As a science fiction writer one of the things I like to do is cast my eye twenty or thirty years into the future and try to identify likely changes. It is a matter of learning from history and then applying those lessons to clear trends and patterns in the present day. I’m not a futurist – I don’t get paid that well – but as a policy analyst I’ve trained my mind to think about the future consequences of present actions.
Mexico has always been fascinating to me. I’ve travelled extensively in all parts of the country over a couple of decades and have augmented my travels with a wide range of reading in its history and politics. The one thing that always struck me about Mexicans is their appetite for hard work and their determination and confidence that they can build a better life for themselves. They are probably the most entrepreneurial people in North America – while still retaining a strong sense of community and collective responsibility.
I always believed that Mexico would overcome its problems with corruption and inefficiency. And I think they will eventually resolve their struggles with drug cartels – though maybe not until the USA changes its policies and makes drug smuggling less profitable. More prisons and prohibition aren’t the answer, in case you were wondering.
Recently, the Mexican economy has been growing at a rate better than most countries in the West. Massive investments by foreign corporations – often in partnership with local businesses – has dramatically improved productivity and led to a surge in innovation and research. If present trends continue, it may be the Mexicans complaining about people flooding across the Rio Grande searching for a better life. Perhaps Americans should be careful what they wish for.
Of course, numerous problems still wait to be solved. Wages remain low. Compared to Canadians and Americans with similar levels of education and skills, Mexicans earn only about one third as much money. Few Mexicans can afford to buy the cars and trucks that are being turned out in the factories of Monterrey. This drag on the economy needs to be addressed.
Still, Mexicans have distinct advantage over American workers. The health care system is extensive and free and public education is moving forward in leaps and bounds. NAFTA may not have benefited everyone in North America but it has been a boon to Mexico – so much so that the country is rapidly becoming the leader in negotiating and signing free trade agreements with other countries.
Mexico also has secret advantage – one that America had in the forties and fifties. Back then, large amounts of criminal cash began looking for legitimate outlets. The children of gangsters wanted a normalized life for themselves and their own children. No one can say how much of America’s growth in the sixties and seventies came from illegal money being pumped back into the economy but it wasn’t zero. In Mexico we are likely to see a similar trend as narco-dollars seeks a way to create stable and safe lives for the children and grandchildren of gangsters. It would be ironic if American drug policy led to Mexico surpassing America at its own capitalist game.
And that’s ten minutes.