May 22, 2006 Issue Copyright © 2009 The American Conservative.
While the country’s poor flee, Mexico’s elite take care of themselves.
By George W. Grayson
Mexico City—A watchword of Mexican politics is “Show me a politician who is poor and I will show you a poor politician.” In accord with this adage, many Mexican officials enjoy generous salaries and lavish fringe benefits. Even as they live princely lifestyles, they and their fellow elites pay little in taxes and refuse to spend sufficient money on education and health care to create opportunities in Mexico—a country that abounds in oil, natural gas, gold, beaches, fish, water, historic treasures, museums, industrial centers, and hard-working people. Rather than mobilizing these bountiful resources to uplift the poor, Mexico’s privileged class noisily demands that Uncle Sam open his border wider for the nation’s “have nots.”
Mexico’s establishment also keeps quiet about the salaries and benefits that its members receive. Private-sector executives are especially secretive. Thanks to Forbes magazine, however, we know that Mexico leads Latin America with ten billionaires, including telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú, the world’s third richest person with $30 billion. And an increasing amount of data is available on the earnings of public officials. The numbers show that Mexico’s governing class is enriching itself at the country’s expense, with exorbitant salaries and bountiful perks. Remember, these are “official” figures. Most politicians have ingenious ways of fattening their bank accounts.
The salaries of top Mexican government officials match or exceed those of comparable figures in Europe and much of the rest of the world. President Vicente Fox ($236,693), for example, makes more than the leaders of the U.K. ($211,434), France ($95,658), Canada ($75,582), and most other industrialized countries (POTUS earns $400,000).
The 500 members of Mexico’s notoriously irresponsible Chamber of Deputies, which is in session only a few months a year, each made $148,000 last year in salary and bonuses—roughly on a par with Italian and Canadian legislators and substantially more than their counterparts in Germany ($105,000), France ($78,000), and Spain ($32,311), where living costs are markedly higher. Other legislators in Latin America receive substantially less; for example, those in Bolivia earn $28,000 for a four-month session. Legislators in the Dominican Republic take home $68,500 for six months of service.
Even better work, if you can get it, is to be found in the judicial branch of the Mexican federal government. In 2005, the 11 justices on the National Supreme Court of Justice—equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court—received $311,759, compared to $194,200 for their American counterparts. (The U.S. Chief Justice earns $202,900.)
State-level Mexican officials are amply rewarded as well. Salaries and bonuses place the average compensation of Mexican governors at $125,759, which exceeds by almost $10,000 the mean paychecks of U.S. state executives ($115,778). Narciso Agúndez Montaño runs Baja California Sur. Although his state has only 424,041 residents, he earns $277,777. This is $100,000 more than the salary of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who governs 36,132,147 Californians.
And so on…