Any political scientist will tell you that the definition of a failed
state is where the legitimate authorities have lost both their monopoly over violence and their fiscal effectiveness -- the capacity to compel their subjects to pay enough taxes so the state can function.
Mexico is a failing state on both counts. While all our attention
is focused on Iraq, our neighbor is descending into Hobbesian
With democracy, the corruption that had resided within the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) during its 75 years of one party rule has migrated outside the system and become autonomously organized and competitive. This has resulted in the accelerating Colombianization of Mexico, in which the drug gangs and other criminal syndicates fight it out with each other or any state authority that can't be bought off. Witness the bullet riddled body of the new police chief in the border town of Nuevo Laredo who was assassinated last week a mere 6 hours after he took office!
Further, kidnappings and gunpoint muggings, frequently in collusion with police networks, are rampant in Mexico City and elsewhere. Everyone has a story about being robbed at the ATM machine or about having their watch snatched from their wrist when idling at a stoplight in their car.
Seeing this enduring lawlessness, others, less organized,do what they have to do to make it in a stagnant economy. Where there is impunity but no opportunity, the Mexican commentator Carlos Monsivais has quipped, everyone becomes an opportunist. This is true from the desperate migrant to the petty street thief to state governors who look the other way to business leaders to the middle class professional who avoids taxes.
On top of all this, and in part because of it, Mexico is fiscally
anemic, collecting the least assessed taxes of any major Latin American state. It has consequently relied on oil revenues to fill the gap, thus robbing itself of the capacity to invest in futher exploration and development of this diminishing resource, which is also drained away by corruption. Last year, $1 billion worth of oil from PEMEX, the state oil monopoly, was stolen! That's on the scale of the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq.
Prohibition of foreign or private investment in the oil sector by the Mexican constitution has meant that proved and projected reserves can't be exploited. They remain in the ground or under the sea.
In short, Mexico is headed down the tubes. Its failure will spill out
all over the US bigtime. We are already awash in the slow tsunami
of illegal immigration, which will surely surge further and accelerate.
And, is there any doubt that the ruthless drug lords along the border
who brazenly kill any honest cop or slaughter the wives and children
of their rivals will, for the right price, smuggle terrorists and their weapons into the US?
It doesn't take a futurist or elite study group to see this disastrous writing on the wall. There are visionary political leaders in Mexico like Jorge Castaneda, the first foreign minister under President Fox, who are proposing viable policies such as a North American Energy Security Fund that will both help diminish US reliance on Middle East
oil and help development in Mexico.
But, what US politician is even thinking about these issues? The
consequences of collapse in Mexico are far graver for the US than
anything that happens in Iraq.