Mexico’s 66-year-old populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s latest claim that he hasn’t had a bank account or a credit card for the past 30 years raises a serious question: Does a leader who doesn’t use the banking system have the foggiest idea about how the economy works?
I’m not trying to be funny — what’s happening in Mexico is tragic. Lopez Obrador’s economic illiteracy is crippling Mexico’s economy and threatens to trigger more capital flight, greater poverty and new waves of migration to the United States.
According to new World Bank estimates released June 8, Mexico’s economy is projected to fall by 7.5 percent this year and to rebound by only 3 percent next year. That’s a steeper decline than that of most other Latin American countries.
During his 2018 campaign, Lopez Obrador — who constantly lashes out against previous Mexican governments’ “neo-liberal” economic policies — vowed to lift Mexico’s economy to 4 percent annual growth rates. Instead, even before the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, his erratic economic policies led to zero growth last year, after many years of mediocre but positive growth.
Earlier this week, Lopez Obrador repeated his frequent claim that, unlike his predecessors, he’s not corrupt and doesn’t care about money.
“I don’t have money in banks, I don’t have bank accounts, [I only have] what I’m paid, and that’s managed by [wife] Beatriz,” he said, adding that he hasn’t had a bank account in 30 years. “I don’t have credit cards. I’ve never had them,” he said.
Lopez Obrador long has made his austere lifestyle a huge part of his personal narrative. He started his career as a student activist — it took him 14 years to get his undergraduate degree in political science — and held various party and government jobs, including mayor of Mexico City. He is not known to have ever had a job in the private sector.
Lopez Obrador’s first major economic blunders after becoming president were pushing ahead with a plan to cancel an ongoing $13 billion Mexico City airport expansion project — which forced the government to pay billions in reparations to contractors — and building the $8 billion Dos Bocas oil refinery.