In recent decades, violent robbery, various kinds of kidnapping, murder, and street viol ence have become distressingly familiar in many parts of Mexico. A palpable sense, or perception, of in secur ity is now an in teg ral part of many people’s every day life. As in other sim ilar cases, the pub lic clamors for something to be done. And the politicians? The politicians get tough on crime, in sound bites but also in pol icies. And yet the crime rates either don’t go down, or when they do the gen eralized sense of in secur ity doesn’t. Understandable as they are, both the pub lic clamor and the polit ical discourse distract from the true prob lem: why has the criminal justice sys tem in Mexico so spectacularly failed to tackle ser ious crime? To be even more emphatic: why can the current justice sys tem in Mexico do nothing but fail? That is the question this chapter seeks to answer. In so doing, it also hopes to con trib ute, in how ever small a way, to a refocusing of the energies behind the pub lic’s indignation. To be succinct, there is little point in placing demands on a dysfunctional sys tem, and every point in working for a new one. Yet, as we shall see, this may well demand a shift in cit izen attitudes too. Specifically, for all of its instant appeal, the get-tough approach is the wrong one in Mexico. I use arbitrariness as the word to flag that approach here. The tough strategy for crime rests on the all but expli cit premise that a meas ure of arbitrariness by the police and the pub lic pro secu tor’s office is a “neces sary evil” in the new crusade against crime. Whether it be someone’s consti tu tional rights getting trampled on, or the wrong suspects going to jail, or a little rough treatment in the police station’s interrogation room-such things are prices well worth paying if crime can be fought more efficiently. Arbitrariness, in other words, means the freedom of agencies and agents
entrusted with upholding the law to violate it. And out there in pub lic space, it means that ordinary people accept that pub lic secur ity and justice are negat ively correlated. That is, enhanced pub lic secur ity is seen as a good that ought to override the rights of the accused who, if innocent, are like bystanders caught up in an accident-vic tims of the rules of arbitrariness. Rather than take my stance on anything like the funda mental nature of certain rights, my aim is to cut through this entire debate by exposing the abso lute falsity of its founda tion. Using stat ist ical ana lysis I shall contend that the evid ence shows that the more arbit rary the criminal justice sys tem is, the more inefficient it is too. Inefficiency and arbitrariness are, in the case of Mexico, pos it ively correlated. Statistics, it’s hardly controversial to say, cannot win a case by themselves. So I also draw allusively upon some of the now-familiar ideas of Douglas North and the new institutionalism, using them to buttress the evid ence with a plaus ible explanation for it. While that may sound dispiritingly deterministic, we shall also find ourselves in some still new territory as we reach this conclusion: Mexico’s well-nigh perfectly inefficient justice sys tem tells us that the story we thought had happily ended with the trans ition to democracy is in fact far from over. In this respect, crime in Mexico is a polit ical topic-but in a manner that goes deeper than slogans and headlines. The dysfunctional justice sys tem in the coun try, source of such anguish and torment to so many cit izens, is the sys tem of a part of the coun try that remained author it arian. And that, in turn, is where the answer to the conundrum about crime rates is to be had: demo cratic Mexico has a criminal justice sys tem that is only equipped to work for author it arian Mexico. To begin substantiating this assertion, I first turn to the most salient con text, which can be no other than the ex plo sion of crime within the country.