Mexico, DF: Stuck in the middle

One of Yale’s finest, Drew Konove, a Mexico City scholar and connoisseur of the often overlooked vagaries of Mexican history, just wrote a fascinating piece delving deeper into a topic I touched upon a few months ago. In his article in The National Interest, Drew gives some context to Mexico City’s troubled federalist past and the problems it continues to pose today.

Observers of Washington, DC’s on-again-off-again independence movement will be familiar with the disenfranchisement that can come with being a district, rather than a state within a federal republic. Those in other capital cities across the continent like Brasilia or Bogotá also suffer a similar fate.

Certainly in Mexico, the fiscal injustice is particularly acute. If Washington, DC only received seven cents of every dollar it sent to the federal government, Marion Berry would have been smoking Republicans instead of other things. But the odd state of affairs in federal districts across the Americas begs the question: was it meant to be this way?

Concentrating economic and political power in one place has its consequences that persist through to today. Despite the fiscal unfairness, Mexico City enjoys the highest quality of living and highest concentrations of wealth anywhere in the country. The same could be said about Buenos Aires, Santiago, Bogotá, Rio de Janeiro (before Brasilia), et al.  They are the glamorous places to live and many of the people that have money there have it because of their access to political power. Meanwhile, capital citizens in the U.S. and Canada have to put up with accusations of being dowdy or middling (although this is, somewhat portentously, changing fast in Washington).

Through better availability of federal services, access to federal jobs, and proximity to power, all Latin American capital citizens share some advantage of outsized representation in the national government. There is no doubt that keeping capitalinos (or chilangos – respectively the P.C. and derogatory term for Mexico’s capital citizens) from voting on their own affairs, or setting their own agenda disenfranchises them. But if the capital does so well with so many handicaps, wouldn’t home rule exacerbate the differences even more?

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