Left-handed compliments

| Wed Apr. 6, 2005 2:16 PM EDT

Kudos to the Washington Post for finally calling attention to the bit of democratic backsliding down in Mexico, with an editorial denouncing the faux-impeachment of leftist candidate Lopez Obrador. Well, sort of. This sentence is exactly right: "[T]he way to stop this popular politician is not to force him off the ballot through a legal trick." Right on. But then, sadly, the Post has to get all obtuse on us, railing against Obrador's left-leanings:

Mexico's political establishment and its business community are deeply worried about Mr. Lopez Obrador, who promises to apply the leftist populism now gaining strength in Latin America in a country that has aggressively -- and mostly successfully -- pursued free-market capitalism for the past 15 years. Mr. Lopez Obrador has said he would "restructure" Mexico's foreign debt and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada, even though NAFTA has produced an explosion of Mexican exports and, according to an exhaustive World Bank study, made Mexicans richer.

Mr. Lopez Obrador might drive foreign investment from Mexico and destabilize the economy with massive government spending; at worst, he might imitate Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has wrecked his country's private sector and made most of its people poorer.

Those who wish to see Mexico continue to modernize and grow prosperous can hope that Mr. Lopez Obrador does not become its next president.

Spare me! Look, I think neo-liberalism's great and all. Free trade, hooray! Markets, whoo! Really. But it takes a special sort of willful blindness to pretend that Mexico's great experiment with free marketeering hasn't caused the country a great deal of misery. After Mexico's 1994 currency crises and subsequent bailouts, please remember, the country barely grew in the following couple of years, saw real wages stagnate and inequality increase, experienced a near-explosion in poverty rates, lost millions of workers who fled to the United States, and watched as much of its banking and industrial sector were bought up by American businessmen. Oh, and lest we forget, that was the second debt crisis in roughly a decade. Understandably, Mexicans tend not to be thrilled with the state of affairs.

Meanwhile, there's no good reason to think that Obrador would wreck the country. You can argue for or against "massive government spending," as well as when and how to do it, but there's certainly nothing intrinsic about more spending that causes it to "destabilize the economy". The most dangerous thing, at this point, is for political and opinion leaders in the United States to start railing blindly against left-leaning politicians in the South. That sort of thing does, understandably, tend to produce leaders who start openly defying the U.S. and going to war against the private sector. Not that my opinion matters. I see in today's New York Times that this sort of thing is already starting to happen in Nicaragua, as U.S. officials are denouncing the long-shot Sandinista candidate a full year and a half before the elections. Why? For the heck of it! Nicely done.

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