Mining as a Development Factor in The Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca:
an Ethical Evaluation
Mario Enrique Fuente and David Barkin

The role assigned to the mining industry in the country’s development is anchored to the premise of progress, derived from the doctrines of modern orthodox rational economics. This rationality places the human being above any other form of existence (Barkin, 2008; Ball, 2001: Bowles, 2008; Fullbrook, 2004; Hodgson, 2007; Norgaard, 1989). Rationality based on an individualism (Homo economicus) that separates economics from society seeks to establish itself as a unique school of thought (Bilbao, 2007). In this way, the aspiration for progress, and thus sustainable development, must be based on the institutions that can be rescued from the disenchanted modernity, individual rights, the reduction in social functions of the State, representative democracy, the market as a regulatory of society and the idea of unlimited economic growth (Barkin and Lemus, 2011; Villoro, 2003).

From that perspective, when talking about governability – as a problem to resolve in developing the mining industry – there is a reference to a technique of “administering an order of relations previously determined by the economy,” using the institution of representative democracy (Bilbao, 2007). As such, the incorporation of other frameworks, institutions, rationalities and worldviews is considered an attack on development. The same occurs with the orthodox notion of development that is called sustainable. This discourse is vindicated by the need to prudently manage natural resources and the chance to control contamination and degradation. But as previously indicated, this rationality is at the same time anchored to the premises of identifying economic growth (unlimited) as a synonym for progress, based on a methodological individualism that feeds the theory of general balance. The main environmental sciences that hold up this dominant notion of sustainable development are industrial ecology and environmental economics (Ayres and Ayres, 2002).

Among the proposals of environmental economics are the design and application of a series of instruments oriented towards internalizing the social and environmental costs (“externalities”) and the preference of future generations through a clear assignment of property and by establishing market prices for natural resources and their environmental services (Labandeira, et al. 2007). One of their beliefs is based on the possibility of compensation for damage that results and substituting “natural capital” for socially fabricated capital (weak sustainability) (Ayres et al., 1998) and the feasibility of measurements in prices defined by the market.

This “ecological modernization” school of thought (Mol, 2001: Sonnenfeld et al., 2002) branded by Martínez-Alier (2004: 20) as the “evangelist of eco-efficiency,” is based on the use of economic instruments (for example, eco-taxes, markets for emissions permits and payments for environmental services) to undo damage, technological contributions to reduce energy use and materials and, finally, the use of legal tools and environmental impact studies.4 Its defenders argue that technological development will contribute to the dematerialization of the economy, although this has been questioned by authors such as Martínez-Alier (2004), Leff (2004) and Barkin (1998), among others.

This environmental-economic configuration fits with the official vision of “using comparative advantages” to incorporate the mining industry as a strategy to build the country’s sustainable development. Cost-benefit analyses expressed in monetary units and current partial environmental impact studies are the main criteria to evaluate the relevance of mining projects.

4 Regarding impacts, it has been argued that Mexico has one of the most complete set of environmental regulations and laws for the mining industry; however, it has weaknesses in other areas: lack of compliance and oversight, and as often occurs in environmental impact studies, another bureaucratic hurdle to jump over (Silva, 2010).