Mexico's Lesson in Capitalism

Author:José Ángel Gurría
Mexico’s Lesson
in Capitalism
IN THIS FORMIDABLE work of scholarship, Georgetown
University historian John Tutino recounts Mexico’s
long journey to modernity from the standpoint of
small communities surrounding Mexico City. is
ambitious exercise spans ve centuries to analyze
how these communities “built, sustained, subsidized,
resisted and changed capitalism” in its various phases
from silver-based imperial capitalism under Spanish
rule to the shift from national capitalism to liberal
globalism in the late 20th century.
Tutino gives a rich description of the clash
between traditional community life and the
expansion of capitalism through the centuries
and tells the stories of people in communities such
as Chalco, Tenango del Valle, and Tepoztlán, places
exhibiting the enduring traits of the Mexican
heartland: poverty, productive communitarianism,
local autonomy, and patriarchalism.
A key theme of the book is the resilience that
allowed communities to retain, with varying suc-
cess, a degree of the ecological, political, and cultural
autonomies secured during the era of the global silver
economy under Spanish rule. In the late 19th century
liberal capitalism brought with it a concentration
of land ownership that, combined with popula-
tion growth and mechanization, undermined the
patriarchal family system. Tutino describes how this
led to rising violence, both within families and by
armed rebellion. e ultimate result was land reform
yielding a temporary renewal of autonomy. But
strong population growth in the 20th century and
the rapid expansion of Mexico City sapped the rural
heartland and left most of its people struggling to
build satisfactory lives in the sprawling conurbation.
For Tutino, this phase, and the subsequent collapse
of national capitalism with the “triumph of globaliza-
tion” since the 1980s, marked the denitive end of
local autonomies. Yet the author may have marked
the ending too early. e clash between traditional
communities and liberal capitalism was still evident
in 2006 when riots led by the community of San
Salvador Atenco forced the new Mexico City airport
project to be postponed for 10 years.
e author also seems to suggest that capital-
ism’s incompatibility with traditional autonomous
communitarianism implies a choice between social
erosion and inclusion. Yet some of the most open
and market-oriented economies are also among
those with the best track records on inclusiveness
and the environment.
While Tutino may be right to say that it remains
to be seen “how people will make communities
and press their needs in our new world,” there is as
much reason to be optimistic about this as pessimis-
tic. Openness of the economy and social inclusion
do not, of course, come about automatically. e
right policies are needed for the sort of inclusive
and sustainable growth that can combat poverty
while safeguarding the environment and fostering
human rights and democracy. At a 2017 meeting of
the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, which I lead, the Network of Open
Economies and Inclusive Societies was established to
champion this combination. e OECD has been
working closely with the Mexican authorities to
design and implement reforms that simultaneously
boost productivity and improve the inclusiveness of
growth. I hope and believe that, for the Mexican
heartland, t he best is yet to come.
JOSÉ ÁNGEL GURRÍA, secretary-general, Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development
John Tutino
The Mexican Heartland—
How Communities Shaped
Capitalism, a Nation, and
World History, 1500–2000
Princeton University Press,
Princeton, NJ, 2017, 512 pp., $39.50
Openness of the economy and
social inclusion do not, of course,
come about automatically.

To continue reading