Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 28, 2013

More on change in Mexico

Nearly all of the things Shannon K. O'Neil mentions in her analysis have been mentioned in articles I've cited in this blog over the last year or so. But it's not just journalism this time.

O'Neil is is Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from her upcoming book, Road Ahead, which will be published by Oxford University Press.

Does this give the argument for successful change in Mexico more credibility? Does that help distinguish Mexico from other changing systems in Russia, China, and Nigeria?

Mexico Makes It: A Transformed Society, Economy, and Government
Hidden behind the troubling headlines, however, is another, more hopeful Mexico -- one undergoing rapid and widespread social, political, and economic transformation. Yes, Mexico continues to struggle with grave security threats, but it is also fostering a globally competitive marketplace, a growing middle class, and an increasingly influential pro-democracy voter base. In addition, Mexico's ties with the United States are changing. Common interests in energy, manufacturing, and security, as well as an overlapping community formed by millions of binational families, have made Mexico's path forward increasingly important to its northern neighbor…


Three decades ago, Mexico had an inward-looking, oil-dominated economy. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled the country for 71 years, maintained a stranglehold on the economy and the country as a whole… State-sponsored monopolies provided employment for almost one million Mexicans, as well as patronage to party officials and union leaders. But they also weighed down the economy with overpriced goods, inefficient policies, and corruption, triggering repeated booms and busts.

Today, Mexico has shaken off this volatile past to become one of the most open and globalized economies in the world…

from World Bank
Along with these economic reforms came significant social changes, especially the rise of Mexico's middle class. By the early 1980s, the country's middle class had grown to about a third of the population, thanks to the PRI's commitment to accessible education and the expansion of public-sector employment… Today's middle-class Mexicans are… much less dependent on the government than their parents were, as most work in the private sector.

As Mexico's economy and society have changed, so has its politics… Political change gained momentum after the 1994 economic crisis… The PRI's control suffered a further blow from a 1996 electoral reform that made voter fraud harder to commit. In the late 1990s, the growing middle class abandoned the PRI altogether…

In 2012, voters, concerned about waning economic growth and unrelenting drug violence, ushered the PRI back into the executive branch. Some worry that the party's return has sounded the death knell for Mexico's democracy… But Mexico's political system has changed since the PRI last held high office. Both the legislative and the judicial branches of government now provide checks and balances against presidential power. Congress was once filled with a permanent majority of PRI delegates who rarely questioned the edicts of their president. Today, the PRI holds a plurality, not a majority, in both houses, which means the party will have to negotiate with the opposition to pass legislation…

Since 2000, power has also become increasingly decentralized and regionalized…

Still, many problems hold Mexico back. In recent decades, Mexico City has done little to bust the monopolies and oligopolies that hobble the country's growth… Shoddy infrastructure further limits Mexico's progress… Mexico's educational system is also subpar. Children now stay in school longer, but they do not seem to be getting much for their time… Even more pressing, Mexico must deal with its crime problem…

If Mexico addresses these challenges, it will emerge as a powerful player on the international stage…

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