Friday, April 27, 2012

Quantico Ethical Decision-Making Leadership Exercise

Dead leaves crunched below our feet as the US Marine patrol I was leading advanced in ready formation through the forests of civil war-torn Centralia. We finally arrived at our objective, a local temple and residence of a powerful local leader that would advance our cause greatly if we befriended him and he saw us as an ally. Obviously disturbed by the troop of eight marines in full camouflage, face paint, backpacks and weapons that had just emerged from the brush, the temple's guards asked that only two of us enter, and that we leave our weapons behind.

As the patrol's leader, I directed my fellow soldiers to set up a safety perimeter and established a secret word, "Baby" in case things went wrong inside the temple. Another marine and I then took off our weapons, shoes and engaged in a hand and face washing ceremony out of respect for the Centralian leader's religious beliefs. The leader was very friendly toward us, but became increasingly animated as he ranted about how our country sought to impose its beliefs on his people and change their traditions. He then directed us to come participate in one of their traditions.

Smiling, he lifted a curtain to a room which contained two extremely injured and maimed men on altars. "Criminals," stated the leader, "they will be sacrificed for their crimes." Two men in black ski masks stood by the altars, holding bloody knives that had evidently not so long ago been thrust inside the bodies of the tied-up men intended for sacrifice. "Please... please help us," groaned one of the men before being punched and stabbed by one of the masked guards. What was I seeing here?

"This is not ok." Was the first thing that exited my mouth. "How can you criticize our traditions? This is exactly what I was talking about!" yelled the leader. My orders to befriend this leader at all costs and my personal morals were suddenly extremely at odds. When my fellow marines outside the temple became impatient and charged in guns blazing, a tense situation deteriorated even more.

This scenario was one of many that I had an opportunity to actually live out last weekend at a special Ethical Decision-Making Leadership Excercise at the Quantico marine base in Virginia. The Basic School at Quantico teaches Marine leaders more than just leadership, but leadership under pressure and in morally ambiguous situations. We got a taste of these situations after a full day of training on tactics, formation and the politics of our scenario country, Centralia.

After a full day in the classroom, we were dropped in the woods of Virginia and told to do our best to achieve different objectives that we would be given throughout the weekend without violating our Rules of Engagement. I can't disclose too much of what we did on this blog as we were guinea pigs for an exercise that was being developed for civilians, but the marines at the Basic School really kept us challenged, physically, mentally and ethically.

Talk to me personally if you want to hear some of the crazy stories from this particular adventure.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fiscal Precariousness

Today in my class "Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean: Lessons in Political and Economical Development," we had a guest speaker, former Mexican Ambassador to the United States Jesus Federico Reyes Heroles. Ambassador Reyes Heroles is in town with the Mexican delegation accompanying President Calderon this week.

He stopped by SAIS to talk with our class about Mexico's fiscal situation and its oil company PEMEX. Ambassador Reyes Heroles' argument was one that you don't hear too much these days in the United States. He told us that in Mexico, taxes are too low and government spending is too low. He cited some statistics comparing Mexico to comparable OECD countries. In Mexico, government expenditures make up 25% of GDP; in the rest of the OECD, they are 44% of GDP. Mexican federal tax revenue comprises 17.5% of GDP, while in other OECD countries, it is much higher. In other contexts, these figures would be something to brag about, but despite the fact that technically, Mexico is fiscally sound (debt-wise), Reyes Heroles feels this situation has put Mexico in a fiscally precarious situation. Low tax rates have led to low government spending on infrastructure, which has stunted Mexican economic growth.

How does this all relate to PEMEX, the nationally-owned company that harvests the country's bountiful hydrocarbon resources? Reyes Heroles argues that, in a version of Dutch Disease, easy oil revenues from oil have made the Mexican state "lazy" and unwilling to raise taxes. While he notes that both major candidates in the 2012 Mexican presidential election have touched on the issue, the picture he painted did not leave much hope for unpopular fiscal reforms like raising local taxes or reducing tax rates on PEMEX.

Hopefully policymakers in the coming years will heed Ambassador Reyes Heroles' warnings because the oil spots that Mexico relies on will not flow forever.