments, and adds some interesting points to Mark’s summary of Mexican history — in particular, Mexican attempts to imitate the U.S. Constitution, and the unusual role of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico’s history.

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