William Jenkins, business elites, and the evolution of the Mexican state : 1910-1960
MetadataShow full item record
This is a biographical case study of Mexican industrialization, focusing on expatriate U.S. businessman William O. Jenkins (1878-1963). I trace Jenkins' career in textiles, land speculation, sugar, banking, and film, using it as a forum for themes that flesh out the economic and political history of modern Mexico. Chief among these themes are Mexico's substantial but socially unequal capitalistic development; interdependent relationships between business elites and the state; the role of the regions in Mexican development; and a tradition of viewing U.S. industrialists as enemies of national progress. I use Jenkins to illustrate the ability of Mexico's business elite to negotiate the hazards of the 1910-1920 Revolution and the property expropriations that followed. Industrialists, many of them immigrants, helped to forge rapid economic development between 1933 and 1981. However, their behavior was often characterized by monopolistic and rent-seeking practices, to the qualitative detriment of industries including film and textiles. I demonstrate how the success of industrialists owed much to their relations with politicians, and how the persistence of authoritarian regimes at regional and national levels owed much to industrialists' support. For Jenkins, this symbiosis involved loans to state governors, campaign contributions, and support for the federal government by channeling cheap entertainment to urban populations. Such links help explain why fifty years of development saw little electoral democracy or progressive distribution of wealth. I "de-center" Mexico's economic and political narrative by focusing on the state of Puebla, showing how alliances between industrialists and authorities often begin in provincial arenas and how they can impact national economic and political trends. I also address the underdevelopment of Puebla City, long Mexico's second metropolis, which after 1900 fell significantly behind Guadalajara and Monterrey. Finally, I trace how Jenkins functioned rhetorically as the epitome of the grasping U.S. capitalist. His controversial image afforded leftist politicians, business rivals, and labor leaders with an inflammatory object of protest. Such "gringophobia" in turn contributed to a polarization within Mexican society that proliferated after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. I complement this theme with intermittent commentary on rarely-remarked similarities between business practice in Mexico and the United States.