If we still had Texas…

If we still had Texas… October 10, 2007

I just returned from a two-day retreat with some middle school boys at Circle Lake Retreat Center just north of Houston. As I was walking through the retreat center grounds with the boys after my talk on responsibility, one of them commented on how the landscape and climate is very much like that in Mexico. The boy, Jorge, is from Mexico City and has been in the United States for about two years. 75% of the 8th grade boys at my school are from Mexico, and many of them made similar remarks. I commented that Texas was once part of a newly-independent Mexico back in the 1800’s. Then Jorge, only 14 years old but full of ideas and good will, said “If we still had Mexico, we would not be as poor and helpless as we are now.”

In that single thought, Jorge captured some of the absurdity and utter contingency of both material poverty and national geography. Sure, Texas is a land whose resources can go a long way in driving an economy, though Mexico, sensing its impotence in regaining Texas, accepted a large sum of money in compensation for its loss. How striking that decisions that are made by leaders many generations ago so profoundly affect the people of today who played no role in the execution of those decisions. Mexico was relunctant to settle Texas when it had it in its possession. Americans settled Texas as guests of Mexico. The Americans revolted, Texas later became a state, Mexico received a handsome payment for the land…and here’s Jorge now in the year 2007 reflecting on how these contingent events have so adversely hurt his country economically.

The decision-makers are not to blame—how could they have known? Nevertheless, pursuing the conversation further with Jorge, I realized that this young man has already begun to grasp a sense of responsibilty in terms of the political, economic and geographical decisions that humans make. He understands that we inherit a plethora of bad effects whose causes perhaps at the time were opportune and seemingly innocuous. What’s important is that Jorge grasps that political and social questions must be informed by a solid, person-oriented ethics that looks back in repentance and looks forward to restitution so that, in the present, decisions may be made that benefit a common humanity rather than a national identity. Was the U.S. wrong? Was Mexico? Were the Texans? Not important questions here. What’s important is rectitude in the present, but also responsibility for the future, and I feel that young Jorge has begun to understand this. Best of all, Jorge’s insight came within the context of a retreat whose theme was the interrelating of prayer, penance and responsibility. It was a good retreat.

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  • Donald R. McClarey

    If Mexico still owned Texas it would merely mean that the Mexicans would have to go farther north to cross the border into the US. The problem in Mexico, rich in natural resources, has never been one of geography, but one of a corrupt kleptocracy that depends upon illegal immigration to the US as a steam valve to relieve the grinding poverty that results from an unwillingness of Mexican elites to fix their broken system.

  • Donald,

    That simple, huh? Sigh…

  • What is your analysis of the problem, K.I.?

  • jh

    I doubt that having Texas today would make matters a heck of a lot better. Especially when looking at as mentioned the vast resources that Mexcio has now.

    It is sort of like saying , even though more extreme, good golly if Russia had not sold Alaska, then the Soviet Union would be a rip roaring success.

    Perhaps having Mexico closer to the East and the Mississippi River and various AMerica trade routes would have helped. However look at their promixiety to California.

  • Policraticus


    Armchair economics aside, the point of the post is not whether or not Mexico would be better off economically (no one could say), but to note that a young Catholic man is conscious of the responsibility that sits before him and how he uses the past to inform decisions that affect the future. The post is about how inspiring it was to see.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Actually Michael it is easy to say based on the past history of Mexico. The problem is the Mexican government not lack of resources or land. I hope the young man in question will someday play a role in leading Mexico to a future where conditions will be so improved that Mexico will not be exporting millions of people to a foreign country in order to earn a living.

  • arewak

    It’s a shame that cluelessness doesn’t seem to have a cure, else discussions will become more meaningful. Katerina, I do share your frustration whole heartedly.

  • I would tend to agree with Donald R. Every report you ever hear of someone trying to start a business in Mexico results in stories of having to bribe local law enforcement, local political leaders, and sometime political leaders higher up the food chain.

    What other reason would there be for such an inept economy?

    Policraticus, did you explain to the young boy that the lack of land is not the problem of Mexico. In fact, I think Texas is probably an excellent example of the point Donald is trying to make.

    The post even claims that ‘Texas and Mexico are similar in climate and topography’. Yet the difference in economic situations are extremely different. Is it because of the abundant amount of resources in Texas that are lacking in Mexico. No. It is in the political climate of the two different governments.

    Just a disclaimer, I am not against immigration, so please don’t scoff at this post. I would really like an honest answer as to what other possibilities could be the cause of Mexico’s problems? If someone knows, please enlighten me, instead of scoffing about cluelessness.

  • Paul

    I think that Donald pretty much summed up the problem. I can’t see how Katerina or arewak even contribute to the discussion.

    Catholics who soothe their conscience by nattering on about social justice while ignoring the negative results of supporting the most violent institution (GOVERNMENT) in pursuit of their goals, really tire me.

    The immigration problem is caused by two governments, theirs and ours. If it is “arm chair economics” to point this out, then we need more arm chair economists.

    And many of the contributors on this blog should look into Austrian Economics for a better understanding of how people react to economic incentives if they wish to have a lasting impact.

  • The reason why the loss of half its territory mattered to Mexico has as much to do with what it meant for the US as for what it meant for Mexico. If the US had been caged and confined east of the Mississipi, it could never have become a superpower and takien over from Britain as the world hegemon: it would have merely been one power among many, and Mexico would have expanded into the Pacific, absobed Spain’s remaining possessions there, such as the Philippines, and been the major “western” power that confronted and influenced Japan. US fantasies of manifest destiny etc, would have been dead in the water if the North American continent had been more or less equally divied into three or four rather than one and a half (as most of Canada is rather inhospitable!). Perhaps the North would have sought to secede from the South, rather than vice versa. Protestant and WASP cultural hegemony would have not been quite so pronounced as as the global supremacy of Britain dissolved, it would have been replaced by several powers, instead of by one, and quite possibly the North American Indians might have fared somewhat better.

    For a fascinating insight into the emergence of the various polities of Latin America and the roots of many of their subsequent problems I heartily recommend The Independence of Latin America 1808-1826 by Jaime Rodriguez O which reframes the discussion by showing how the Spanish Monarchy was conceptualised by its inhabitants at the time, and especially by its political elites as not an empire consisting of metrople and colonies, but as a vast trans-oceanic commonwealth, whose vice-royalties (eg New Spain or New Grenada or Peru or La Plata etc.) were considered as much component kingdoms as Castile or Aragon. Thus what transpires in the period covered by the book is not the revolt of colonies from the metropole but rather the dissolution and shattering of this commonwealth into its component parts, one of which was Spain (sensu strictu) itself, and that this shattering was the shattering of a socio-economic as much as political unity and that this accounts for much of the weaknesses of the subsequent “daughter states” (including Spain itself). He covers much fascinating material, including the Spanish Constitution of 1812, drawn up by the revolutionary cortes of Cadiz with massive input from deputies elected in the American kingdoms, and which gave every non-African male adult inhabitant of the monarchy the vote (including the Indians), and the various power struggles that developed across the Monarchy between different groups that eventually brought about its dissolution. He makes the point that whereas after the US emerged Europe almost immediately went to war, thus providing the young republic with 20 years of boom demand for its products from all sides, this was not the case for the splintered fragments of the former Spanish Monarchy, who had to make their way in a world in which Britain now firmly ruled the waves, and the US was in ruddy health as its little borther. Turning the fragments into viable capitalist nation-states was no easy matter when the nation that the Spanish “bourgeois revolution” had attempted to transform was now in several pieces. A summary of his book, among other things, can be found on the internet in an article entitled “The Emancipation of America”.