Sunday, May 2, 2010

Friedman on Mexico

Thomas Friedman weighs in on Mexico today, opining that "This is a strange time for U.S.-Mexico relations":
The Mexican government just issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans about going to Arizona — where they could get arrested by the police for no reason — and the U.S. government just issued a travel advisory warning Americans about going to northern Mexico — where they could get shot by drug dealers for no reason. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart de Mexico is expected to open 300 new stores in Mexico this year, thanks to growing Mexican demand for consumer goods. And Mexico’s drug cartels will probably open just as many new smuggling routes into America thanks to our growing demand for marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth.
So this a strange time because there are immigration problems, drug violence, and American companies expanding operations in Mexico? How is that outside of the norm of the past 15 years?

He goes on to explain that understanding Mexico is to understand the three groups fighting for Mexico's future: the No's (those with a vested interest in maintaining the corporatist privileges established by the PRI, i.e. the Pemex union), the Nafta's (more meritocratic modernizers), and the Narcos. As is often the case with Friedman, this is an unnecessarily simplistic formation with labels that don't fit as well as he seems to think, although I think the point that a fundamental challenge for Mexico is to reduce the power of the more reactionary special interests left over from the twentieth century is sound.


Greg Weeks said...

I saw it more as Friedman suddenly discovering modernization theory.

pc said...

Kind of an oddly banal column, isn't it? I mean the idea that Mexico's would-be modernizers face opposition isn't exactly earth-shattering.

pc said...

Although I also think this column shows how hard it is to be a good columnist for a general audience. Mexico's been in the news a lot lately, he hasn't written about Mexico much at all in recent months (or years), so he feels pressured to write something about the topic, not having any special knowledge or insight.

jd said...

The column is both stupid and banal, and I think you actually give him too much credit in terms of his definition of the "No's": you refer to it broadly, as those with corporatist privileges, whereas Friedman quite specifically refers to those who prevent privatization (the teachers union is a somewhat separate point). This fits perfectly with Friedman's shtick, but obviously things are more complicated in Mexico, and not knowing that is a total giveaway that one's opinion should be ignored entirely. The middle-class part is fine only because that's the part where he's just basically quoting someone and not trying to stuff Mexico into a Davos-centered worldview.

PC, your comment about the difficulty of being a general interest columnist reveals your empathetic soul, but this man deserves nonesuch. Writing about things you don't know is why God invented blogging (this blog's propietor and Greg Weeks exempted, natch). NYT real estate is valuable, if you have nothing to say, go home and console your wife over her family's crumbled real estate empire:

pc said...

To be honest I have that feeling about lots of columnists. I go back and forth between feeling empathy and just thinking that the column model is just off. I kind of prefer the non-daily El Universal model, in which no one writes more than once a week, and lots just write once ever two weeks, and they can really limit themselves to their areas of expertise. Though iv Leo Zuckermann only wrote once a week, I'd feel like I was missing something, so maybe quality is everything.

In any event, I think given the fact that one can only be expert in a handful of topics and is expected to write about whatever subject is on everybody's lips at any given point, a certain degree of uncertainty or incorrectness is inevitable. But I think that's where a general faith in the wisdom and common sense of the author comes in, and that's where every I see that video of Friedman on Charlie Rose, said faith is harder to come by. I also think that Friedman's style is particularly ill-suited for topics at which he's not much of an expert, because even if you know a topic perfectly, a lot of times you'll make mistakes trying to stick it into a neat package, but all the more so if you don't have a great deal of breadth or depth on a certain issue.

Hadnt heard that about General Growth Properties.