I wrote this a while ago and probably shouldn’t post it. “Not scientific.” But I will anyway. Don’t have time for anything new.
During the week of turmoil in Boston, I was on vacation in the Yucatan. It was slightly surreal watching CNN and seeing the police stake out an area just a mile from where I live.
I’ve travelled to Mexico off and on since 1970, and like the country. But there are some annoyances. We were scammed several times while using credit cards (Pemex, Dollar Rental Car, etc) I’d suggest using cash. I should have been more careful, as the gas stations used to scam us back in the 1970s, although then it was by not setting the gauge back to zero before pumping gas.
This is one area where Mexico seems to lag China, where we’ve had far fewer problems with scams (although I don’t doubt there are plenty there as well.) Here’s another difference I noticed recently. In Mexico the teachers are upset that the government is going to try to improve the education system. It seems teacher positions are bought and sold, and can even be handed down from one generation to the next. That’s the sort of practice that is more common in low income countries like India than middle income countries like China.
If you go to the Yucatan, I’d stay in the Tulum area (or Merida), rather than Cancun. Rent a car and you can explore the interior. We went to Valladolid, which seemed virtually unchanged since I drove through in the 1970s, indeed it probably doesn’t look much different from the 1870s, or the 1670s. BTW, I recommend reading Stephen’s two books on the Yucatan (from 1840), if you plan to visit. We didn’t have time for Merida and Campeche, but I saw them on an earlier trip and they are both worth visiting.
I was struck by the differences with China. If you went to a small city in China today, it would look totally changed from the 1970s, indeed from 2003. This trip made me more convinced than ever that China will blow right by Mexico in terms of GDP/person.
That’s not to say that China is “better” in any overall sense. Mexicans seem very friendly and happy (and surveys confirm that it scores high in “life satisfaction.”) It’s full of charming old colonial cities and the climate is delightful. China . . . well . . . not so much. In utilitarian terms China may never catch Mexico. And I’m a utilitarian.
But anyone who travels from Mexico to China can’t help but notice the vast differences in economic momentum. Despite all its very real flaws, China has a system that generates ever higher GDP at an awesome rate, even in towns the size of Valladolid. It’s not pretty, but it’s relentless and grimly effective.
The “disappointing” 7.7% RGDP number from Q1 (distorted by lack of adjustment for leap year) has led some to wonder if the China boom is over. It isn’t.
PS. I was originally going to entitle this post; “speed bumps on the road to prosperity.” The argument was that Mexico has far more speed bumps than China, because it’s a more lawless society. But then I realized that some commenter would probably point out there are speed bumps in Norway or Switzerland or some other rich country. Hence my schlock theory got relegated to a footnote.
PPS. The “lawless” nature of Mexico does have its charms. In the 1970s we could go anywhere in Chichen Itza; I stood on top of one of the hoops in the ball court. Now everything’s roped off—it’s getting more like the US. But they still don’t close down entire cities of a million people because one 19 year old killer is on the run. Thank God.
PPPS. I saw that Matt Yglesias recently got into trouble by daring to tell the truth about Bangladesh:
It seems like the entire Internet has registered its objections to this piece I wrote on the Bangladesh factory disaster. And I have to say that my overwhelming personal response, as a writer and as a human being, is to be annoyed by the responses that I’m getting. But let me try to be mature about it instead and say—what happened in Bangladesh is a tragedy and a human disaster, and to the best of my knowledge it’s also quite literally a criminal disaster under the existing laws of Bangladesh.
It also seems like “the entire internet” lets feelings trump reason. Don’t let them push you around Matt. The Paul Krugman of the 1990s would have said the same thing.