Mexico, as It Is and Wasn’t: Some Stuff Worth Knowing

Mexico, as It Is and Wasn’t: Some Stuff Worth Knowing, by Fred Reed.

For many years, until 1910, Mexico was run by Europeans, lastly under Porfirio Diaz, for the benefit of Europeans. Literacy was extremely poor, with economic conditions to match. The country was indeed, to borrow a favorite phrase of those hostile to Latin Americans, a Third World hellhole. …

In 1910 the Revolution broke out. It was godawful, as civil wars usually are. It ended in 1921, followed shortly by the Cristero religious war until 1929. This had the usual hideousness favored by religious wars.

It left the country devastated. It hadn’t been much to start with, but now it was a wreck. Aldous Huxley, writing in 1934, saw no improvement. … At least until 1940 much of Mexico was barely civilized, unlettered, lawless, and poor. Things were not all that swell in 1970.

Today, seventy-six years later (says the CIA Factbook), literacy is at 95%; the economy at $2.2 trillion, 12th in the world in PPP; median age, 28; population growth rate, 1.12%; mother’s mean age at first birth, 21.3; total fertility, 2.24 children per woman; life expectancy at birth, 76 years.

Mexico today .. graduates well over 100,000 engineers a year, including 13,000 in software, and has a rapidly growing high-tech industry with centers in Guadalajara and Mexico City. Major American firms, to include IBM, Oracle, and Intel, come here to hire them.

And of course internet, airlines, computerized everything, and teenagers pecking at smartphones. …

In many ways Mexico remains a mess, mostly because of organized crime and corruption. Distribution of wealth is badly unequal, being now what the U.S. is becoming. Books could be written about what is wrong with the country. Finland it isn’t. But neither is it remotely a “Third World hellhole.” …

It would be a good idea to retire the phrase “Third World.” Any designation that includes both Buenos Aires and Haiti (I have spent time in the slums of Cité Soleil with the U.S. Army) is so broad as to be without meaning. In 1930, China, Mexico, Thailand, and so on could reasonably have been called hellholes. None of these even comes close today. The slums of India do, as does much of Africa, yes. …

What Mexicans are not — yet, anyway — is driven in the sense that Americans often are. Young Mexican engineers are more so, but not the general population. …

There is considerable social mobility, at least around the cities. Women start businesses here, often restaurants, stores, bars, or maybe assisted-care homes in regions favored by retired Americans …, but seem content with enough. “Enough” means something to them that it often does not to Americans. Whether this is good or bad can be debated, but it makes for contentedness but not commercial empires.