Friday, March 4, 2011

Highly recommended read on Mexican politics: Weintraub's "Unequal Partners: The United States and Mexico"

A book I've meant to say a few words about for a while: Sidney Weintraub's 2010 "Unequal Partners: The United States and Mexico." It is a short, succinct, and highly readable account of current Mexican politics and economy that I recommend wholeheartedly. 

Weintraub is an emeritus professor at the University of Texas, where he first started teaching in 1976, and though he is trained as an economist - he was an early proponent of U.S.-Mexican economic integration since the early 1980s - he is as well a very astute political observer and analyst. Also, it should be added, while the book is published by the rightleaning Center for Strategic and International Studies, this is no ideological tract, but a very well written balanced account of U.S-Mexican relations - and much more.

First on the U.S-Mexican relationship. Weintraub's two guiding hypotheses are as follows:

1)  The belief that Mexico approaches the United States with diffidence because of its sense of dependence; and 2)  That the U.S. reaction to Mexican proposals, or when the United States submits its own initiatives that affect Mexico, is as the dominant player (p. 6)

These are "tested" throughout the book in the areas of trade, FDI and finance, narcotics, energy, migration, and the border. Significantly, though, he argues that Mexico in the past decade has become much more assertive and insistent, while the U.S. has become less dominant, and uses examples such as Fox's opposition to the Iraq war, the Merida initiative, demanded by Mexico, immigration, and the NAFTA trucking dispute to demonstrate this change. Given the most recent news coming out of Calderón's visit to Washington, where a deal appears to have been made (after Mexico finally slapped expensive yet fully legal sanctions on U.S. products), the argument is interesting. 

Yet the book also offers some highly succinct and readable accounts where the focus is often on domestic developments in Mexico: 

* An excellent review of Mexican economic history and the ISI model (Weintraub met Raúl Prebisch on a range of occasions)

* A very balanced account on NAFTA: "There is no logic in the argument that Mexican GDP growth faltered because its exports increased – and this is what the ‘blame NAFTA’ arguments amount to" (p. 35) - though he also admit NAFTA was indeed oversold on both sides (he might also emphasized here as well that it was hardly a deal made between two democratic countries - how relevant was that to the outcome?)

* A very good review of Mexico's opening and turn toward Foreign Direct Investment, and the 1994-5 economic crisis, with ensuing bank bailout

* A poignant commentary on the 2009 economic crisis:  “unlike the slow economic  growth during much of the past thirty-five years, the fault is no primarily Mexico’s.” (p. 59).

* A very balanced and pragmatic view on the drug "war," summed up simply and effectively:
"The problems between the two countries will persist as long as drug marketers in Mexico can generate the large income that they receive for supplying an illegal product in great demand in  the United States” (p. 76-77) 
*An excellent chapter on the oil industry, and the absurdity of not allowing any risk contracts: Mexico's current legislation on petroleum is more restrictive than Cuba's! Also, a stark assessment of PEMEX's strengths and weaknesses - though he notably does not favor privatizing the company.

*Great chapter on immigration, exposing the perennial U.S. hypocrisy on this topic:
"The door for entry into the United States was deliberately left half-open: people could cross without papers and have jobs waiting for them; and then the blame for what was taking place could be shifted to the poor Mexican whose intent was to find a better life. It has not been a story that casts glory on the United States” (p. 105)
* Rips to shreds the argument that Mexican trucks are dangerous and that allowing them would be bad for the environment - rather, points out the madness of the current situation where three vehicles must now be involved, including hours spent idling at the border.

And so forth. Again, this is written by an economist who is strongly in favor of U.S.-Mexican economic integration and freer trade and more financial flows, but it is a wonderfully balanced work.

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