Roger Hansen—like his predecessors Brandenburg, Scott, Padgett, Gonzalez Casanova, and Vernon—has attempted to penetrate the mysteries of that most perplexing creature: the Mexican political system. Beginning with an historical overview of economic development since the Porfiriato, Hansen presents a carefully documented summation of the origins and fruition of the Mexican economic “miracle” that has resulted in an annual growth rate of more than six percent since 1940. This was accomplished by an official development strategy that combined high profits, low wages, forced savings through inflation, regressive taxation and low tax rates, minimum expenditures on social programs and a maximum concentration of public sector expenditures on projects directly related to increased economic output. But the analysis does not stop here; instead, it asks a crucial though rarely considered question: who has benefitted? The answer according to Hansen: very few. Using income distribution figures for the 1950-1963 period, Hansen demonstrates that the bottom 50 percent of the wage earners actually lost income (as did the top 5 percent). As a result, in the 1960s Mexico led the Latin American nations in income inequality. Moreover, although much land was redistributed during the 1940s, today 1 percent of the farm units still occupy over 50 percent of the total private cropland. Clearly the poor paid for the Mexican miracle.

The second half of the book is devoted to explaining how the political system made the miracle possible. Or, put another way, how the Revolution was transformed from a labor-agrarian movement to a business-industrial complex. In doing so, Hansen, like Frank Brandenburg, rejects the notion that the official party with its agrarian, labor, and “popular” sectors is at the heart of politics and that it functions to aggregate and balance component interest groups. On the contrary, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional is characterized as an apparatus through which a ruling elite (the Revolutionary Coalition) controls Mexican politics and implements its investment decisions. Those who have benefitted least from Mexico’s development are those who comprise the largest sectors of the party, and those who have benefitted the most (for example, the members of CONCANACO and CONCAMIN) are not even in the party. For Hansen, the Mexican Revolution was a “revolution of access,” not a leveling movement that sought to eradicate unjust distinctions.

One final question: why has the system worked? Four factors explain the success of the PRI. First, land reform pacified rural Mexico, although the increasing rural unemployment is producing new tensions in this area. Second, the “no reelection” principle has kept the doors to political power open, although here too there are signs that the turnover has not been as rapid or as complete as the myth would suggest. Third, the lack of open political competition has prevented the mobilization of large numbers of people who would then make demands upon the limited resources of the government. And finally, traditional Mexican rejection of organization and participation prevents mobilization and keeps demands on the system low. Drawing upon the data in Almond and Verba’s The Civic Culture and Kahl’s Measurement of Modernism as well as the psychological arguments of Samuel Ramos and Octavio Paz, Hansen argues that almost 90 percent of the population expects little or nothing from the government while at the same time feeling a vague sense of nationalism. Thus, Hansen concludes, as long as the highly centralized political system can satisfy the demands made by the few politically relevant, it will continue to survive and prosper.

This is a multidisciplinary essay on the political, social, economic and cultural parameters of the Mexican development process. The economist might demand more details on the tax structure and public sector financing and lament the absence of an analysis of the role of foreign investment in the formation of development strategy. The political scientist could question the overreliance on the Almond and Verba study and, above all, the easy dismissal of the student movement of 1968 and the massacre at Tlatelolco as a temporary abberation in the system. The historian undoubtedly will be disturbed by Hansen’s uncritical adoption of Molina Enríquez’s portrayal of the political process in racial terms: the Zapatistas were “Indians” fighting an alliance of power-seeking mestizos and reemerging creoles, and the new leadership is now thoroughly mestizo. Despite these problems, however, The Politics of Mexican Development offers an insightful, penetrating and convincing analysis of contemporary Mexico.