North America has a transformational president. His inclusive, redistributive policies are admirable. Unfortunately, I am not talking about Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, but about Joe Biden.
The president of the United States speaks little, but distinctly. He seeks to persuade, not polarize. He does not improvise. His actions stem from a comprehensive vision of the country he aspires the US to become. Biden understands the complex strategy required to reach that goal including surrounding himself with experienced, competent officials.
Biden’s is an ambitious agenda addressing minority inclusion and extending social rights. Although he is pursuing broader changes in civil liberties -such as guaranteeing an expansion of voting rights- he knows well this will not suffice. Biden understands that the route includes spending more on building a state that can provide for more. His redistributive social program amid the Covid-19 pandemic features giving direct payments to US families with children, providing seniors with caregivers and nurses, free community college, lowering the number of incarcerated individuals, and increased access to healthcare. Biden’s plan also includes greater state intervention, but in areas outside the market’s prowess, such as promoting long-term innovation, clean energy investment, and an ambitious infrastructure plan tailored to the country’s needs, not the whims of the president. Part of this agenda will be financed with public debt. To be sustainable in the long term, Biden’s proposal would include an ambitious redistributive tax reform to fund it.
In a mere 100 days, Biden administration experts produced a coherent project and presented publicly before the US Congress last week. The plan does not retroactively change any law, nor does it devise programs to hinder private investment. Quite the opposite: Biden seeks to promote it via increased spending and public investment. One of his goals is greater economic growth, a linchpin to provide millions of its citizens with well-paying jobs. Some will chafe at the proposed tax increase. No one likes tax increases and Republicans in Congress are a tough, non-negotiating opposition. However, Biden is not locking horns with the real growth engine: private investment. He knows that there is no growth without it, and without growth there will be no tax revenue to pay for his envisioned transformation.
Biden will not be able to deliver on every point of his governing agenda. He has a narrow majority in Congress, and Democrats in Capitol Hill are not his subordinates. This has forced him to persuade, cajole, and negotiate, not simply impose his will. Surprisingly, Biden could be the North American president contributing the most to Mexicans’ well-being. First, his ambitious immigration reform proposal could change the life of millions of undocumented Mexicans. Nothing is more valuable to them than a path to legal status in the US. Secondly, the US is boosting Mexicans’ wellbeing by the very fact that the US economy will grow more than 6 percent this year. This has a direct impact in remittances to Mexico and Mexican exports to the US.
Despite holding a more comfortable majority in Congress and being elected much wider margin than Biden, president López Obrador does not use his leverage to transform Mexico into a fairer, more inclusive country, with greater economic growth. The bulk of López Obrador focus is on his pet infrastructure projects, certain social programs, a very narrow view of how to fight corruption and, above all, on accumulating more power.
Future historians will ponder why two leaders like Biden and López Obrador who on paper are progressive and transformational figures were unable to work together in favor of a closer integration of North America. They will try to explain how it was (from what we see today) that only Biden was able to transform his country for the better.
One can but wish that López Obrador would look to the US and rethink his governing strategy. If he continues the path set out so far, the wealth gap between the US and Mexico will widen dramatically over the next four years.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom