Over 20 percent of Mexicans live in the United States. Mexican citizens who immigrate to the U.S. or elsewhere retain their Mexican citizenship even if they become a citizen of another country, and by law, they are eligible to vote in Mexican elections.
And if Mexican politicians have their way, they also retain their Mexican identity and Mexican loyalties – in the words of former Mexican President Vincente Fox – “unto the seventh generation.”
But for today, let’s not worry about the problems posed for the U.S. by this exodus. Instead, let’s ask why tens of millions of Mexicans left their country of birth.
Yes, they left “to seek a better life.” Yes, we understand that part. I have often stated that I have enormous sympathy for the plight of Mexicans born into that socialist economy: If I were born in Mexico, I probably would do what millions of Mexicans have done – flee northward to the land of opportunity.
But that begs the question of why Mexicans can’t find a better life in the country of their birth. What is wrong with Mexico that it cannot offer decent jobs and a brighter economic horizon for its people?
To understand the answer to that question, you need look no further than the current debate raging inside Mexico over the future of PEMEX, the state-owned oil company. Since 1938, when the socialist government of President Cardenas seized the property of all oil companies, oil is the “property of the Mexican nation.” That means the property of the Mexican government. PEMEX is the name of the government agency whose bureaucracy operates every facet of oil exploration, production and distribution within Mexico.
Needless to say, the PEMEX bureaucracy is horribly inefficient and wasteful – and everyone knows that. Think of it as the U.S. Postal Service on steroids, but with no FEDEX or UPS as competition. The result: Oil production has been declining; refineries and pipeline infrastructure are old and suffer frequent breakdowns; there is little investment in new technology. Refining capacity is so poor that PEMEX ships oil to Houston to be refined by Shell and then shipped back to Mexico for the retail market.
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Now, you would think that since oil is the third-largest source of revenue for the Mexican government, the government would have an incentive to improve the system by privatizing PEMEX and allowing foreign investment. Sorry, no: In Mexico, that has been impossible to do politically. Proposals that even hint at the privatization of PEMEX are greeted by riots and cries of treason.
Yet, the need for modernizing the oil industry is so obvious that newly elected President Enrique Peña Nieto, leader of the nation’s largest political party, the PRI, has announced a compromise plan to allow foreign investment without allowing actual foreign ownership. His proposal is now under review in the Mexican parliament, but predictably is being attacked by the left as a foot-in-the-door leading to privatization.
The political opposition to modernizing PEMEX illustrates the deep, structural obstacles to economic progress in Mexico. Not only is the Mexican constitution riddled with socialist prescriptions and prohibitions, any appeal to the “founders” is an appeal to Marxist dogma because the Mexican Revolution set Mexico on the socialist path.
Thus, it is not surprising that millions of Mexicans, especially young people, have chosen to move to “El Norte,” to make the hazardous journey to seek a better life in the United States. Who can blame them?
Mexicans will continue to do so until one of two things happens – either the Mexican people abandon socialism and allow the flowering of free-market capitalism, or the people of the United States decide to take border security seriously.
The irony of the situation is this. The Mexican people will not know true prosperity and expanded job opportunities as long as its government can postpone the day of reckoning by exporting people to the north. Closing that escape hatch would hasten the day when Mexico discovers that the greatest “land of opportunity” is Mexico itself – if only they would throw off the shackles of socialist dogma.