(A Swedish version of this text can be found here.)
Vicente Fox has done a lot in his life, both in the world of business and in politics. After finishing his studies the now 64 year old Mexican took up work as a truck driver for Coca-Cola. A quick career made him supervisor of the company’s operations in Mexico, and then in Latin America. After that he got elected governor in the state of Guanajuato, only to become president of Mexico in 2000. With that 70 years of socialist one party rule was brought to an end.
Yesterday he visited the University of Oklahoma to speak as a distinguished lecturer. President Fox makes an impressive impression; he speaks with authority, seems like a man quick to action, and move in a slow and dignified manner. He is a good speaker, even in English, in spite of his Spanish accent.
In his lecture Vicente Fox spoke about many different issues, among them immigration (to the US), free trade, poverty reduction, economic growth, equality of opportunity, multilateralism and education. Some things easy to agree with, others not. His rhetoric is a bit odd, at times sounding almost socialist, while his solutions are often optimistic and free market.
President Fox started by talking about the many Mexicans living in the United States, legally and illegally. The former president demanded that they be given equal rights, and pointed to their value for the American economy. While they do provide such value, it is also true that the huge illegal immigration creates friction in the society, with many of the Mexican immigrants coming to work, but without the intention of becoming Americans. Fox also pointed to the fact that Mexico is the biggest trade partner of the United States, and spoke about the positive value of the free trade agreement NAFTA (which also includes Canada). Plans to expand the agreement to include additional countries will probably have to be put on hold though, given the more protectionist US congress. That’s a shame, both for Latin Americans and US citizens who would both gain on more free trade.
President Fox also spoke about reducing the gap between the rich and the poor — something that might worry people like me, who are not particularly fond of policies of wealth redistribution. In his examples, however, he mainly spoke of Mexico’s growth in the last decade, doubling their per capita income. Giving poor people the opportunity to build a better future for themselves is a noble goal, and it can only be achieved by allowing them to own, create, and sell what they create. President Fox seems to understand this, even though his way of expressing it does not always make that clear.
Another subject that Fox spend time on was expanding the American dream, and let it flourish not only in the United States but also in Mexico. Equal opportunities seems to be his guiding principle, which might be good depending on interpretation. In his view education is key, and the access to education has been expanded during his time at power. Unfortunately not by creating a system of school vouchers, but things are going in the right direction in Mexico. President Fox has otherwise been happy to use market based solutions. An example might be the medical insurance, which appears to be a good combination of freedom of choice while still allowing for tax money to be used. The system could perhaps be described as having national medical vouchers. The economic reforms that have been made, with priority to fighting inflation and well functioning capital markets, have been necessary for Mexico’s economy to grow. At the same time one does get a bit worried when he says that he wants to move from a free market economy to a social economy. Given his reforms though, it is hard to know what he means by that.
One thing that does not impress is the foreign policy. In a manner that could almost be described as Swedish, he mostly speaks about leaving the decisions to the UN, this brilliant defender of all things Good. Multilateralism above all, no matter what the multilateral institutions are actually doing.
Some good things, and some bad things. All in all, President Fox is an interesting person and speaker. We will have to see where his successor, Felipe Calderon, while take the country. Latin America needs success of the kind that only market economies can achieve. Like President Fox says: Nothing hurts the poor as much as populist demagogues. The unlucky people suffering under Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales will soon be able to tell you from experience.