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Mexico Must Implement Reforms--but Foreign-Born Answers Won't Do

December 21, 1986|Luis Rubio | Luis Rubio, director general of Instituto de Banca y Finanzas A.C., an independent research institution in Mexico City, is author of "Mexico's Dilemma: The Political Origins of Economic Crisis" (WestView Press).

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's economy, which was plunged into crisis in 1982, is only now beginning to recover. The crisis grew out of many of the problems the country had accumulated for decades--problems that had to be confronted decisively so Mexico could again attain rates of economic growth above the rate of growth of the population.

Many a change has taken place since the current administration came to office four years ago; undoubtedly, there is still much to be done; but what remains can only be carried out within the parameters of Mexico's traditions, culture and values.

Recently, major newspapers have carried series of articles about Mexico's problems. The issues those articles have dealt with are varied--ranging from the economy to corruption and from elections to foreign policy--but their thrust tends to be similar: Mexico has to undertake a number of prefabricated actions and policies to correct those problems. While the diagnosis made in each one of those articles might be debated, the conclusions arrived at are, more often than not, unwarranted. Indeed, Mexico requires reforms in many areas. The trouble, however, is that general prescriptions are not useful to specific situations.

It is quite fashionable to argue that the only solution for Mexico's ills is to adopt political and economic formulas that have proved successful in other countries. Such arguments, however, often fail to recognize the simple fact that what determines the right kind of policies for each country is, precisely, each country's reality and history. From this point of view, the worst possible prescription for Mexico's future would be to undertake actions and policies that are alien and utterly unfeasible, even though the same actions and policies might work magnificently when applied in other societies.

Mexico's political system, like that of every other country in the world, emerged within a specific context that defined its traits and peculiarities. It should not be surprising, for instance, to find Mexico's government as promoter and direct participant in the economic realm, as far back as the middle of the 19th Century. At a time when most of the industrialized nations were pursuing free-market policies as the key to development, Mexico's government was forced by reality to pursue a different course, one that has given it more than half a century of stability and economic growth. Throughout that period, there were many arguments that Mexico would not be successful in its path to development. Despite the current difficulties, reality has clearly proved otherwise.

There is hardly a sector in today's Mexico--be it business, the press, independent intellectuals or government officials--that does not recognize Mexico's need to introduce reforms in order to guarantee a process of balanced development. The issue is not whether to reform the country's structures and to modernize its institutions; that is obvious. The real issue is not to upset the balances that are crucial in maintaining political and social stability. Simply transfering foreign institutions into Mexico's realities would forestall the country's development.

What Mexico needs is a broad range of institutional reforms in its public administrations; in the relationship of the government with the private sector; in the participation of the press in society. The reforms Mexico must undertake range from a reduction in bureaucratic procedures to the re-creation of the political balances that allowed the country to be so successful over the last half a century. These actions would increase the latitude of the private sector and allow the economy to flourish again. But such reforms, to be successful, would have to be undertaken by Mexicans within the traditions and idiosyncrasies of Mexico. The real issue is to recover key balances in Mexican society without unraveling social stability. That is the challenge, one only Mexicans can handle.

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