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December 15, 2018


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I generally dislike indices of this sort (and their cross-country comparisons especially), but let me take your bait. Your own picture shows that Mexico made a huge progress between 1985 and 2000 - there is, indeed, quite a space to fall. The regress to the 1970s is very feasible, alas.

Note something else. Poland and Hungary were lucky. The reason they jumped so fast was that once communism was removed they were quickly accepted into the European institutions. In great part it is those institutions that are keeping them relatively high up: domestic restraints may have largely fallen off, but there is still Europe, and, despite all the retoric, both governments have found it too costly to break with it.

Mexico, in contrast, was never as integrated into a larger free area - and today, courtesy of our wonderful northern neighbor going berserk, the opportunity cost of going nuts for it is lower than ever.

Finally, Poland and Hungary are smallish stable countries, both of which, incidentally, before WWII were much higher than Mexico in terms of your index. Mexico's lack of progress, as you know well, in large part has been due to its size and weakness of central authority: journalists here have been killed - but rarely by the federal government. The latter has been only moderately scary in recent decades.

Anyway, there is where to fall for Mexico. Things are not at all so bad that they cannot get worse. And just because some things are too horrible to consider, does not mean they will not happen. Trust me: you know where I grew up :)

I am in complete agreement with you about these indices! That said, they're what we've got, and they pass the plausibility test.

What I don't agree with you is that a return to the 1970s is on the table. Mexico in the 1970s was a near-absolute dictatorship in which opponents were jailed (or "disappeared"), opposition was violent, the press controlled, and elections meaningless. It wasn't just bad ... it was Polish People's Republic bad.

AMLO can organize all the "consultations" that he wants. He might even be able to pass some constitutional amendments. And he will certainly create a political machine. But he won't be able to destroy the INE or (what exists of) judicial independence without a massive fight. Let alone taking on the press.

If he tries, it will be fight, with tear gas and killings and arbitrary detentions, along the lines of what's happened in Venezuela and Turkey. (Or may be happening in Hungary now.)

Subtle attempts to build machines and subvert elections or distort executive-branch institutions are not a worry, because Mexico already has machines that subvert elections and crappy executive institutions.

Again, I don't see Mexico sliding into Venezuelan-style confrontations between an authoritarian AMLO and his opponents. But that is the kind of thing that would have to happen to get Mexico's democracy to deteriorate significantly from its current sad state.

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