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Mexico: Why a Few Are Rich and the People Poor

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Explicitly focusing on the malaise of underdevelopment that has shaped the country since the Spanish conquest, Ramón Eduardo Ruiz offers a panoramic interpretation of Mexican history and culture from the pre-Hispanic and colonial eras through the twentieth century. Drawing on economics, psychology, literature, film, and history, he reveals how development processes have fostered glaring inequalities, uncovers the fundamental role of race and class in perpetuating poverty, and sheds new light on the contemporary Mexican reality. Throughout, Ruiz traces a legacy of dependency on outsiders, and considers the weighty role the United States has played, starting with an unjust war that cost Mexico half its territory. Based on Ruiz’s decades of research and travel in Mexico, this penetrating work helps us better understand where the country has come, why it is where it is today, and where it might go in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94752-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ONE Ramblings on Mexican Underdevelopment
    (pp. 1-16)

    Let me spell out why I believe Mexico is underdeveloped. But first, permit me to digress just a bit. Some pundits, fixated on the banal details of human idiosyncrasies, tend to think that we are the authors of our own fate, but life is surely more complicated. To that truism I can only say amen. I know that the millions of rich, and often arrogant, residents of this planet are the perfect historical refutation that the meek shall inherit the earth. Just the same, I do not believe that only the poor will pass through the eye of a needle...

  5. TWO El Mexicano
    (pp. 17-32)

    To comprehend from first to last how Mexican underdevelopment came to be, we must turn back the pages of time. By doing so, to cite F. Scott Fitzgerald, the American novelist, we will be borne back into the past. Only then can we begin to make out the raison d’être for the Mexican failure, not that Mexicans are solely responsible for their circumstance. Western Europe and, most assuredly, the United States have played leading roles in Mexico’s story. That said, Mexican underdevelopment has two fathers, though one, the Spaniard, must bear the brunt of the responsibility. Most Mexicans are, racially...

  6. THREE The Legacy
    (pp. 33-52)

    Adam Smith, the classical economist, called the discovery of America one of the “most important events in the history of mankind.” America’s significance, he went on to say, lay not in its mines of silver and gold but in the new and inexhaustible market for European goods.¹ That surely came to be the accepted opinion in most of Western Europe, then on the threshold of the Industrial Revolution.

    From that “discovery” emerged a New Spain, the ancestral mother of Mexico, a colony for three centuries, a hundred years longer than its independence. Those long centuries of Spanish hegemony set Mexico’s...

  7. FOUR Free Traders and Capitalists
    (pp. 53-82)

    The nineteenth century, celebrated as the glorious age of independence and the Reforma, and the bellwether of the Liberal Party, handed over the National Palace to exuberant disciples of José María Luis Mora, a dyed-in-the-wool free trader, and the English ideologues Adam Smith and David Ricardo. For the victors, talk of a national industry took a backseat to the prevailing doctrines of Western Europe. Capitalists and free traders, more and more of them mestizos, sat the helm of the ship of state. Their ascendancy set the stage for the thirty-year rule of Porfirio Díaz, an era of neocolonialism, social Darwinism,...

  8. FIVE Colonialism’s Thumb
    (pp. 83-103)

    The golden age of capitalism, when the tree of the Industrial Revolution bore ripe fruit, was no time for the peripheral world to free itself from colonialism’s thumb. Known as the Gilded Age in the United States, Mexico’s new trading partner, it saw the triumph of the world economy of industrial capitalism, when Western Europe, and then the United States, embarked on imperial adventures, acquiring colonies by trade and investments and, if that failed, by rifle and cannon. By 1914, these colonies of the rich and powerful covered nearly 85 percent of the globe’s surface. As international commerce expanded, so...

  9. SIX Lost Opportunity
    (pp. 104-126)

    Modern Mexico, according to sundry scholars of that country, both nationals and foreigners, starts with the Porfiriato, a regime that went on for ever and ever, or so it seemed to a multitude of Mexicans. Many of these same scholars, turned contortionists, then go on to swear allegiance to the Revolution of 1910, a social upheaval, in their opinion, that toppled Don Porfirio from his throne and put a fresh face on Mexico. This view, however, presents a problem. It’s like a mixed metaphor in which a figure of speech is used in place of another to suggest a likeness...

  10. SEVEN Internal Market
    (pp. 127-146)

    An international crisis may, if the powerful bleed from their own wounds, provide a chance, especially for peripheral countries, to reshape policies. Such a chance befell Mexico in the 1930s, when, thanks to the Great Depression—a malady of the capitalist West and a sledgehammer blow to the economy of the almighty Uncle Sam—Mexico had the opportunity to rethink old habits and, more important, to change course.

    The international debacle, long before it wreaked havoc in other Western nations, savaged Mexico, turning topsy-turvy an economy reeling from years of strife. Export earnings plummeted, with petroleum and mining hit hardest....

  11. EIGHT False Miracle
    (pp. 147-179)

    Miracles, as everyone knows, are hard to come by. Only zealots, skepticism cast aside, can believe that even the parched desert will bloom with flowers. Yet, according to a plethora of pundits and scholars, Mexico enjoyed a miracle starting in the 1940s. The miracle, growth of the gross domestic product (GDP), was indeed a miracle. Not only did the GDP triple from 1940 to 1960, but it did so again in the seventies, with, miracle of all miracles, manufacturing taking the lead. It was a time when bumper stickers on autos and trucks proclaimed, “Lo hecho en México está bien...

  12. NINE Death of a Dream
    (pp. 180-199)

    By 1982, Mexico’sempresariosand politicos, with the enthusiastic help of outsiders, had made a mess of the Mexican economy. They then proceeded to throw the baby out with the bathwater, tossing away a domestically oriented blueprint in order to resurrect Adam Smith’s old ideas, now packaged as mathematical axioms. Ronald Reagan, the Hollywood actor, and Margaret Thatcher, the fire-eating right-wing English prophet, had orchestrated its revival. These preachers bamboozled the public into believing in the sham of laissez-faire and free trade, that somehow struggling against one another and elbowing and shoving would create efficiency and progress. So died the...

    (pp. 200-231)

    Grand economic theories rarely last more than a few decades. Some, because they march in step with technological or political events, may make it to half a century. But only soldiers and guns can keep others alive.¹ Neoliberalism, replete with market idolatry and technocratic and technological determinism, had thirty years, but now, judging by its current rejection in South America, it agonizes on its deathbed.

    Neoliberalism is dying everywhere, that is, but in Mexico, where the ruling oligarchy, those with commercial and financial ties to the United States especially, has for decades clutched the reins of power. Like the gnomish...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 232-240)

    So, what can we conclude? Why is Mexico underdeveloped? Surely, the question is thorny and labyrinthine: there is no simple answer. But no matter how we frame the inquiry, time is all-important: the historical background looms elephantine. As Marx, in one of his most eloquent moments, wrote, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” The ills of underdevelopment took centuries to arise; they did not appear overnight. The gargantuan cracks in the social and economic edifice are old and deep. True, many are manmade, one being the decades-long absence of law...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 241-264)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-287)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 288-288)