Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beyond Labels

Macario Schettino's facetious remark about labeling Lula a neoliberal reminded me of a recent column by his colleague Lorenzo Córdova:
As we know, in the last decade and a half neoliberal theses that have proposed the almost absolute withdrawal of the state (of both the state and the law) from the economic sphere have become prevalent.

The results of that bet are visible to all; and before the global catastrophe of these policies of "hands off" the powerful actors that operate in the economy, it's vital to rethink what failed in the model overwhelmingly adopted.
The implication seems to be that Mexico's dire economic straights are due to the "neoliberal" policies of de la Madrid, Salinas, Zedillo, Fox, and Calderón. This is a pretty good example of why relying on labels to your argumentative heavy lifting is bad practice. As far as why Mexico's economy is shrinking more than the rest of Latin America's in the crisis, that has to do with a combination of things, from declining oil production to cratering auto sales to reliance on remittances to (most of all) heavier dependence on the US economy. None of those circumstances are a product of Mexico's supposed neoliberalism over the past 20 or 25 years.* Nor are the most widely agreed-upon economic prescriptions (for instance, breaking up the monopolies to foster more competition, easier access to credit for small and medium-sized businesses, a stronger educational system for long-term growth) for Mexico particularly neoliberal. Here, as is often the case when people talk about Latin America, "neoliberal" functions as a four-letter word damning everything that has gone wrong over the past twenty years, but it really tells us very little.

*I guess you could say that the dependence on the US economy is largely a product of neoliberalism, especially with regard to Nafta. Nonetheless, I don't think you can make much of an argument that Nafta is the cause of Mexico's steep decline in 2009, nor would Mexico be better off today had it continued its pre-de la Madrid economic policies.


Mr. Trend said...

Absolutely. At the risk of falling into the trap of labeling further, people on both the left and right (and everywhere in-between) are too good at making this mistake. Simply stacking the names of all those presidents side by side illustrates how ridiculous claims that a universal ideology over those years is why Mexico is where it is today (and I'm sure that was intentional on your part). Top-notch stuff.

pc said...

Thanks Trend. The labeling mania is definitely a phenomenon that spans the political spectrum. I guess it's just a convenient way for people to try to separate their team from the rest. Convenient but faulty.