Market reform is advocated in developing countries to improve economic efficiency and prevent privileged groups from obtaining rents from the policy-making process. Yet this prescription fails to address the complex political process that governments are likely to confront when moving toward the market. This study shows how political considerations during President Salinas's administration distorted economic reform in Mexico.
During the 1990s Mexican finance policy contradicted the government's declared neoliberal principles. While the banks were reprivatized and deregulated, they were also given a high degree of protection from competition, enabling the new owners to charge excessive interest rates. In addition, the government artificially inflated the value of the currency through exchange-rate intervention. These contradictory policies are best understood as a coherent political response to the electoral vulnerability of the ruling party (pri) at the end of the 1980s. When viable political opposition threatened the pri's ability to maintain power, it responded by using financial policies to distribute economic benefits to social groups, particularly business, the middle class, and the poor, whose support was critical for electoral victory.