Surprising News on Mexico at the Washington Post

Readers of the Washington Post might have been surprised to read that since the passage of NAFTA, "Mexico's gross domestic product has ballooned, multiplying nearly seven-fold, from $108 billion in 1993 … to $748 billion in 2005" ("Mexican Deportee's U.S. Sojourn Illuminates Roots of Current Crisis," 4-17-06:A1). This amounts to a world record 17.5 percent average annual rate of growth in the 12 years since NAFTA was implemented.

Readers should be surprised to read this in a front page story in the Washington Post because it is not true. Mexico's economy has not "ballooned" since NAFTA. According to the IMF's most recent World Economic Outlook, Mexico's GDP grew by just 40.2 percent over this period, an average annual rate of 2.9 percent. This translates into per capita GDP growth of 1.3 percent a year. This is weak growth for any country, but it is especially weak for a developing country. (Mexico sustained per capita GDP growth of almost 4.0 percent annually from 1960-80.)

This mistake was not just a typo; it was an important theme in a front page article. It raises the obvious question of how such a fundamental error was able to get by the Post's editors and whatever fact-checking process the paper has in place. It is especially disturbing that the error happens to coincide with the strong editorial position that the Post has taken in support of NAFTA.

It is implausible that anyone at the Post deliberately inserted such a ridiculous misrepresentation of Mexico's economic record to support the paper's editorial position. But it is plausible that the favorable predisposition of Post editors toward NAFTA made them less likely to catch such a blatant error. The Post has never run a piece that has highlighted Mexico's weak economic performance in the post-NAFTA years, so most Post readers are probably unaware of the gloomy track record of Mexico's economy during this period. It is reasonable to assume that the Post editors are equally ignorant of the basic facts about Mexico's economic performance.

It is certainly possible that NAFTA is not the cause of Mexico's weak economy over the last 12 years. Perhaps its economy would have grown even less without NAFTA, but it is not possible to have a serious discussion of the issue until the basic facts are on the table. I look forward to the Post's article on Mexico's economy in the post-NAFTA era.

--Dean Baker

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