July 30 2004

Commentary

Ship adrift

By Andrés Lozano

Shipwreck is the outcome when a boat adrift collides against the reefs. It makes little difference if it is due to the helmsman’s lack of navigational skills or an errant course adopted. The Mexican ship-of-state has wandered for nearly thirty-five years, without rudder for over four. It will ram unless steered clear, mostly of man-made hindrances. Careening must stop! Since 1970: improvisation, an impulsive style of governing replaced compass, sextant and charts. Nothing good can result from this.

If the crew goes berserk, should travelers take command? At least in theory, a passenger-selected crew should be trusted upon with piloting. Unfortunately, commuters can make wrong choices, as it is the case. Wrong selection can originate in misrepresentation from the part of the crew as in this instance. Really, what travelers should do if on-route they discover an unskilled crew secured command on pretenses? Midway between havens, long past the point of return, itinerants aghast have discovered they are once again in a ship of fools, maneuvered by nincompoops.

Good governance lasted thirty years or five consecutive administrations, from 1940 until 1970. At odds with trends, Mexico enjoyed coherence in office during said period. Only in colonial times and between 1876 and 1910 had happened before. Previously, in between, and afterwards, mismanagement has been the rule. Thus, the crash at sight is part of a normal pattern. Ideally to be avoided, but predictable if it materializes.

Scrutinizing is key to good management. Citizens as partakers choose managers in good faith and apparently also on record. Only time confirms the wisdom or blunder of choice. The difference between partakers and voters is the former can rapidly decide to revise their choice if performance falls under an expected level. The latter do not have at hand these lissome remedies. At best, in advanced societies, they have the choices of recall or the no confidence vote. However, even in those cases, it is a messy procedure; thus, it is fair to affirm that, most times, voters end up straddled with their elected officials for the duration of their mandates. Misjudgment, hence, entails its own harsh corrective in the form of unfulfilled goals.

Mexican voters must learn to choose their elected officials the same way they choose goods and services in the marketplace. Voting is not different from acquiring. In fact, it is public management leasing. If merchandise or plank claims are too good to be true, probably they are. Mexican consumers face a paltry political choice: all options are below standard. It should be otherwise. Voters should be able to choose among good alternatives not between lesser options. Voting in Mexico is a guessing game, which is the least bad choice. The question is how much longer voters will stand this never-ending con game. When are they going to say enough is enough? That is, make certain political offers are edible.

It certainly will not change until voters involve themselves in the political process. Voting and hoping for the best is giving too much leniency, a very open-ended approach with little potential of success. Mexico is a sad example of a country that by now should be developed. It has failed to attain prosperity and justice due to a sad combination of indifference and the ensuing mismanagement perpetrated by politicians, aware of the fact that they will not be subjected to reproach. This, in turn, has fostered a climate of impunity undermining the national covenant. If renowned public figures can get away with murder, the example prospers and every Tom, Dick and Harry end up believing the same and behaving accordingly.

Acumen has several definitions, yet there is one apt for this example: The ability to learn from mistakes and do not repeat them. According to this measure, there is ample room for improvement. Mexican voters fall prey once and again to snake oil peddlers. The more outrageous the claim, the larger number being stuck. Thus, if experience does not serve us, at least memory should. If neither does…well, there’s a picture of the way things are. Attachment to failed beliefs, cherished as they may be, will only protract unnecessary dearth. Jointly and individually, the people must review which beliefs must be done away with. In addition, find out which ideas are required in replacement.

Eighty years ago Mexico’s development compared with Italy’s and in the early seventies was still ahead of Korea. What happened that today it trails far behind these two countries? Other than being prone to harebrained schemes, shortcuts to wealth, there is no other explanation. Italy and Korea did not do anything unusual: after tinkering with silly schemes themselves, finally they discovered the set of actions that foster wealth and used them. No big deal, just plain old commonsense applied to everyday living. Yet, as long as decision-making is transferred to third parties expecting good results from this submission, the only outcome is the success of the third parties with our means and at our expense.

Andrés Lozano alozanoh@msn.com

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