What’s the matter with Mexico?

Up until two weeks ago, my contacts with Mexico had been very limited.  When I was four, my parents spent a day in Tijuana, at which time I allegedly stood in the middle of the mercado and cried out “I want to go back to my own civilization.”

Fast forward 20 years, and I went to Matamoros, Mexico, for a short visit.  I could not believe how seamy it was — or, at least, how seamy the quarter we visited was.  I was not surprised to learn that it later became notorious for murder.

Four years later, a friend and I went to a “luxury” resort south of Puerto Vallarta.  I use the scare quotes around the word luxury because, despite the price, there was nothing luxurious about it.  It was barely clean; the rooms were minimalist, not by trendy design, but by poverty; and the water (both drinking and swimming) was scary.  The towns we drove through from the airport were distinguished by dust and decay.

You can imagine then, that when my husband proposed a cruise to Mexico I was not enthusiastic.  I finally convinced myself to go, however, because the price was good, and the cruise ship would insulate me from the risks of contaminated food (to which I am unusually vulnerable), as well as ensuring a clean bed and bath every night.  I’m glad I made that decision.

The cruise we took was a far-reaching trip down Mexico’s west western coast.  We visit Cabo San Lucas, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, spending a day in each port.

Thumbnail sketches of each place don’t do them justice, but they are a start:  Cabo is nothing but a beach; Manzanillo is a bustling port city that is trying to generate buzz as a nature habitat (and that has, in the middle of the city, the most amazing tree filled with giant iguanas); Acapulco is a huge city of 2 million, that provides a graphic visualization of the rise, decline and rise again of the tourist trade over the past 40 years; Huatulco is an excellent example of the early stages of a planned eco city, interesting and sweet, both in terms of nature and archaeology; Puerto Vallarta is an almost generic arts and tourist destination; and Mazatlan is an old, interesting, quite decayed city.

As I said, those thumbnails are completely inadequate.  They reflect my impressions of those cities and towns based, not on intimate knowledge, but on a few hours in the areas most readily available to tourists.  Still, those few hours did leave me with some very strong overarching impressions about coastal Mexico generally, and I think these impressions are at least somewhat valid.

To begin with, Mexico has no middle.  This wasn’t just my impression; this was something I heard from several people, in many of the places we visited.  Mexico has a small number of very wealthy people at the top, a huge number of very poor people struggling along at the bottom, and almost no discernible middle class.

In other words, although ostensibly capitalist, Mexico doesn’t have a balanced capitalist economic structure.  Instead, its structure more closely reflects either a socialist structure (peons and party apparatchiks) or a rural aristocratic structure (nobles and laborers). Both models make sense, given Mexico’s overwhelming government (high taxes; massive, although often ignored, regulation; and a massive military presence) and its development under the Spanish aristocratic model (as opposed to the 18th Century British enlightenment model that gave America its initial social and economic structure).

Speaking of the military, Mexico doesn’t have anything equivalent to America’s posse comitatus.  The military is everywhere, a fact I remembered from my other visits to Mexico.  The constant military presence has an oppressive feel to it, at least to this American, who is used to the military being aimed at enemies foreign, not domestic.  Having said that, the people to whom I spoke felt that the military now serves a useful function because President Calderon is using it to combat the drug lords.  That is, rather than flexing its muscle against all citizens, the military is actively pursuing the bad actors.

President Calderon, by the way, appears to be popular with those paying attention.  In several of the towns we visited, people I spoke with said that they liked Calderon, and this was true even if their allegiance was to the opposition party.  The reason given, always, was the sense that he was sincere in his efforts to combat drugs.  Other presidents have postured, but Calderon actually seems to be doing something.  Even the recent increase in violent crimes is seen as something of a good thing, because it shows that the drug lords are feeling and reacting to Calderon’s pressure.  The killings are the broken eggs on the way to a drug-free Mexican omelet.  (How’s that for a strained metaphor?)

I keep mentioning “the people to whom I spoke,” so let me say something about the people we met in coastal Mexico.  Whether taxi drivers, or van drivers, or merchants, or waitresses, or anyone else, they were amazingly pleasant people.  Most spoke at least a little English, and all were anxious to be helpful.  They were kind to the children, honest in their business dealings, and incredibly hard working.  This last, incidentally, was almost sad — and it’s what leads me to repeat the question I asked in my post title:  What’s the matter with Mexico?

I saw a population of kind, honest, extremely hard-working people, and they’re going nowhere.  Although Mexico is swiftly Americanizing in many ways (Costco, American auto dealerships, Staples, Starbucks, Home Depot, and other like stores, are omnipresent in the big cities), the vast majority of people seem to live one step away from abysmal economic failure.  They’re hustling like crazy, but going nowhere fast.  They’re like people trying to swim through Jello:  no matter how fast they move their arms and legs, they’re still sinking.  Small wonder, then, that so many of them look to America, a land in which effort makes an actual difference to outcome.

The people to whom I spoke about this stagnant situation vaguely blamed government corruption.  They explained that taxes are enormously high, but little of the money seems to return to the citizens.  Government officials get paid enormously high wages, many supplement their incomes with drug money, no project can take place without bribery, and government funds are siphoned off into private pockets.

A perfect example of corrupt or inept government was a high rise in Acapulco.  It was about 16 stories tall, fairly new, and completely empty.  After the developer had built the entire framework, our driver told us, the government shut it down for failing to comply with building laws.  In America, that probably wouldn’t happen, because inspectors monitor every step of the project.  (I’ve seen this on both private and institutional projects.)  Under the corruption hypothesis, the fact that a building climbed 16 stories only to be abandoned suggests that someone in the government didn’t get paid and got his revenge.  The ineptitude possibility is that no one was paying attention to the building’s structural integrity until millions had already been sunk into a building too dangerous ever to be occupied.  Either way, it’s an expensive dead spot in Acapulco.

One can’t avoid the cultural problem, either.  The small number of coastal cities in Mexico that I saw were prone to what I would call an ad hoc or jury rig approach to things.  Nothing was done well if it could be done badly.  People hustled like crazy, but there was little evidence of Western style efficiency or organization.  This is self-imposed Jello swimming.  If you’re locked in a mentality that steers you to the lowest common denominator, you’re never going to get ahead.  I know that part of this is because of poverty, but a lot of the jury rigging I saw (in the way things were cleaned or constructed, for example) had nothing to do with poverty, and everything to do with attitude.

I would like Mexico to do well.  Selfishly, I want a safe country on my southern border, one that doesn’t import drugs, terrorists and the poor onto my own land.  More altruistically, I want the Mexican people to prosper.  They’re good people and deserve better than they’re getting right now.  I cam away from my trip, however, convinced that it will take an enormous effort to bring Mexico up in the world.  Change will happen only under two circumstances, both uniquely difficult to achieve:  (1) Government must clean up and shrink down; and (2) the citizens have to become more organized and efficient.  As long as they’re spending at least as much time spinning their wheels as they are moving forward, they’re going to go nowhere fast.

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Comments

  1. Mike Devx says

    Book says,
    Mexico has no middle.  This wasn’t just my impression; this was something I heard from several people, in many of the places we visited.  Mexico has a small number of very wealthy people at the top, a huge number of very poor people struggling along at the bottom, and almost no discernible middle class.

    When I visited Cuernavaca for a two month Summer immersion Spanish class in 1986, I was struck by exactly the same thing.  The key I think is not merely that Mexico is only nominally “capitalistic”, but that it is not “free market”.  Free market is the key to having a healthy, robust, thriving middle class.  It’s a warning sign for the Obama version of America.  Obama and most far-left idealogues hate, despise the free market, which they cannot CONTROL.

    > One can’t avoid the cultural problem, either.  The small number of coastal cities in Mexico that I saw were prone to what I would call an ad hoc or jury rig approach to things.  Nothing was done well if it could be done badly.

    Corruption’s “la mordita”, or “the bite” of monetary theft by government and police officials, endemic in Mexico, is another critical key.   About half of America has fallen victim to the mentality that Book describes: Nothing gets done well if you can get by by doing it badly.

    Obama’s America:  The land of “can-barely-do”

  2. jj says

    Don’t get to feeling too superior – in Seattle, on 2nd Avenue between Wall and Vine Streets, the Carpenter’s Union built the Madison Aprtment tower, which is 25 stories.  A few months after it was completed, not long after people moved in the scaffolding went up.  They tried for a few years to fix it, but were compelled to surrender, move all the people out, and recognize that the building is so f****d up that the only thing to do is tear it down, which process will commence in March.  (Hopefully someone other than the Carpenter’s Union will be in charge of demolition.)  But – the difference between the Seattle and Acapulco Building Departments is…?  That it costs more to bribe American building inspectors, maybe – but other than that, not much difference at all.

  3. Oldflyer says

    I worked a bit in Chiapas, the state far in the south.  We were based in the city of Tuxtla.  Every street corner had a heavily armed soldier during the day; but not at night.  I wondered about that.  I was told that  the soldiers were to protect the banks from hill banditos.
    A couple of years later, San Cristobal de la Casa, in the mountains, was the scene of a violent and bloody uprising.  I have seen pictures of the area around the market place bordering the Cathederal in which the walls are pocked by bullet holes, and smeared with blood.
    In Tuxtla there did seem to be a thriving middle. judging by the busy shops.  (Unlike in Brazil, I was not in a position to mingle with the very wealthy.)  There was also abject poverty. In the mountains, it looked as though you had traveled far back in time.  Barefoot women walked beside the road carrying bundles of firewood on their heads.  In fact any place outside of the city, was pretty depressing in terms of sanitation and modern improvements.
    The Mexicans in Chiapas seemed to be hard working; but some of their methods. at least with regards to aircraft maintenance and operation were just plain scary.  They had no standards, and would do anything. literally, to keep an operation going.
    The hotel was pleasant, and the dining room was excellent.  I suspect that this was the only hotel in the city that I would rate so highly.
    We operated from a joint military-civil field. When the Governor was departing in his Lear jet the field was closed, and there seemed to be a machine gun toting soldier behind every bush.  The privileged do not take chances in Mexico.  This was before the drug cartels were in power.  Just normal way of life.

  4. Charles Martel says

    The last time I was in Tijuana, sometime in the 90s, I remember wondering what it was that the incredible energy and hustle on the streets there reminded me of. I realized that for a few moments I felt like I was on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, watching a madly hyped-up world careen by. It was an exhilarating moment until, as Book points out above, the realization sets in that all that frantic motion really has nowhere to go. Mexico has no tradition of or process for success.

    I don’t think the Mexican army will figure in any successful effort against the shadow and ramshackle narco state that the drug syndcates are erecting in that country. There doesn’t seem to be any Mexican institution that is not corruptible. As we’ve seen and are beginning to see yet more in our own country, most of those at the top are not patriots. They do not care for their county—for patria—but only for their own wealth and prestige. While there are some government officials in Mexico who are honorable and courageous, their culture’s 500 years of immersion in corruption, betrayal, dishonesty and inefficiency work against them. The army has never been resistant to that tradition. 

    One solution—which cannot happen given the current political situation in the States and Mexico—would be to force a revolution by pushing the “safety valve” people who are now illegally here in the United States back to Mexico where their pressure and dissatisfaction could create revolutionary conditions. The drawback there is that Mexico, a thoroughly imitative and uncreative culture, would mount a Marxist revolution leading to mass murder and yet greater poverty. It would not be good to have a Cuba on steroids on our southern border.

    Another solution, which Mexico has historically feared, is for the United States to annex the northern Mexican states—Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua—which are very close to us culturally and historically have despised Mexico City. The problem there, aside from the fact that the United States suffers from permanent ball loss and would never annex, is that those states are the epicenters of the country’s narco networks. We would have to mount a major military operation to go into those states’ mountain hideouts and destroy the criminals, Fallujah-style, with door-to-door fire and death.

    Not gonna happen.

    So, Mexico occupies the same mental compartment for me as California. It’s too late for a sane solution for either, so the best I can do is watch how the train wrecks unfold.

  5. SGT Dave says

    All,
    I will be brief, especially since I could literally talk about Mexico for hours (it is one of my focus areas at work).
    I’ll talk about the Mexican military, specifically the situation with law enforcement.  Mexico’s Army, under the constitution, cannot leave Mexico’s territory.  They are, by law and tradition, a defensive force with provision to provide due support to the government against threats domestic and foreign within the borders of their nation.  This means, for all intents and purposes, that Mexico’s army is a mirror image of the U.S. military.  We cannot operate (with certain specific exceptions) within the U.S. or against U.S. persons because of posse comitatus.  The Mexican military (SEDENA – the Army and Air Force and SEMAR – the Navy and Marines) has to have congressional approval to move ANY member outside of Mexico.  The officers at the Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth have each been vetted by the Mexican Congress and had an act passed to allow them to attend.  The relief effort in Haiti – three doctors, six nurses, and a flight team – took up a full day for the proper act to be passed to allow them to go. 
    A second key point about the Mexican military is that it is a draft/conscription force.  In the old days the U.S. military had a large amount of graft and problem children – because the system had no way to screen them out.  It took time to figure out the bad apples and then discharge them.  In Mexico you get the large batch of recruits – from all backgrounds – and then these underpaid, undertrained, and uniformly young and impressionable men are sent out to “fight the enemy”.  The enemy are wealthy, heavily armed, and seductively capable drug lords.  Bribes as large as your yearly paycheck are difficult to refuse; and be honest if you would turn down a bribe of that magnitude to merely look the other way. 
    The Mexican military is undergoing a significant change, but that change will take time.  The leadership is moving units and using strike forces from out of the operational area to deal with major targets (La Barbie was caught in Mexico State by marines; consider that geography issue).  The system will always have problems, but they are working at it.
    The middle in Mexico is very small, but actually growing – albeit slowly.  Economically, our downturn is killing the best part of their economy.  The difference between economic expansion and contraction for Mexico is the remittances sent to family from members living abroad.  Traditionally, the remittances support small businesses in economically stressed areas (the migrant-generating forces).  Areas with strong migrant traditions (Zacatecas is one) have been growing a solid middle-class that caters to the seasonal migrant work force. 
    Mexico is not a failed state; the scariest part of the situation is that the violence in Ciudad Juarez is a symptom of a recovering state, not a failed one.  No criminal can establish control of that corridor because of the military and police interdiction of the cartels.  This, in turn, leads to a turf war over a billion dollar territory.  Juarez is one of the best portals to the U.S. for drugs, migrants, and other contraband.  There is too much money for it to go fallow; pending the ability of the government to deal with the major cartels in other areas, however, the territory will remain a free-fire zone.  No cartel can establish control, they are killing each other and trying to avoid the Army and police attention – and they can’t do both.  But they can’t leave it alone, either.  It is likely that 15-25% of all illicit transport to the U.S. comes via the Juarez corridor – yep, we’re talking 3-5 BILLION dollars a year – could any enterprise leave that alone?
    Anyhow, I like Mexico, I hope for its future, and I’ll continue chronicling its present.  Keep an eye on Central and South Mexico, especially Tabasco, Quintana Roo, Chiapas, Colima, Puebla, and Zacatecas.  These states may form a bastion for economic growth (via tourism, petroleum, agriculture, and manufacturing) that helps the middle class get a boost. 
    Any specifics you’d like to posit, I’ll try and address.  Like I said, it’s my job to answer a lot of these questions for people who make decisions (and they say my team is doing a great job).

    SGT Dave
    “To defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic”

  6. suek says

     
    What is the effect of working in the US on those who return to Mexico?  I can’t help but wonder.  They spend years here, doing things “our” way, being trained in various sanitation methods as workers in restaurants etc, janitors etc. and accustoming their ways to US amenities.  Then they return to Mexico to work or retire.  Does their time in the US affect their approach to how things are done when they return?  Or maybe the question should be _do_ they return?  Do they get spoiled by living in the US so that they are dissatisfied with life in Mexico?

  7. Tonestaple says

    Thank you, Sgt. Dave – that’s much more optimistic than I would have thought there was any reason to be.

    jj beat me to the story of the McGuire Apartments.  I need to go walking around downtown and see if the building is really empty since the deadline was 12-31-10.

    Interestingly enough, we haven’t heard much about the ultimate blame for this.  Rather than the city doing direct inspections. the construction was overseen by an inspection firm selected by the contractor or owner, said inspection firm then reporting to the city.  In one newspaper article, the city said they were going to investigate the engineering firm that should have caught this.

    HOWEVER, there’s another apartment complex in town, completed in the last 3 years or so, that has settling problems with 20 of its units to the extent that walls have separated from floors by one-half to one inch.  (Thornton Place at Northgate, for anyone who’s interested.)

    I remain exceptionally suspcious of all of this because I lived in Kansas City in 1981 when the walkways inside the Hyatt collapsed.  The Kansas City Star did a follow-up investigation into the city building inspectors and discovered rampant corruption.  “Inspections” were mere drive-bys with pauses necessary only to pick up the bribes.  I am waiting for the Seattle Times to do something similar.

  8. Danny Lemieux says

    Mexico is a standard oligarchical state, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of an elite few (former aristocrats, in many cases) and economic incentives have lacked for most in Mexico to be able to climb out of poverty. I  could see the potential of Mexico when I started out my career in a manufacturing company that employed many illegals. I was so impressed by their work ethic, provided they had a monetary incentive to work.
    Yes, change is coming.
    I propose that while the middle class is growing in Mexico, it is hollowing out in California. The cost of living is driving out the middle class while the underclass thrives on the basis of a growing underground economy. Mexico strives to become more like the U.S., California strives to become more like Mexico.
    I just about wanted to throw up when I heard the following discourses by Leftist /Progressives gleefully speculating on how the growing poverty and concentration of wealth by the upper classes (did they mean people like Pelosi, Gore, Feinstein, John F*ing Kerry, Reid, Kennedy..etc.), a condition they have created, would lead to more violence in society.
    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/chilling-video-openly-rooting-for-revolution-the-left-calls-for-american-civil-unrest-riots-francis-fox-piven-lib-talkers-journalists-van-jones-rev-wright-english-protest-leader-etc/
    nah…I won’t throw up after all. I’ll just make a note to buy more ammo.
    They want us to become 3rd World oligarchy because they delude themselves that it would be they that become the new oligarchs— they who do contribute negative wealth to society!
    We’ll see about that.

  9. shirleyelizabeth says

    Bookworm mentioned that she met with excellent people in Mexico, but that many failures had little to do with the people’s poverty and much with their attitude.

    Living in Arizona, this is something I have seen through my life. In our cities, there are swatches of neighborhoods that look just like the run-down cities of Mexico. People come here to escape their lifestyle there and do nothing to change the way they live. They even work hard to keep it the same. But then many of those that came here young and were raised seeing the American way of life leave their hovel lifestyles and devote their excellence of person to actually moving forward and towards something.

    Also, I just thought, perhaps it is due to the poverty. Poverty = no education = no change in attitude/status quo. And by education I don’t necessarily mean the public school kind we’ve got nowadays.

  10. says

    It’s noteworthy that a lot of the manufacturing outsourcing that was expected to go to Mexico actually went to China instead. Yet geographically, Mexico *should* have significant advantages: shipping in a few days via road/rail to most markets in the U.S., versus the protracted leadtimes involved in a trans-Pacific voyage…not to mention to relative ease of visiting the outsourcer when necessary.

  11. Charles Martel says

    Reading Danny’s comments on Mexico and California swapping aspirations, it’s ironic that the 164 years between the U.S. seizure of California and Jerry Brown’s return to the office of governor turned out to be no more than a brief, brilliant interregnum between the far more common human condition of corrupt oligarchies lording it over masses of peons and serfs.

    When you read Victor Davis Hanson’s descriptions of the wholesale decay and pollution that are now afflicting California’s Central Valley, thanks to wide-open borders and a coastal elite that has no clue how a modern economy works, I think I now know how an observant 5th century Roman felt as he watched the empire rotting at the edges.

    When I was a kid and read Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall,” it got into my head that the collapse of a civilzation was something you measured in centuries. It didn’t occur to me that modern technology would not only report effects but also disseminate causes with incredible speed, thus accelerating the speed of decline manyfold. 

  12. Michael Adams says

    It’s worth repeating.  Systems of Survival, by the late Jane Jacobs, describes the differing value systems, (“syndromes”)which she called the Guardians and the Commercials, and identified corruption as a mingling of the syndromes.  Mexico is Guardian dominant, not too different from the old Soviet Union, and therefore also resembling post-Soviet Russia.
     
    Naturally, I dread the new dominance of the Guardians in the US, as the result will inevitably be the same. Mexico’s socialist economy, slowly devolving into oligarchy capitalism, is the opposite of what the Framers intended for the US, a bourgeois republic.  (Bourgeois is just another word for the Commercial Syndrome.)
     
    Bear in mind, although we are a bourgeois republic, we recognize the need for Guardians, although we provided the the Commercials would be dominant, unlike most of the rest of the world, throughout recorded history. It’s a short work.  Y’all read it, and the whole world will fall into place, right before your eyes. I read people on line, here and elsewhere, talking all the way around Systems, without recognizing the unifying factor in their most perspicacious observations.

  13. Gringo says

    While Mexico has its problems, it has made some progress. It is no longer under the 70-year long domination of the PRI. While corruption remains a problem, the increase in political competition has reduced it. IMHO, one factor in the changes in Mexico has been the great immigration to the US. Mexicans working in the US periodically return to Mexico. IMHO, expression of dissatisfaction with the bad government and  corruption of their homeland compared to how things operate in the US, has had an effect over the years.
     
    Another point: like nearly all of Latin America, Mexico has made the demographic transition. Its fertility rate has declined from 6.8 to 2.1 since 1968.
     
    Mexico City has impressed me. It is a vibrant, hustling city, easy to get around in IF you use the Metro, and do not get caught in traffic jams.
    Many years ago I was in Mexico City, crossing the street to get to the Guatemalan consulate to get a tourist visa. I looked to the left, which was clear, then looked to the right, which was clear. I crossed the street, and got hit by a car coming from my left, falling on my shoulder. The car didn’t stop. After I went to the consulate, I got on the Metro, and by asking for directions to the National Medical College, I  found my way there by subway. When I ascended to the Medical College Campus, I asked directions to a clinic. Within 2-3 minutes of explaining myself to a nurse, an MD saw me. No talk of insurance. The MD asked me to lift my bad shoulder. No X rays for CYA medicine. I lifted my shoulder. The MD said I would be fine, and I could go. A week later, my shoulder never hurt. I was impressed with the speed of service and with the MD making a quick call, not covering himself with  an X ray.
     
    I also assumed that NAFTA would result in our money going to Mexico instead of to China. My bad.
     
    I do not intend to contradict any observations here, just to add to them.
     

  14. says

    I would say the same thing as Danny on the matter of the oligarchy. Mexico, is what California is heading towards. A rich elite class that buys sex slaves and lives it up, all the while putting their foot down to suppress the masses.
     
    The Left corrupts all in time.
     
    I would prefer to annex the entirety of Mexico and divide it up into 5 or more states.
     
    This serves two purposes.
     
    1. To crush the population deadlock that the LibProgs have on urban cities by introducing new voters and state electoral votes that will counter the sickening rot of Leftist aristocracy.
     
    2. Use potential conflicts in Mexico as a pretext to enlarge and increase the funding of US military forces, in order to offset the power of social welfare in the funding tables. The reason why people vote Democrat is because they are told to or else they would lose their bennies. With additional voters from Mexico, there will be more support for using the military to handle the social problems there. And the military can solve the social issues in Mexico if given a free hand. They have the resources ,the talent, the manpower, and the will.
     
    America hasn’t expanded for a long time. While this has allowed the US to increase infrastructure and welfare spending to a point where the living standards is as high as Mount Olympus, it has also lead to decadence and a weakening of the public will.
     
    With Mexicans introduced as new blood, the endless incestuous relationships between corporations, voters, and government bureaucrats can at least be broken.
     
    A big reward requires taking a big risk. The US already has proven experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. All they need is money and will and it can be done. But if you wait another 10 years, the opportunity will pass. Islamists may finally come to a deal with the drug lords of Mexico and now you have two borders, NOrth and South, wide open. Nuclear terrorism, one man cell terrorism, Leftist ideologues and rioters, combine all of that together and what you have is a cancer that will kill the US in time. They’ll feed each other. With every terrorist attack, the Left will use it to increase their power and give out more money to their TSA union buddies. With each increase in Leftist socialist welfare, the less money becomes available for sustaining the US military and border security. The more dependent people become on the Left, the more people will vote for the Left. Elections will cease to matter. They won’t even have to rig the election results. Their people will outnumber us taking in total the urban aggregate populations.
     
    To save the world, America must first save itself.

  15. says

    I think I now know how an observant 5th century Roman felt as he watched the empire rotting at the edges.

    It wasn’t at the edges. It began and spread from Rome itself. The border lands were always closer to reality than the Senate class.

  16. says

    The borders of Rome started contracting because the Senate class refused to allow proper funding of the Roman military. They had their huge slave plantations, the Latifundias, and they were living it up high, like Ayers in his mansion.
     
    Rome also began to take an arrogant posture towards the natives that wasn’t backed up by force or virtue. The Senators could not believe that any barbarian horde was a threat, so they starved the borderlands of funds and taxed them to hell solely to fill up their own pockets. While eventually an Emperor or two came to the throne to try to fix things, it had gotten to the point where it was unfixable. The cancer had metastasized and the verdict was fatal.
     
    They would have had to think “big” and purge a great number of aristocrats and corrupt officials. Renew the alliances with local tribes and empower the borderlands with not only greater military strength but also greater political strength. Anything else was only a temporary band aid at best.
     
    It’s not so hard to understand. After all, isn’t that what the Republican party has been doing in the recent decades and centuries. Trying to put a “band aid” on LibProg socialism and totalitarian authoritarianism? Where has that gotten us, exactly.

  17. Charles Martel says

    Last year I read a review of a book that examined why Rome was so successful in maintaining itself for such a long time compared to the various empires (save Egypt) that went before it.

    Apparently the writer maintained that Rome had learned the power of alliances and its duty to honor them. By itself, Rome’s 180,000 legionnaires could not reasonably hope to control the empire’s 3 million square miles. But by entering alliances with the dozens of kingdoms and satrapies that composed it, the Romans could exert ultimate control—provided that Rome honored its pledges and would come to the aid of a vassal state when it was needed.

    Rome’s reputation as a reliable ally cemented the fealty of its subject states. When Rome began faltering in her commitment to the defense of the empire, that complex and hard-won substructure of loyalty and cohesion began unraveling.

    Like Rome, much of America’s power and influence has derived from its willingness to protect allies and meet treaty obligations. Now that a cowardly narcissist occupies the White House, our alliances are fraying and our reputation as a defender against the thugs of the world is in tatters.

  18. jj says

    Tonestaple – yeah, it really is.  (I was sitting in a Starbucks on Madison writing on the laptop, which – I think – is how come I kept calling it “Madison” instead of “McGuire.”)
     
    But it is completely empty, and comes down in March, according to the watchmen guys they have posted around it to keep squatters out.  (If any get in, then they could claim to be living there, and since bums have most of the rights these days, it would tangle everybody up in eleven years of legal horses***, during which time the building would probably fall down, hurt somebody passing, and there’s another 17 years of new and better legal horses***)  I was in fact walking one of the Dobermans around the block one night over Christmas, and he was pausing by each of the Erector-set scaffolding feet to leave a small liquid marker, as male dogs tend to do.  The guard was watching, started to laugh and remarked: “that’s about how I feel, too.  Peeing on this place seems like a good idea.”
     
    But I do bet it costs more to buy a Seattle building inspector than it does an Acapulco one.  This is, after all, America.

  19. says

    Charles Martel, as the Left intended it to be all along. They were looking to create a “crisis” in order to “justify” greater authoritarian power and Emergency Rule decrees.
     
    They’re always looking for such an opening. They will never give up.

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