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What to Make 2008-2012
November 5, 2008
The number of challenges that will face the next president of the United States is truly humbling. Not only is the country involved in two wars, but it turns out that the world financial system is weaker than anyone expected. The punters on Intrade.com (a betting site) even say there's a 5% chance of a Depression. How sobering is that? Add to that the level of polarization that is pushing Americans apart, as well as hatred that motivates so many millions of people around the world to do horrible things and you start wondering why anyone would want the job of US president.
Don't forget Mexico
Even though it doesn't often figure in the list of immediate priorities, Mexico should not be forgotten by the new president. It lurks behind most of the major issues that face the US: the economy, American jobs, security and immigration. Inside its borders, Mexico is suffering a low-level civil war between gangs of criminals, groups of corrupt law enforcement officials, the army, and groups of honest police.
At the same time, Mexican society has picked up some very bad habits when it comes to social conflict resolution. People have learned that, if they cause enough damage (through demonstrations, vandalism, social blackmail), they can get pretty much anything they want. The loser is the Rule of Law, which ends up mining confidence in the country and destroying economic growth. Here, the new administration can lead by providing a better example of ethical, law-based, democracy than the outgoing administration has done.
In terms of the economy, instead of seeing Mexico as part of the "outsourcing jobs" lament, the next president should see how we can make all of North America more competitive. It is well known that Mexicans spend a much larger percentage of their disposable income on American imports than anyone in the world (except, perhaps, Canadians). This means that Mexican economic growth and North American economic integration translate directly into American prosperity.
In terms of immigration, even if it becomes politically viable, the regularization of millions of undocumented Mexicans is not enough. When the US starts growing again it will need what the experts call "circularity", or the ability of groups who wish to work, but not stay, north of the border, to do so for specific periods of time. It is the way that things used to be when the border was more-or-less open, before the 1990s. And the lack of circularity is the reason why so many Mexicans accumulated in the US over the last 20 years. Without the possibility of easy transit, instead of returning, workers paid coyotes to bring their families into the US.
In terms of helping Mexico with its narco violence, the new president will continue to implement the Mérida initiative. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is woefully insufficient. We have a golden opportunity to take advantage of American law enforcement and investigative agents whose Mexican descent allows them to obtain Mexican citizenship. Dual-citizen officers with jurisdiction on both sides of the border could finally provide a binational solution to a binational problem. They could also be very useful in investigating corruption among mainstream Mexican officials, potentially giving the Mexican President credible reports, short-circuiting the web of lies that often surrounds "intelligence" in our country.
Further, the new American President does not need aid, or the expansion of trade and investment here, to help Mexico. He can do it by investing at home. Through the implementation of a large-scale border infrastructure project on the American side, the US could get the entire region up to 21st century standards. Given that some of the poorest counties in the US are along the border, such a project would be both regionally beneficial and could be seen as a domestic anti-poverty measure. Imagine if the area could put paid to its persistent water issues with new infrastructure. Or if it could harness its incredible amounts of sunshine to power growth on both sides. And it certainly need not be wholly financed by the US; a mechanism of co-investment, perhaps according to each country's GDP, would give the Mexican public and private sectors a stake.
Unlike many intractable problems the new president will face, dealing with Mexico successfully is just a question of vision and intelligence. Having turned this country into a democracy that is friendly to the US, we've already done the hard part.
Oh, but if all of the challenges facing the new administration aren't enough, the Mayan calendar predicts the Armageddon (or an inflection point in human evolution, depending on the interpretation) at the end of his first term, on December 21, 2012. Congratulations, Mr. President-elect.
For the latest thought-provoking article by Agustin Barrios Gomez please go to our Opinion Column page
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