Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On failed states

This isn't really new, but it's still relevant I think. Stephen Haber published "Latin America's Quiet Revolution" on the WSJ on January 31. You can read the whole piece here. Several things struck me.

"A report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command released earlier this month calls Mexico a potential failing state, likening it to Pakistan. This assessment is particularly striking in light of the $400 million per year that the United States provides in military and security assistance to Mexico. It also adds urgency to the U.S. government's plans to complete a 700-mile-long border fence and dramatically expand the number of Border Patrol agents, to over 20,000 by the end of 2009 from 11,000 in 2004 -- both of which have opened a rift between Washington and Mexico City."
"Most of Latin America is, however, undergoing a period of unprecedented political and economic transformation. In Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic and, yes, Mexico -- which is most decidedly not a failing state -- there has been a quiet but substantial movement toward the creation of societies that are characterized by increased economic opportunity, social mobility and political democracy. This is not to say that Brazilians have achieved the same standard of living as the Dutch, or that the rule of law operates in Mexico as it does in Canada. It is to say, however, that these countries have undertaken a series of economic and political reforms that make them vastly different places than they were two decades ago."

Although I agree with a lot of this, the Pentagon study said Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state, not that it already was one. It stated Mexico bears consideration for rapid and sudden collapse.

And although we do have a "normal life" according to Haber's standards (education, garbage service, weekend getaways) in large parts of the country, there are cities that are quickly becoming ghost towns according to some reports. Tijuana, Monclova, etc. We have banking reforms that enable us to buy homes, but who wants to buy a home right now?

And then:
"After falling for a decade, Mexico's homicide rate increased in 2008, because the Calderón government courageously decided to take on the drug traffickers. If it keeps rising, it may soon be as high as that of...Louisiana."

Ok, yes, the official crime rates are low. Secretary of the Interior Juan Camilo Mouriño used to say that the government was winning and that's why the narcos were panicking and going berserk. Well, Mouriño's dead. Accident or not, who knows? Anyway, half the crime goes unreported, and we may have less murders than Louisiana but we certainly have more violent crime (and murders).

Narcos aren't going to go away as long as that huge and lucrative market, the US, demands drugs. And demand they do. Imagine, if you will, that the government outlawed toothpaste. There would be contraband paste maybe, sure, but you can substitute baking soda. What substitutes drugs? Drug demand is pretty much inelastic, would you pull out of that market? When does it stop being worth "the hassle"? Especially since many people employed in the drug trade have no other marketable skills.