These two volumes attempt a comprehensive examination of “the Mexican crisis” by gathering over 40 research articles and essays by leading Mexican scholars. Eight of the contributions—a mix of academic and political writing—approach the crisis in its global context; 12 concentrate on its economic dimensions; 11 are grouped under the rubric “society and culture”; and 11 purport to present alternatives for the future. In design and perspective, the collection is reminiscent of El perfil de México, 1980, a successful three-volume set published a decade ago by Siglo XXI. While a number of essays are without substantiation, the volumes are well endowed with data and bibliography helpful to the specialist.
The purpose of the volumes—to debate the nature of the Mexican crisis—is undone to some extent at the start when the editors decline to define “the crisis” itself. The crisis is variously described as abandonment of the Mexican Revolution and its mass politics (II, 208); as a threat to democratization (II, 215); or as the inability of the Mexican system to deliver social services so that gross deprivation is not the order of the day for the majority of the poor. In its least satisfying construction, the crisis is considered the global manifestation of the hegemony of the United States since World War II (I, 30).
Many of the troubles that have come to dominate Mexican life in the past several years are examined (or at least identified), including environmental pollution, failed health care delivery, urban violence, and political corruption. A number of specific studies are well done and insightful (viz., Fernando Fajnzylber on science and technology, Ignacio Almada Bay on health). Rolando Cordera Campos’s outline of alternatives for the future sharply frames the politics of the “respectable left opposition,” though it is slightly reminiscent of the social policy debate of the López Portillo years.
The research in these volumes is relatively hermetic. In the first section of volume I, the origins of the crisis are attributed to the global system and the role of the United States, but agriculture—the most internationalized sector of the Mexican economy—is almost totally ignored, and academic literature from the United States virtually unmentioned. And, although Mexico’s woes are shared by other Latin American countries, most essays abjure a comparative perspective, maintain tight boundaries by academic discipline or political perspective, and treat Mexico in isolation. So Juan Gastaingts Teillery’s study of Mexican inflation fails to even cite David Barkin and Gustavo Estevas prize-winning book Inflación y democracia, published in Mexico only a few years ago. And S. M. Menshikov is the sole source cited to defend generalized price controls (II, 323), when both Brazil and Argentina have actually implemented such programs.
One interesting insight is offered by Rolando Cordera, who remarks that the Mexican crisis means the generalization of “the social question” to the whole of Mexican society (II, 371). Perhaps that phenomenon will stimulate the political system or its opponents to battle the crisis on behalf of Mexican society as a whole. But in neither volume is there a comprehensive essay analyzing the assets of the Mexican political system or the forces required or available to change it.
These studies would have been helped by an analytical focus and a more parsimonious approach to what is actually critical in Mexico today. As these volumes present work by some of the best-known scholars in Mexico (who, unfortunately, are not identified anywhere in the book), one of the academic and political tasks of the future is to cull the political, social, and economic ephemera from those areas in desperate need of attention.