Professor Robert Jones Shafer’s Mexican Business Organizations is a useful comprehensive study of federations of businessmen in Mexico, tracing their history from the Porfiriato to the present, and providing analysis in terms of selected concepts of institutionalization. As stated in the preface, it is the first sizable effort to deal with the history and operations of Mexican business organizations. Professor Shafer was assisted by various grants permitting a considerable amount of field work. Almost half of the volume consists of extensive notes and appendices.
The first two chapters deal with the history of business structures and their legal position. A third chapter describes the complicated organization of these structures and their resources. Subsequent chapters describe the programs and the relations with government. Conclusions are reached in the final chapter in terms of various institutionbuilding factors.
Much research can be judged simply on the basis of thoroughness and accuracy. In these terms, Professor Shafer has done a workman-like job. But it would seem that the value of the research was somewhat reduced by the objectives sought and the methodology used. The purpose seems to have been to determine the degree and nature of institutionalization defined according to categories such as linkages, structure, leadership, resources, doctrine and program. What would have been useful merely on a general empirical basis was limited because of the attempt to view the facts through the restricting lenses of these categories.
Thus, in this reviewer’s opinion, there was an excess of what might be called “surface research.” For example, at several points it is stated that CNIT had jurisdictional differences with CONCANACO and that its policies were pro-governmental in contrast to the pro-private enterprise position of CONCAMIN. Since some of the most significant issues arising from the mixed economy of Mexico concern private versus public enterprise, one would have desired more research in depth here. Structures and formal arrangements are exhaustively described providing “what meets the eye,” but what happens informally and behind the scenes in Mexican business is often more important.
Even factual distortion can result from this structural type of preoccupation. It is evident in the historical chapter. No less an historian than Hubert Herring has said that after 1925 “Mexican political and economic life was ruled by a small group around Calles.” No insight is provided throughout the historical chapter as to the role played by informal groups either in the time of Calles or in later periods. Nor does one get any clear impression of the powerful financial groups now largely controlling the Mexican economy.
In conclusion, one wonders whether Professor Shafer’s study would not have been more useful if undertaken with broader objectives, less rigid methodology and with the assistance of institutionally- and historically-minded economists. Economic structures cannot be fully understood through historical or institutional analysis. Much investigation of the underlying economics and politics is required.