Mexico has a new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, also known as AMLO. And as expected, his victory is being seen as a win for populism. Except not the same type of populism that made President Donald Trump “YUGE” in America.
Instead, Obrador seems more of the left-wing variety, as he even toyed with the idea of nationalizing Mexico’s oil industries. What’s worse, his volatile personality also makes his plans what experts call “nebulous.”
During his speeches and public appearances, Obrador “mocks, insults, offends, and discredits the members of the media, the journalists, or the intellectuals who criticize him,” much like Trump. This prompts many to believe he would rule by relying on his mood, making it hard for the country to know whether he would be more like a moderate democratic socialist or a radical like Hugo Chávez.
Like Trump, Obrador also promises to make the economy better. But to him, that means putting the government to “work” on making the country more efficient. That also means to embrace protectionist policies, like how Trump is doing.
As The Economist pointed out if Mexico’s new president takes on the country’s economy by raising tariffs on foreign producers like the United States has, prompting trading countries fire back, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) might as well come to an end. But that’s not necessarily bad. It would be the other consequences of this meddling in international trade that would prove concerning to common Mexicans.
After all, protectionism breeds higher costs for producers and consumers alike, making everyone poor as a result.
Populism Wins When People Are Tired
In the United States, anger toward the status quo took shape because of what many perceived as an anti-blue-collar America sentiment taking over the country. With Trump promising to dismantle President Barack Obama’s legacy and talking about putting America first, he tapped into that passion and ended up winning in 2016. Obrador appears to have tapped into a similar type of discontent.
In Mexico, corruption is rampant. So much so that it ranks 95th out of the 167 most corrupt countries, 39 spots behind Cuba. People feel that when politicians and union leaders are corrupt, they are the ones paying the price. And they are not wrong, as the Mexican government has been ruling alongside a posse of crony capitalists that have taken advantage of corruption.
He also “stands up” to Trump, saying he will “never be the piñata of any foreign government.”
So when Obrador showed up talking about putting the country first, talking about taking control of the oil industries and taking a greater hold of the Mexican economy, the vast majority of Mexicans cheered.
Economic illiteracy, it seems, is key in these cases both here and abroad.
What both Obrador and Trump have in common is that they used populism in their favor. And they did so by selling solutions to problems that were created by government and that cannot be solved by government.
The economy is one of those things that only work within a framework of freedom. Protectionism is the very opposite of freedom. And yet, both the left-wing and right-wing populists of North America seem certain that putting government “to work” is what will make things better.