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Transforming, Modernizing Mexican Economy Is Far From a 'Radical' Idea

August 14, 1988

Paul R. Krugman's inaugural column for the Times Board of Economists ("Mexicans Send Message With Votes, but the Results May Not Be What They Hope," July 24) did not bode well. To describe Carlos Salinas de Gortari as "the real radical" in the recent presidential ballot in Mexico is either disingenuous or ignorant.

Salinas may very well represent a new Mexican elite, one that seeks to transform "Mexico into an outward-looking, market-oriented, modernizing economy." But to suggest that such a project is "radical" is a perversion of the language.

Moreover, to condemn the leading opponent of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, as the standard-bearer of "a populism that sounds radical but that is, in the Mexican context, a return to the past" merely betrays Krugman's bias. Cardenas indeed represents something of the Mexican political past. He represents the determination to achieve true land reform and income redistribution in a nation whose economy will forever be stymied until such reform--truly radical though it may be--is achieved. No "modernizing" proposals from a "U.S.-educated team of technocrats" can do away with this fact.

One final point: Krugman, now that he is writing for a Western newspaper, needs to watch his choice of words. It is offensive to describe what happened in the Mexican election as "the political confusion." What happened was that a democratic, peaceful challenge was made to an entrenched, corrupt party that has dominated the nation's politics for virtually a half century. If this be a "mess," then let the Mexican people make the most of it. And if this is disturbing to "U.S.-educated technocrats" who yearn for moderate change in the status quo, then so be it.

MICHAEL A. BERNSTEIN

La Jolla

The writer is an associate professor of history at the University of

California, San Diego.

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