At the end of this past year, I had the privilege of participating in the awards ceremony for the Caminos de la Libertad (“Roads of Freedom”) essay contest, where we also awarded the “A Life for Freedom” award to Armando Ribas, an economist who, at 86 years of age, has led a most interesting life and maintains his youthful spirit.
The exchange of ideas between defenders of freedom in Latin America is of key importance in an environment that is clearly averse to liberal culture. We only have to look at the United States, which was a traditionally liberal bastion, but seems, in some ways, to be gradually moving towards becoming a military state. Eisenhower coined the term “military industrial complex,” a political phenomenon which has “evolved” into the concept of the “military security complex.”
In such an environment, liberties have little place. Indeed, they are a hindrance to the current political leadership in what was once the last refuge of liberal values. So, if we were on one side discouraged by what was occurring in Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, or Venezuela, today the temptation is to become even more discouraged by what is happening in the United States— especially following the mid-term legislative election process, during which the White House openly declared itself hostile to freedom of the press.
An editorial in The Economist, in its 175th anniversary edition, warned that "liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it." However, this can be reversed.
Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it.
Facing the challenges with optimism
Being liberal requires being optimistic. Optimism is part of the liberal essence. Liberals must look to the future to effectively promote an agenda that is key to society. To do so, we must start at home and resolve, together, the challenges we face. In my opinion, in Mexico we face three key challenges: (1) violence, (2) lack of access to education, and (3) corruption. What do these three issues have in common? The government— that is, a public administration that does not fulfill its basic functions and is not accountable to anyone. Let’s take a closer look.
We usually call it "insecurity," but this doesn't even begin to describe the problem. The problem is the endless violence that results from rampant impunity, because "nothing ever happens here.” The government, at its three levels, does not fulfill its basic function, which is to guarantee the physical safety of citizens, with the result that in Mexico there are 19 homicides per 100,000 people each year— which is four times the rate reported for the United States. Unfortunately, today in Mexico, we have a country without the Rule of Law: there are many laws, but there is no Rule of Law. The root cause of this situation is the failed "war on drugs."
Policies based on making drug use illegal has only caused violence. We can see this because we are not seeing a decline in drug consumption. As long as we continue with this policy, all government resources at all three levels will be earmarked for this absurd, violent, and failed purpose: to pursue drug traffickers who, in turn, fight against the state and each other, in an endless spiral of violence.
Policies based on making drug use illegal has only caused violence. We can see this because we are not seeing a decline in drug consumption.
As this cycle continues, there is no possibility of fighting the everyday crimes, that most hurt the population, such as armed assault, home burglaries, kidnappings, and so on, and so on. Therefore, if we want to defend an agenda of freedoms, what we must first do is put an end to this absurd policy.
Lack of Access to Education
What does this have to do with the government? Quite a bit, as the government controls and monopolizes education in Mexico and the results are terrible. Regardless of the political party in office, for decades different administrations have sowed a series of failed ideas that have condemned us to failure. In different international exams, our young people display very poor results. In science, we are 15% below the OECD average, 14% in reading comprehension, and 16% in mathematics. These results are unacceptable. In these efforts, the Mexican government clearly receives failing grades; therefore, citizens and organized civil society must actively seek a cultural change to eradicate obsolete ideas that prevent us from advancing.
This issue has a direct correlation to government interference in the country’s economic life. The more government and the more regulations there are, the greater the opportunities for corruption. Legislators and the government often enact laws and regulations that are impossible to comply with, opening up countless possibilities for bribery and other unacceptable practices. Throughout the world we have seen that the bigger the government and its budget is as a percentage of its economy, the more room there is for public officials to become corrupt.
The more government and the more regulations there are, the greater the opportunities for corruption.
In the extreme case, we have socialism, where the government controls all property and the means of production, such as in Cuba, North Korea, and, increasingly, Venezuela. In such a regime, the State applies all its power to dominate the individual and confiscate his or her property— which is often neglected and left to deteriorate.
Socialism is therefore the strictest application of the power of the State to eradicate private property. Unfortunately, this wealth is destroyed when it passes into the hands of the government. Here we see that democracy and socialism are not compatible. There’s a good reason why Milton Friedman reminds us in his essay "Capitalism and Freedom" that free enterprise is a cornerstone of all other freedoms, because it allows us to lead an economic life independent of the government.
Violence, lack of education, and corruption are the three greatest challenges we face in Mexico. The new administration has expressed its desire to fight them with the full strength of the State. For Mexico's sake, we must make sure that this will indeed be the case.