Culture is certainly part of the reason Mexico is poo. I remember discovering that Japanese and Mexican families handle good and bad fortune differently-and both make sense in their historical context. After Japanese Americans got out of the concentration camps at the end of WWII, they often would pick one family member and all would support him (always a him) through college or whatever. He would pick a career useful to the family. Once successful they would pick another- and so bit by bit elevate everyone.
In Mexico when someone got ahead they were expected to help out any family members they could. A wiser strategy in an uncertain environment. But whereas the Japanese strategy concentrated capital, so to say, the Mexican one tended to dissipate it. Both involved hard work and strong families but in the American context one worked better than the other.
These generalizations were confirmed by my Japanese American and Mexican American students. But as Spain shows, cultures are flexible when conditions change. Basque sheep herders came here to support impoverihed families in the Basque country. Today the Basque region is the richest in Spain and compares well with the rest of Europe.
NAFTA gave corporations in Mexico an advantage until many businesses left and moved to China. NAFTA also helped corporations while destroying small scale local agriculture in Mexico and impoverishing many regions. The ‘free trade’ it provided for did little good for many small time operators- like Mexican truckers cannot come her though Canadian ones do. NAFA isnot the kind of change I am writing about. I am talking about helping the average Mexican live decently in Mexico, reducing the need to go elsewhere to make money for a family at home.
If we essentially charged foreign imports with a penalty for having lower labor or environmental standards than we do, that would help even out the playing field without instituting protectionism. NAFTA i a negative factor here- it made the matters worse. And then for reasons of national security if no other, I’d tilt the playing field regarding foreign trade further in Mexico’s favor.