Visiting Mexico this past week reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from my days in Beirut. It was when a hostess asked her dinner guests during the Lebanese civil war: “Would you like to eat now or wait for the cease-fire?” One of the lessons of both Mexico and Lebanon is how irrepressible is the human spirit — that no matter how violent a country becomes, people will adapt and take risks to innovate or to make profits or get to school or to just have fun.
That is a key reason that Mexico is making something of a comeback these days. Whether it will make it back in a sustainable way is unclear. Mexico still has huge problems: stifling monopolies in energy, telecom and media; a weak K-12 education system; violent cartels; and a corrupt police and judiciary. Together, they will keep a lid on Mexico’s prospects if they’re not addressed, the human spirit notwithstanding.
In India, people ask you about China, and, in China, people ask you about India: Which country will become the more dominant economic power in the 21st century? I now have the answer: Mexico.
Impossible, you say? Well, yes, Mexico with only about 110 million people could never rival China or India in total economic clout. But here’s what I’ve learned from this visit to Mexico’s industrial/innovation center in Monterrey. Everything you’ve read about Mexico is true: drug cartels, crime syndicates, government corruption and weak rule of law hobble the nation. But that’s half the story. The reality is that Mexico today is more like a crazy blend of the movies “No Country for Old Men” and “The Social Network.”
The Washington Post, 10/28/2012
In an aggressive bid to move beyond low-wage factory jobs and toward an entrepreneurial economy, Mexico is producing graduates in engineering and technology at rates that challenge its international rivals, including its No. 1 trade partner, the United States.
President Felipe Calderon last month boasted that Mexico graduates 130,000 engineers and technicians a year from universities and specialized high schools, more than Canada, Germany or even Brazil, which has nearly twice the population of Mexico.