July 12, 2000
"The stunning victory of Mexico's president-elect Vicente Fox … opens the door to a period of sustained economic prosperity that could carry Mexico into the front-ranks of the information-age global economy," supply side economist Larry Kudlow has excitedly announced in National Review Online. [Fox-Trotting Through North America, July 11, 2000]
Sorry, Larry, but it's not going to happen. No politician has that kind of power. Nothing Fox could possibly do will convert the Mexican people into a bunch of Mountain Dew-mainlining way cool Java geeks.
How do I know? Because immigrants are leading indicators. If the only thing holding down a particular people's inventiveness is their native country's bad government, then their immigrants will prosper in America. For example, it was no surprise that Bangalore, India has become a software boomtown. Until the Nineties, India had nightmarish Fabian socialist policies, but Indian immigrants had long been doing brilliant work here in America. Similarly, it was obvious from watching Israeli immigrants that even the Knesset's socialist laws couldn't keep the Israeli people poor forever.
In contrast, the heart of the global information economy, California, is currently home to about ten million people of Mexican descent. Their creative contributions to Silicon Valley, however, are minuscule.
There is, however, a minority within Mexico that could join the high tech world if it wished. It's largely unknown to Americans because its scions have no need to immigrate. They only come to the U.S. for advanced degrees.
My introduction to Mexico's ruling caste occurred at UCLA's Graduate School of Management. In an elaborate marketing strategy simulation game, my team got drubbed by a three-man squad consisting of one American and two dark-blonde young men from Mexico. The American explained the secret of their success: when they couldn't agree on their next move, Alfredo and Jose would start talking in Spanish and after a few minutes they would tell him what the team was going to do. Mexico's white technocrats, however, have traditionally found it far more lucrative and less work to simply reign over Mexico's brown masses than to compete on the world market.
This is not the first time supply-siders have fallen deeply, madly in love with a new El Presidente with a glib line of patter about "free markets" and "globalization." Robert Bartley, the Wall Street Journal's influential Editorial Page Editor, recalled his romance with President Carlos Salinas (1988-1994) in a WSJ column on July 10. To find out how well the Journal's infatuation worked out, you don't have to be a National Security Administration cryptographer to be able to read between Bartley's lines:
"I was particularly close to Carlos Salinas, who served a time as director of Dow Jones & Co. after finishing his presidency. I was of course familiar with the controversies that surrounded him, for example visiting him in Mexico City on the eve of his flight from the country. Mexican cynicism to the contrary, the analysts I most credit say he did win the 1988 election, with plenty of electoral fraud on two sides but northern voters moving into the PRI camp to avert a leftist victory. I suppose his brother [Raul] belongs in jail, but I see little reason to believe he's guilty of the assassination conspiracy of which he was convicted. And while Mexican economic policies concocted an explosive mixture in 1994, I think a crisis as huge as the 1995 collapse might have been averted if Pedro Aspe had been kept at the hard-money tiller.
(To get the unbowdlerized story on the Salinas Gang, read my May 5th VDARE column, "Shackled to an Ungrateful Corpse.")
Kudlow goes on to say, "[Fox] also favors closer relations with the U.S. Expect a clear foreign-policy tilt toward America in diplomacy, defense, and — perhaps most importantly — trade and immigration." Well, to the extent that America's political, corporate, and media establishment already favor even more immigration from Mexico, Fox will certainly do his best to be "pro-American."
Fox appeared on ABC's "This Week" gabfest and trumpeted his solution for illegal immigration: legalize it. "Asked whether he would like to see a totally open border between the United States and Mexico, Fox said, 'Yes, 10 years from now... That's what we should shoot for, and then we finish with … illegal migration.'''[ Mexico President-Elect Seeks Open Border with U.S.]
Does this sound crazy? Well, he's crazy like a Fox. By pushing fantasy policies like this, Fox is making it easier for him to get the next American President to agree to some sort of "compromise" like his recent trial balloon that America should let in more Mexican legal immigrants in return for Mexico's purported help in cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Mexico's economic problems are so fundamental, so deeply rooted in Mexico's oppressive racial structure, that the surest thing any Mexican president could do to substantially improve his people's standard of living is help more of them get the hell out of Mexico. Fox hopes to build a permanent political base among Mexicans in the U.S. and their relatives back home who get remittances from them.
So Fox will use his Yeltsin-like glamour as the liberator of Mexico to badger Washington into accepting more immigrants. Not that he would have to push Dubya terribly hard. How better to show the Compassionate Conservative's sensitivity to Hispanic concerns than by letting in a million or two more?
Hey, it might not be the first time for the Bush family. A reliable source familiar with the NAFTA negotiations reports that in return for Salinas cutting the price subsidies that would have allowed Mexico's peasant corn farmers to compete with Midwestern agribusiness, President Bush Sr., in violation of his oath to faithfully execute the laws, secretly agreed to let in more illegal immigrants.
Although the Bush dynasty has had close political and business ties to Mexico's discredited Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Kudlow urges Dubya to view Fox as a comrade in arms: "The Fox victory in Mexico could well portend a rising political tide of conservative victories in the U.S. and Canada during the next 12 months." No doubt, if Dubya wins, the libertarian right will push this we're-all-in-it-together line of thinking on Bush. The unexpressed flip side to Kudlow's thinking is that if Fox falters, then it could turn the tide against Dubya. So, Bush had better be ready to bail out Fox to preserve his own hide.
Fox needs a compliant American President just as much as Boris Yeltsin needed an acquiescent Bill Clinton to survive all those years of corrupt, drunken misrule. But Mexico's most important law limits presidents to a single six year term. Why would Fox need so much American support?
First, though Fox talks about reducing the enormous power of the President, he won't do it to any important extent. He'll have no problem talking himself into the belief that decentralization can wait until after he's used the full power of the Presidency to root out corruption from Mexico. Since this will prove a Sisyphean task, he'll find endless justifications for postponing imposing checks and balances on himself. Peru's formidable Alberto Fujimori has followed this road into authoritarianism.
Second, assuming Fox enjoys some success, then I predict that Fox will try to run again (and again after that). That's what democratically elected Latin American politicians do if they are at all effective. In Argentina, Menem almost succeeded in getting around his country's two-term limit. Fujimori strong-armed his way to a third term in violation of the law.
Fox will be able to make a case that will seem persuasive to Americans that letting him run again is a "democratic reform." After all, since Mexican presidents have traditionally been instant lame ducks, they don't have to worry about pleasing the voters. That's one reason why they steal such enormous sums.
What Americans won't understand is the cynical wisdom behind Mexico's one term tradition. President Calles instituted it in 1929 to keep ambitious politicians and generals from murdering the President, as had happened so often over the previous two decades. The one-term limit inculcated patience as the prime political virtue.
By attempting to stay in power for twelve (and possibly 18 or even 24 years), Fox will vastly raise the stakes in Mexican politics. Ambitious middle-aged men in other factions will fear that Fox will block them from ever getting a crack at supreme power. Tensions will mount and political violence will flare. Washington will grow worried that a new Mexican revolution, like the one that began in 1910 and killed millions, will send twenty million refugees fleeing north toward the border.
The American president will ask Fox what could we do to help preserve democracy in Mexico and stave off civil war. Well, he'll reply, it would sure let off steam if you'd double or triple your intake of immigrants. All you'd have to do is tell the INS to go easy.
We're all paying the price for America's delusions about Yeltsin. The people of America and of Mexico will both suffer if America's elites continue to ignore the harsh truth about the Mexican power structure.