Luis M. Morales
As we were able to verify on June 6, the clientelistic vote continues to determine the electoral results in Mexico, since a good part of the population only perceives differences between the political forces due to their greater or lesser largeness in the distribution of money, pantries, construction materials , scholarships or pensions that alleviate the ravages of misery, but do not lift anyone out of poverty. To disprove the supposed transformative character of clientelism practiced on a large scale (a great leap into the future, according to official propaganda), I consider it pertinent to recall how this way of winning the sympathy of the voters emerged in ancient Rome.
In the Rome of the Caesars it was called customers to the small rural landowners impoverished by debts and poor harvests, who after losing their lands emigrated to Rome in search of the protection of the patricians, with whom they were united by ties of peasant or kinship. The patricians helped them in exchange for voting for them in the elections to elect senators or military leaders. The spokesperson for the clients in the Latin satire was Juvenal, an indignant moralist who denounced both the arrogance of the patricians and the servility of their parasites.
In an epistle addressed to Trebio, a client willing to tolerate any humiliation, Juvenal describes how this mass of manipulable beggars survived. Every morning, customers lined up at the patricians’ mansions. After a long wait, they were taken to the atrium where they collected the spoon, a small basket with the alms that their benefactor deigned to give them, usually ten sesterces per head. When the patrician invited a client to his table, the servants served him dishes and drinks of inferior quality to those of the host. The hostility of the slaves who attended them contrasted with their deference to the patrician, who many times reluctantly fulfilled this social obligation, without deigning to speak with the client. “Nothing is more cruel in itself unhappy poverty than making men ridiculous,” laments Juvenal and with ardent indignation rebukes Trebio: “If you are able to bear this treatment, you deserve it.”
Unlike Horacio, a hedonistic and frivolous satirical writer, who had triumphed in society and rubbed shoulders with Octavio César Augusto, Juvenal was a member of the losers’ side and his taunts have a bitter aftertaste, which prefigures the social rancor of some characters in Dostoyevsky, the most incisive explorer of tormented souls. As the anonymous protagonist of Memories of the subsoilJuvenal, an employee outraged by the contempt of the upper caste, who is more hurt by the arrogance of the young men than by their poverty, Juvenal contrasts with that contempt a verbal skill and a fineness of spirit that no oligarch will ever have.
Belonging to a political clientele does not detract from any human being, but as all men aspire to make a living from our work, any government concerned about the general welfare should understand that this palliative of poverty does not make those who rule it for electoral purposes a hero. Nor should it exempt society from creating more wealth and distributing it better. In Mexico, unfortunately, the parties that uphold the righteous ideals of the Revolution dedicate themselves full time to imitating the self-serving munificence of the patricians with other people’s money. The PRI lost power, among other reasons, because the ruling leadership bled, through the Master Scam, the budget assigned to Sedesol to alleviate the shortcomings of the poor. The promise to practice honest clientelism, where public resources truly reach the population, brought Morena to power. But assuming without conceding that the bureaucracy no longer gets the biggest slice of the pie, the folly of making public charity the mainstay of economic policy, in the manner of Perón in Argentina or Chávez in Venezuela, not only condemns us to eternal underdevelopment: it can also hurt the pride of many customers.
Some political scientists argue that democracy only works relatively effectively in rich countries where the majority of the population belongs to the middle class, otherwise the voter does not have full freedom to choose between political options. As Mexican democracy will take a long time to overcome this handicap, it would be desirable to replace clientelism with the Universal Basic Income, as proposed by Ricardo Anaya in the 2018 electoral campaign. The transformation of public charity into the right to subsistence would prevent the parties from using the social programs with political ends. The patricians in power do not want to accept this necessary advance, because with it they would lose their aureole of redeemers.