Over the past two decades regional studies have contributed immeasurably to a more closely researched, and analytically sophisticated, revisionist interpretation of the Mexican Revolution and its adjustments and repercussions in the 1920s and ’30s. It now seems that a similar and very welcome regionally oriented scholarship has begun to tackle post-Cárdenas (1940-) Mexico. Because national (meaning Mexico City) politics and policies remain murky, several recent monographs have demonstrated that regions and states are more accessible and provide a back channel illuminating important national questions. Steven E. Sanderson’s Agrarian Populism and the Mexican State: The Struggle for Land in Sonora (1981), Héctor Díaz-Polanco’s Formación regional y burguesía agraria en México (Valle de Santiago, El Bajío) (1982), Abraham Nuncio’s El Grupo Monterrey (1982), and now Jeffrey Brannon and Eric N. Baklanoff’s Agrarian Reform and Public Enterprise in Mexico constitute a new revisionist front demonstrating the social and economic failure of what was once called the institutional revolution.

Following an introduction and two chapters which summarize the historical background of Yucatán, Brannon and Baklanoff examine the impact of federal government intervention on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors (chapters 4 and 5), the government’s inept management of a worldwide fiber glut during the Echeverría sexenio (chapter 6), the shallow and ultimately futile reorganization of the henequen industry during the López Portillo sexenio (chapter 7), and the more successful efforts since the 1960s to diversify the state’s economy (chapter 8). The authors argue persuasively that Mexico City’s intervention in the henequen market hampered the efforts of efficient private producers, while agrarian reform created a dependent, excessively subsidized, inefficient, and corrupt ejidal sector. The nationalization of Yucatán’s cordage industry in 1964 (the establishment of the monopoly parastatal Cordemex) could not compensate for the inefficiencies of the collective ejidos, and did not revive the henequen industry since political and social requirements (job creation, social justice, and political stability) took precedence over purely economic objectives. As the world demand for henequen decreased in the 1960s and 1970s and the opposition National Action Party won control of Mérida city government in 1967, the Echeverría government poured enormous sums of credits, subsidies, and direct investments into henequen ejidos and Cordemex. The result was massive corruption, not a revitalization of the henequen industry, and a superficial “cleansing” reorganization by the López Portillo government. The one hopeful development identified by the authors is the region’s increasing agricultural and industrial diversification. As a result, Yucatán is finally kicking the henequen habit.

According to Brannon and Baklanoff the federal government’s intervention in Yucatán’s henequen industry has been, by and large, the result of the best of intentions. The crucial mistake, which a freer market would have avoided, was the government’s efforts to revitalize or at least preserve an industry condemned to marginality by changes in the world market. “Yucatán’s henequen industry,” the authors conclude, “is a classic example of how paternalistic government intervention in an economic activity can retard rather than advance development” (p. 185).

The authors have thoroughly researched and written (in clear and plain English, which is no small accomplishment for professional economists) an excellent study of Yucatán which also demonstrates in an important way, if we can extend the meaning of the Yucatán experience, how Mexico arrived at an economic dead end in the early 1980s and why President Miguel de la Madrid has attempted to change the course of the Mexican economy.