Sunday, July 19, 2015

your ways are numbered

I am a sucker for lists and surveys.

Fortunately, my magazines and newspapers feed my numbers jonesing.  Every time I open any of them, I am confronted with some sort of list.

Ten best places for retirement.  Cities with the highest number of smokers.  Nations with the highest happiness quotient.

That last one is representative of what I call the soft sciences.  The person who drew up the we-are-happy list appears to have chosen the type of society in which he would like to live, and then created a list of criteria based on those desires.  (Much in the same way the Supreme Court makes its own decisions.)

Let's say the person compiling the survey believes that people living in social democratic states should be the happiness people on earth.  The test criteria then gives high points for universal health care, generous welfare payments, and lots and lots of public transportation.  And, mirabile dictu, Denmark turns out to be the cat's pajamas for the happiness seekers.

I ran across a similar survey the other day from Portland Communications, a London-based consultancy.  The company recently released a report gauging the impact of soft power for 30 nations.*

"Soft power" is not a new term -- nor is the concept.  The term has been floating around social science circles since the 1980s.  But the concept was discussed as early as the 1960s in my undergraduate political science courses and in the 1970s in my international relations graduate courses.

All nations attempt to use their power to influence the behavior of others.  The goal?  To attain outcomes the nation desires.  That is pure Hans Morgenthau.

The most obvious use of power is what social scientists call "hard power" -- using threats and military resources to coerce others, or using monetary resources to induce behavioral changes.  Russia's actions in Ukraine are an example of coercion.  China's use of investment resources in Latin America and Africa is an example of monetary inducement.

"Soft power" is different.  Nations who use it attempt to use what is attractive about the nation to seduce other nations to act in accordance with the first nation's desires.  The mantra is to co-opt rather than to coerce.

By its very nature, "soft power" is a soft concept -- subject to many permutations.  That has not stopped Portland Communications from assembling a study to rank thirty nations in their use of soft power.  The survey was based on six categories -- digital power, culture, enterprise, engagement, education, and government.  Each country was given a ranking in each area, and an aggregate score was then calculated.

I am not certain whether or not I was surprised at the outcome.  After all, because of its amorphous boundaries, "soft power" is probably not the source of many opinionated bar fights.

Based on the survey, these are the top five nations with the greatest "soft power:"  Great Britain, Germany, United States, France, and Canada.  In truth, I suspect Great Britain gets a boost because a British firm compiled the list.  But none of the five nations listed gives me any concern.

But Mexpatriate is not about my British experiences.  It is about my Mexican experiences.

Where does Portland Communications rank Mexico in the list of 30 nations?  At a rather disappointing 29.  Just below Turkey, and just above China -- the winner of the deep basement award.

Anyone who has read newspaper accounts about Mexico would probably not be surprised that Mexico does not have much potential for "soft power."  Historically, it has not attempted to use its power to influence forces external to itself.  There are plenty of historical reasons for that.

The survey cites the ongoing drug war as the primary weakness in Mexico's ability to influence other nations.  That is probably fair.

What is even more fair is the low rating for government -- a rating garnered by both internal and external opinion of the corrosive effect of corruption on governmental operation in Mexico.  The Spanish tradition of sinecure has done a job on Mexico.  And not a good job.

Having said that, Mexico has two major positives in the survey.  Depending on which criteria are used, Mexico currently has the 12th or 14th largest economy in the world.  The survey estimates Mexico will move into 8th place by 2050.  But, unless it gets corruption under control, that high rating will be for naught.

Mexico also receives high ratings in the cultural category -- even though the study focuses primarily on the cultural effect Mexico has on Mexican-Americans and illegal immigrants.  Mexico's cultural effects are far broader.  As the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, Mexico provides most of the books, television programs, and movies for the rest of Latin America. 

I suspect the survey short-changed Mexico in that category.  Even though it is one of Mexico's highest-ranked categories.

Frankly, this is one area where I am not particularly interested in seeing my adoptive country improve.  Mexico has made a name for itself with its non-interventionist policy in the internal affairs of other countries.  So, it will probably never be a candidate for a "soft power" award any time soon.

Having said that, it will remain a bridge between the other North American countries and the rest of Lain America.  And that is not a bad place for Mexico to find itself.

* -- If you are interested in how the counries fared, here is the list.

1. Great Britain

2. Germany
3. United States
4. France
5. Canada
6. Australia
7. Switzerland
8. Japan
9. Sweden
10. Netherlands
11. Denmark
12. Italy
13. Austria
14. Spain
15. Finland
16. New Zealand
17. Belgium
18. Norway
19. Iceland
20. South Korea
21. Singapore
22. Portugal
23. Brazil
24. Poland
25. Greece
26. Israel
27. Czech Republic
28. Turkey
29. Mexico
30. China

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