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Enrique Peña Nieto

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EO Publisher’s comment: The following article is one which undercuts  the prevailing view of many concerning Mexico, its Drug Wars, and its  developing economy. The U.S. Congress and the wealthy 1% would benefit  by learning that when a government takes care of its people by  adoption of public policy which enables its middle class to thrive,  then all benefit; corgnaized crime falls; and the people respoond to  the opportunities made available. America today would benefit from  national public policy which would improve education, transportation  infrastructure, telecommunications and finance via a progressive tax  policy—as starting points to reinvigorate its American consumer  economy. Please read this report carefully:

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Pierpaolo Barbieri and Niall Fergeson
Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2013, Page A13
For much of the last decade, Mexico and Brazil were a study in  contrasts, “Brazil Takes Off” was a typical magazine cover,  depicting Rio’s huge statue of Christ literally blasting off. The  equivalent story for Mexico was: “The War Next Door: Why Mexico’s  Drug Violence is America’s Problem Too”.In the past two years, however, the roles have been reversed. Riots in  Sao Paulo and the downfall of billionaire Elke Batista have badly  dented Brazil’s glamorous image.

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Meanwhile, a succession of bold moves by Mexico’s charismatic new  president, Enrique Pena Nieto, have finally awakened foreign observers  to the fact that Mexico is Latin America’s new “country of the  future”.Not only is Mexico’s per capita GDP (gross domestic product) back  above Brazil’s, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)  data, but over the past five years investors in the Mexican stock  market have enjoyed nearly three times the returns of those who put  their money into much-hyped Brazilian equities. Jobs are being created  so fast in Mexico—more than two million xince early 2010—that the  problem of illegal immigration in the United States may soon be history.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Mexico was almost as well known for its  financial crisis as for its drug wars. Those days are gone, although  growth has been sluggish this year, thanks in large part to the  troubles of the construction sector, the IMF predicts a rapid rebound  between 2014 and 2018.The catalyst for Mexican economic change has been political. In 2000,  after 70 years of such complete dominance that Mario Vargas Llosa  labeled it “the perfect dictatorship,” the Institutional  Revolutioary Party (PRI) lost power in free elections.Two successful center-right administrations under the National Action  Party or PAN, struggled to deliver the kind of readical change that  Mexico required. Instead, after a dozen long years in the political  wilderness, the PRI renewed itself. In July 2012, it returned to power  thanks to a highly effective campaign by Mr. Pena Nieto, the youthful  former governor of Mexico State.

The democratic world today is so lacking in Mr. Pena Nieto’s kind of  strategic leadership that the visitor is rather taken aback to  encounter it. The day after his inauguration, President Pena Nieto  signed the so-called “Pact for Mexico,” a framework pre-committing  the PRI and its opponents—the PAN and the left-wing Party of the  Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revoluion Democratica)—to  support key reforms in telecommunications, education, and finance. It  was a bold move, reminiscent of the 1977 Moncloa Pacts, which were the  basis for Spain’s transformation from Francoist pariah to integrate  European democracy.

Then came a succession of confident initiatives. In February, the  government arrested the teacher’s union leader, Elba Esther Gordillo,  for alleged embezzlement. Most Mexicans had thought Ms. Gordillo— notorious for her French couture and villas in southern California— was untouchable. The final education reform bill passed in September,  was still a bigger blow against her union, creating independent  teacher training institutes to replacethe union-controlled university  that had trained educators. The reform introduces performance testing  to evaluate teachers and increases funding for new schools and
learning centers.

The government also passed a telecom reform that most observers  thought would never happen. The law boosts competition by encouraging  new entrants to the telecom market with the ultimate goal of lower  prices for users. Raising income taxes on higher earners, as the new  fiscal package does, is not too popular in the business community.  Yet, it is politically smart for Mexico to invest in education and  transportation infrastructure, while at the same time making the tax  system more progressive.

Thanks to the “Pact for Mexico,” the budget for 2014 easily passed  last month. No government shutdown, no debt-ceiling drama (public debt  is just 38% of GDP)—just agreement on the essential priorities. Instead of compromising the independence of the central bank, as in  Argentina or Venezuela, the Pena Nieto administration has diligently followed the recommendation of the Banco de Mexico to introduce deep  structural reforms from education to antitrust laws. The government  understands that only with consistently low inflaion can the central  bank keep interest rates low. In Mexico there is no wishful thinking  that easy money could somehow substitute for real reform. The most important project, however, is the liberalization of the  energy industry, long held back by the state-owned Pemex monopoly.

The same party that nationalized the country’s oil fields 75 years  ago is now empbarking on a reform whose primary objective is to bring  foreign capital and expertise back in. The PRI understands that only  with outside assistance can the country develop its extensive shale  resources and deep-water oil reserves. Many thought this reform would  not pass, but the government delivered it ahead of schedule on Dec. 12.Modern technology will take time to install. But thanks to the North  American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—the fierce critics of which  have gone silent—cheap U.S. natural gas will soon be flowing down  north-to-south pipelines. This will make Mexican industry, which is  already beating China on labor costs, even more competitive. That will  in turn support a growing Mexican middle class. The government has not
lost sight of income inequality and low productivity. But Mr. Pena  Nieto’s key insight is that attacking the mere symptoms of economic  under-development is not the answer. It is rare indeed to witness a  president talking about “raising family incomes for all Mexican  families through elevating and democratizing productivity.” As Mr.
Pena Nieto said during his state of the union in September. If social  ills like drug violence stem from a lack of opporuniy, then successful  economic reforms should reduce them. Almost all measures of violence  have fallen during Mr. Pena Nieto’s first year of government.

Even in a lousy year for emerging markets, Mexico has future prospects  that are the brightest in the region. Under the revitalized PRI, the  country is on its way to a new kind of institutional revolutiion: one  that could permanently transform it from Latin America’s laggard into  North America’s new engine of growth.∆

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