Monday, September 30, 2013

Economic Growth and Corruption: The Conjoined Twins

Recently, Huffington Post Live did a segment entitled "Mexico Quickly Becoming the New Migrant Destination" relating to an article the New York Times published about new immigration to Mexico that you can read here. I was invited to comment on the segment and afterwards I was left with the need to say a little more about some of the topics we discussed.  

Economic Growth and Corruption: The Conjoined Twins 

From my perspective, there has been an upturn in economic growth in Mexico which would make immigrating to Mexico attractive for many people from around the world. I was asked about finding employment in the segment. At the moment, of my twenty and thirty something Mexican relatives (who aren't still studying), everyone is employed. However, and sadly to say, I can't say the same for my relatives in the USA.  When I first moved to Mexico I had work as an English as a Second Language teacher. Later, I worked as a translator, academic advisor, a silver jewellery salesperson, a higher education administrative assistant, I started my own business and worked for an NGO on a fair trade retail project. Finding a job hasn't always been easy but I have found work. Having a university degree, in my opinion, has made all the difference and being bilingual makes me a more attractive candidate. 
Yet poverty and socio-economic inequality exist in Mexico. A lot of that inequality has to do with corruption. Corruption is in fact everywhere in the world. But in Mexico, it is just more institutionalized and people speak about it openly. From the illegal quotas that parents are asked to pay in public schools (which in fact did happen to me when my son was in a public school), to the desperately obvious unjust enrichment of Elba Esther Gordillo, Mexico's teacher's union president (who has lifelong permanence as the syndicate's president), to Wal Mart paying bribes to get more stores built around the country, corruption is, in my opinion, the number one factor that is and always has, held Mexico back from a more even, across the board, economic growth. 

At the risk of sounding näive, I firmly believe that corruption can be reduced drastically, if several policies and reforms would be put into place. Primarily regarding how elected officials are paid and what rights they have while they hold office. My belief is that, if elected officials in Mexico, beginning with federally elected officials, received the same benefits and minimum wage pay as the working class Mexican, things would start changing fast. To begin with, the bureaucratic monster known as IMSS (Mexican social security) would be reformed over night. If elected officials had to use IMSS instead of the private health insurance that Mexican tax pesos pay right now, millions of Mexicans would be better off. At the moment, IMSS is riddled with inept processes and personnel.  Daily, millions of Mexicans stand in lines for hours on end awaiting all to often sub-par medical attention and medicine. IMSS is not paid for exclusively by the government; workers who have IMSS through their employers pay for these services every time they get a paycheck since a percentage is deducted from their wages. 

Secondly, elected officials must be treated as any other citizen. The infamous fuero or priviledge that elected officials have to immunize themselves against any kind of legal procedings while they are in office must be revoked retroactively. There are several well known cases of illicit dealings among elected officials that have not been prosecuted because of this privilege. It is time for these and other Mexican politicians to pay the proverbial piper. For those elected officials who have not committed any crimes, knowing that if they will be prosecuted immediately, might just be what they need to behave like decent citizens. 

Finally, in order for these two aforementioned societal problems of gargantuan proportions to be reduced in size, policies that directly impact how business is done in Mexico need to be implemented. I believe that Tim Padgett puts it best in an article he wrote for Time back in March of this year. 

So forgive some of us if, almost 20 years later, we’re a bit reluctant to declare another fast-track Mexican Miracle and set aside our concerns about Mexico’s lingering dysfunction. Not just the mafia bloodletting, but the nagging failure to modernize a corrupt and incompetent judicial system. Not just the social inequality, which is still too vast, but the shameless business monopolies that exacerbate it by choking off competition and inflating prices.
However, I don't agree with everything he writes in the article. I do think that there should be hype about Mexico's economic boom. We need to hear that there is growth; news shouldn't be just the bad or doom and gloom. The Mexicans I interact with, those I know and love, are hard workers and persistent people who have a strong work ethic. Why shouldn't the media talk about how our economy is recovering? Padgett points out that Mexicans aren't convinced of the economic growth themselves and cites polls from Andres Oppenheimer´s article in the Miami Herald. But this negative view of the economic growth makes me think that, sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. After hearing about corruption and knowing that nothing is being done about it, Mexicans hearing good news about Mexico are bound to be take it with scepticism.  I personally know Mexicans who openly say they despise their country and are convinced they live in the worst country in the world. While I respect their opinions, I whole heartily disagree. The worst countries in the world are places where your opportunities are limited to such a degree where can't do things like visit your family that live in other countries, which is the case in North Korea or drive a car because you don't have male genitals,  like in Saudi Arabia. 

None the less,  Padgett has a point when he talks about shameless business monopolies. Two of the biggest monopolies that come to mind are in fact media monopolies known as Televisa and TV Azteca. They are the biggest television companies in the country and have far too much control over the masses in my opinion. And Televisa, from what I saw during the last election, was the reason why President Peña Nieto was elected. We have yet to have something like the Huffington Post Live in Mexico that isn't tied to a monopoly that has ruled the airwaves for decades. 

So, in the mean time, I will leave it up to you, reader, to decide. Can Mexico, or any country for that matter, have real economic growth when there is rampant corruption at every level of society? Which makes me think of something my uncle said to me the day he dropped me off at Museo Soumaya, "now it turns out that only the wealthy can change a country." Power, money, corruption. All a part of the human condition and all a part of life in my Mexico. 

As you can see from the image bellow, taken from Maria Amparo Casar's article Los Dineros del Congreso (The Monies in Congress), Mexican congress members earned in 2011 over $12,310 USD a month. The minimum wage in Mexico for 2013 is just under $6.00 USD a day. That means that the elected officials, whose salary is paid with taxes, earned in 2011 is over $500.00 USD a day. Ask any worker how much he or she wants to earn, let them set their wage, and this is what happens.