Vendors' Capitalism
A Political Economy of Public Markets in Mexico City
Ingrid Bleynat



Market Vendors and the History of Capitalism in Mexico, 1867–1966

“MEXICO IS TO BE FOUND IN ITS MARKETS,” wrote the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda of his experiences traveling the country in the 1940s.1 Struck by their eruptions of humanity, the piles of vegetables and chiles, the colors of the textiles, the sliced fruit asking to be tasted, Neruda followed a long line of visitors enthralled by the vitality of Mexico’s marketplaces and their vibrant social interactions. Yet there is more truth in his words than he knew: Mexico City’s public markets were integral to the development of the country’s economy, bolstering the expansion of capitalism in the century spanning from the definitive restoration of the Republic in 1867 to the heyday of the so-called Mexican miracle in the 1960s. These markets were embedded in a wide network of social and economic relations, which gave the vendors who sold in them an influence far beyond the running of their stalls. As they fed the population of the capital, they interacted daily with customers, suppliers, and government officials. Fighting to protect their livelihoods, vendors shaped the city’s public sphere and extended the scope of popular politics. Furthermore, they left their mark on official programs of urban renewal as well as on the institutions of state. In short, market vendors played a central part in the intertwined processes of economic development and state formation.2

Mexico City’s markets remained publicly owned and regulated throughout the century this book covers. They supplied households with everyday necessities and generated much-needed revenue for the local authorities. The importance of public markets grew as the city industrialized, because the provision of affordable wage goods became key to maintaining a measure of peace between workers and capitalists. Public markets were also the focal point of repeated attempts by the national government to turn the capital city into the elegant—or at least presentable—face of the nation. For these reasons, their management was a matter of public interest. Governments invested financial capital in the building and upkeep of markets and political capital in brokering the relationships within them. However, running these markets was difficult. The competing interests of multiple stakeholders—vendors, workers, suppliers, government officials, and politicians—repeatedly tested the institutional capacity of the state.

The vendors who earned their living in Mexico City’s public markets occupied a particular position within the broader political economy. They were not wage workers, in the sense that they did not sell their labor power in order to make a living. They were not capitalists either, because they did not hire people to work for them, and in most cases they never managed to accumulate any capital. For better or for worse, market vendors remained locked in what I call the proprietary mode of production: people who work for themselves, more often than not with the help of their families, running small-scale operations with at best a modest working capital, usually on credit. The term that best fits them is probably the Spanish trabajadores por cuenta propia, which in English would translate as self-employed or own-account workers. In a typical workday market vendors visited wholesale depots, bought goods, transported them to their stalls, sorted them, displayed them, promoted them, and sold them to the city’s residents. This is how they created value. The conflicts that pervaded their economic lives revolved around the distribution and appropriation of this value through buying, borrowing, and selling. That is, they experienced exploitation through exchange.

In making this case I build on John Womack Jr.’s insight that the single most notable and consequential feature of social life in twentieth-century Latin America was that different modes of production continued to function simultaneously alongside capitalist businesses.3 Slavery was no longer legal (Cuba and Brazil had been last to abolish it, in 1886 and 1888 respectively), but feudalism, in a host of varieties, remained the organizing principle of agricultural life in large parts of many countries well into the 1930s, with some of its elements informing domestic service relations ever since. In addition, myriads of peasants, artisans, and other small-scale producers, along with small-scale traders, engaged in the proprietary mode of production in every village, town, city, and province of every country in the region. But while slavery and feudalism faded away, proprietary production and trade expanded together with capitalism throughout the century, as they continue to do to date. The fact that slavery and feudalism gave way not just to capitalism but also to an extensive proprietary mode, meant that for a large proportion of the population of Latin America progress did not lead to increasing productivity, the accumulation of capital, stable employment, or the protection of a welfare state. Instead, it took the form of individualistic self-exploitation, precariousness, and bitter competition for meager incomes.

The capitalist and proprietary modes of production not only coexisted throughout the twentieth century but also interacted with one another through supply chains, credit arrangements, and other economic relations such as subcontracting and subleasing.4 Such interactions resulted in complex class antagonisms—conflicts within modes of production continually ran into conflicts across modes. Conflicts within modes of production included the familiar class struggle between workers and capitalists over pay, hours, and conditions. Within the proprietary mode were conflicts between artisans or peasants and the proprietary traders that commercialized their products, both sides trying to increase their respective share of the value realized in final sales to consumers. Conflicts across modes of production, on the other hand, pitted proprietary producers and traders against capitalist middlemen, creditors, and merchants in struggles over the appropriation of value through commercial transactions, rents, and loans. At the same time, these compounding class antagonisms were often diffused and further obscured by the many other vital social relations that people in Latin America established through bonds of kinship, friendship, religion, and politics, in their search for some security, or at least stability, for themselves and their families.

Although Mexico City’s market vendors experienced multiple and shifting forms of struggle as well as solidarity across the century, the internal logic, technology, and productivity of their commercial activities stayed relatively constant. They acquired goods through interactions with their suppliers and creditors, often the same people, who tried to charge them as much as they could for their merchandise and loans. In the 1860s and 1870s some of these were small-scale producers within the proprietary mode of production, local artisans or peasants from the city’s hinterland, but from the 1880s onward vendors dealt mostly, if not exclusively, with capitalist operations involved in broader commercial networks. Market vendors then sold these goods to their customers, who wanted to pay as little as possible for their products. Archival evidence suggests that on both sides these relationships were fraught. As soon as vendors formed coherent organizations, they demanded a state-funded bank that would help them finance collective purchases and would empower them vis-à-vis their suppliers and creditors. Equally, as the public-facing end of the supply chain for everyday necessities, vendors suffered the anger of consumers in periods of high inflation. During the Mexican Revolution desperate women and children stormed the city’s markets. In the late 1930s and late 1940s, when workers mobilized to protect the purchasing power of their wages, vendors faced fines and government censure. As the twentieth century progressed, vendors also had to learn to compete with supermarkets and chain stores while bearing the brunt of government attempts to control the prices of basic goods.

Along with these conflicts with other social classes, the most recurrent and bitter antagonisms vendors experienced were among themselves, as a result of competition over customers and market space. Sometimes they took the form of a group within a market hall denouncing the street vendors that blocked the entrance to their places of work, accusing them of illegal or inappropriate behavior. Other times, of outright street battles over the best vending spots. Archival sources show that vendors were aware of how disruptive this intraclass competition could be to their livelihoods. They responded with forms of collective action such as group petitions for state intervention in specific disputes and, eventually, the creation of organizations aimed at curbing tensions within their markets.

Mexico City’s market vendors stood apart from other proprietary classes because they performed a key public service. The official denomination mercados públicos underscores this uneasy overlap between the pursuit of individual gain and the common good. Public markets were physical and social spaces successive governments committed to build, manage, and regulate so vendors could effectively supply essential goods to urban residents. Their indispensability for the daily provision of the population of the capital city gave these vendors a degree of political leverage that was beyond the reach of most other small-scale producers and traders. Whether vendors sold from a shop in a purpose-built hall or from a stall on the city’s streets—the lines that divided public markets from street thoroughfare shifted back and forth in the period covered by this book—their right to occupy their workplace resulted from constant negotiations with government officials. The levels of rents, fees, and taxes market vendors paid were often contested. The archives are full of successful petitions for rent and fee reductions during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In the 1920s, vendors organized demonstrations to protest tax hikes, and in at least one instance they went on strike, though threats to abandon markets to take to the streets, where evasion of fiscal charges was easier, seemed to have been more effective. Likewise, government attempts to ensure public health and public order, or to improve the appearance of the capital city, which in practice always involved vendor relocations, frequently led to cycles of disputes and concessions, both when particular groups of market vendors found that regulations threatened their interests, and when they made use of those same regulations to attack their competitors. The ability of vendors to disrupt the daily business of the capital gave them veto power over any urban development project that excluded them.

Since public markets were indispensable to the economic life of the capital, the government agents stepped in not just to regulate access to stalls and taxation levels but also to broker the conflicts that market vendors had with their suppliers, creditors, and consumers as well as with street vendors. This had consequences far beyond the markets themselves. The specific interventions public officials and politicians made to resolve these conflicts involved institutional innovations that extended the reach and the capacity of the state. In 1943, for example, the government opened the state-funded Bank of Small Commerce in response to vendor demands for support against their creditors, which officials then used to intervene in vendor organizations. The creation of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in 1946 broadened and institutionalized vendor politics through the Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Populares (CNOP). This signified a loss of independence for vendor organizations, but it gained them a seat at the political table. Tens of thousands of vendors obtained improved market facilities, subsidized credit, and protection from competition. The government’s effectiveness in managing vendors’ social relations, and more broadly its success in incorporating a significant portion of the city’s proprietary classes into its probusiness compact, underlay the economic growth and political stability of these years. It is no coincidence that the heyday of Mexico City’s markets was also the heyday of both Mexican state capitalism and the PRI’s rule.

The location of Mexico’s markets at the intersection of private enterprise and public service makes them an ideal focus for a political economy of what Jeremy Adelman and Jonathan Levy call “the fuzzy and shifting boundaries between the economic and noneconomic.”5 It also means that vendors appear in an array of primary sources, whose provenance reflects the changes in the governance of the city. This book is therefore based on extensive research across a range of archives. At the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México I studied ayuntamiento minutes and publications, petitions by vendors, complaints by merchants, responses by city councilors, and reports from market administrators for the years between 1867 and 1903. During the Porfiriato, the growing power of the federal government can be seen in the higher incidence of interventions by the governor of the District, the District’s director of Public Works, and the president of the council of Public Health. After the Mexican Revolution, vendor voices began to feature more prominently in federal government archives such as the presidential collections, the files of the Labor Department, and those of the Secretariat of the Interior, all housed at the Archivo General de la Nación. The minutes of the meetings of the Consejo Consultivo allowed me to track vendors’ disputes with other organized urban interest groups after 1928. 6 In the late 1940s, Mexico revamped its intelligence services, and the reports produced by the Directorate of Federal Security and the General Directorate of Political and Social Investigations provided an unexpected window into vendor politics. Their files suggest that intelligence agents spent as much time policing the groups that constituted the PRI as persecuting those who opposed it.7 These sources partly compensate for the two main missing pieces of the mid-twentieth-century archival puzzle, the files of the office of the head of the Federal District, and those of the Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Populares (National Confederation of Popular Organizations, CNOP), the branch of the party to which vendors belonged.8 In addition, my work draws on published travel accounts and on newspaper collections from the Biblioteca Lerdo de Tejada and the Hemeroteca Nacional. I also benefited from informal conversations with vendors and leaders of several organizations from La Merced Market, still the largest of its kind in the city.

The story unfolds chronologically. Chapter 1 shows that the relationship between market vendors and the ayuntamiento was at the heart of the moral economy of the capital of the Restored Republic (1867–76).9 At the time, the city was home to less than a quarter million people and retained important traditional elements. The economy was well-integrated but sluggish, and capitalist businesses coexisted with artisanal production and proprietary trading in public markets. Market vendors reliably generated a significant portion of the council’s yearly fiscal income, driving the ayuntamiento to try to find ways to expand the number of fee-paying stalls and raise the rates they paid.10 Yet local officials also responded to a second, less tangible set of principles. An imperative to show compassion toward vendors, a combination of councilors’ private Catholicism and political good sense, pushed the ayuntamiento in the opposite direction.11 Councilors’ concern with the plight of the poor, thus, often overturned their fiscal prudence, with the result that vendors’ petitions for reductions in market fees were frequently answered favorably.

This delicate balance between taxes and compassion informed the everyday interactions between the city authorities and market vendors. But chapter 1 further argues that the same moral economy that ensured the viability of vendors’ small businesses precluded their participation in the public sphere, where politicians, councilmen, and journalists discussed market policies and, more generally, constructed their version of the common good.12 In other words, market vendors were barred from policy debates. Instead, compassionate politicians and journalists mediated their views, representing vendors’ interests and acting as their protectors. In this low-growth and low-stakes environment, an exclusionary benevolence based on custom and a respect for social hierarchy kept the city relatively at peace.

After 1880, a capitalist boom took hold of Mexico.13 The combination of economic growth and political stability allowed politicians, businessmen, and journalists to entertain the fantasy of transforming Mexico City into a modern metropolis, worthy of their imagined Republic.14 Chapter 2 analyses how their attempts to turn this fantasy into reality played out in the city’s markets.15 The ayuntamiento took the lead. Full of optimism, it contracted out the building of elegant iron and glass halls. It also passed bylaws stipulating acceptable and unacceptable forms of vending. Yet old market practices persisted. Many vendors continued to set their stalls on the city’s streets, now joined by a growing number of peddlers who disregarded government regulations altogether. As capitalist merchants moved their stores to private premises, the new halls remained undersubscribed and partially vacant.

The Porfirian elite soon became frustrated with what they saw as the ayuntamiento’s inability to exercise authority over public spaces. A repressive consensus emerged in the 1890s, leading to the criminalization and police harassment of all vendors outside the officially sanctioned halls.16 Chapter 2 contends that this process entailed a differentiation among the city’s proprietary vendors, with those who chose to become locatarios within the new markets supporting the changes, including the repression of those unable or unwilling to secure a stall. By joining the new halls these vendors embraced a modernity that promised to reduce competition and legitimize their self-interest. Their determination to benefit from the expansion of capitalism was as implacable as the elite’s.

The year 1903 marked a turning point in the history of Mexico City, as the capital was politically and administratively reorganized and the ayuntamiento stripped of its powers.17 Whereas markets had been a social and infrastructural priority for the city council, the responsibility for their management was now dispersed across multiple ministries. As chapter 3 lays out, the resulting jurisdictional overlaps created power vacuums that brought uncertainty to stallholders and government officials alike. As a result, the police took a bigger role in the day-to-day running of markets, assisting in fee collection, dispersing unlicensed peddlers, overseeing porters, ensuring vendors kept their stalls clean, and even reprimanding customers who disposed of their garbage on the nearby streets. Vendors learned they could no longer rely on pleas for protection from a receptive local government, so they began to enunciate their collective grievances. The onset of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 catalyzed the emergence of new attitudes and expectations among the city’s laboring classes.18 Vendors soon adopted the political lexicon of the revolution and joined the period’s proletarian struggles.19 After the Constitution of 1917 enshrined labor rights, vendors formed their own unions, through which they joined the newly created workers’ confederations. Together workers and vendors reconfigured the city’s politics and public sphere.

Vendors repeatedly challenged the postrevolutionary authorities, whose approach to markets lagged behind the changing social landscape. At times, these challenges turned into open confrontations. During a demonstration against a hike in market fees on August 2, 1924, two vendors died and eleven were wounded at the hands of local government forces. How does “a petition become a protest march, which gradually takes the shape of a riot?” asked El Demócrata, one of the country’s leading newspapers.20 The press blamed local politicians for the violence and described the vendors as the nondescript “pueblo,” which had been “machine-gunned by political interests.”21 While journalists exonerated vendors of any responsibility for the deaths and injuries, by the same token they reduced them to passive victims, denying them any political agency. But a close reading of the printed media’s coverage of the events reveals that by 1924, market vendors were not only active but also organized.22 In tune with the militancy of the labor movement, vendors had discovered novel ways to claim their rights and defend their material interests, forming unions the authorities would sooner or later have to reckon with.

Chapter 4 examines how vendors’ multiple class conflicts constrained attempts at state building. During the Great Depression, the capital witnessed intense political and economic experimentation, starting in 1929 when the federal government created the Consejo Consultivo, a corporatist body designed to supplant the labor movement as the intermediary between the state and the city’s popular classes.23 Managing the local political economy proved harder than the government anticipated. With the then forty-year-old Porfirian market halls overwhelmed by population growth, the proliferation of street stalls became, once again, a major source of tension. Wealthy capitalist merchants clashed with proprietary vendors over price controls, commercial regulations, and the use of public space.24 Large industrialists, property owners, and urban planners joined merchants in opposing all types of street vending, while street vendors, knowing that market vendors would not take their side, looked to workers and to the head of the Markets Office for support. Mired in these overlapping, entangled disputes, the consejo faltered.

Postrevolutionary governments struggled to handle a mobilized but increasingly divided vendor movement. From 1932, economic recovery allowed the Department of the Federal District, now fully in charge of the city, to pour resources into public markets. Driven by demands from market vendors, construction companies, and other interested parties, it kick-started a redevelopment program in another attempt to move vendors off the city’s streets and into purpose-built facilities.25 But building halls was not enough. Chapter 4 finds that even the flagship Abelardo Rodríguez Market foundered because the department failed to solve conflicts among market and street vendors.26 Without effective institutional mechanisms to manage competition between vendors, their commitments to relocate to the new hall remained tentative, all deals prone to falling apart. The situation deteriorated further in 1936 as a result of mounting inflation. In order to appease industrial workers, President Lázaro Cárdenas intervened to protect the purchasing power of wages by imposing price controls on everyday necessities.27 The prospect of a reduction of vendors’ profit margins only worsened their relations with the state. The highly contested presidential election of 1940 alerted Cárdenas’s successors to the risks of alienating the city’s vendors, spurring the authorities’ determination to gain greater control over their organizations.

Mexico City’s market vendors continued to feel squeezed during the major economic transformations that took place in the country in the years after World War II. The economy grew and industrialized, driven by a state that provided support to capitalists and invested heavily in infrastructure.28 To ensure workers’ compliance the government tried to guarantee the availability of affordable wage goods.29 Official efforts focused on fixing prices and promoting direct sales to urban consumers by subsidized large- and small-scale agricultural producers. Vendors resented these policies, which increased competition and short-circuited their own place in the city’s supply chains. At the same time, migration and population growth led to increasing numbers of peddlers, who also clashed with established vendors over sales and trading spots. It took significant compromise and creativity on the parts of both government officials and the vendor movement to resolve the tensions that played out in the streets and markets of the capital.

In 1946, organized vendors joined the new Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) where, as members of the Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Populares (CNOP), they hoped to have a greater say in developmentalist policies. The incorporation to the party of the self-employed popular classes represented by the CNOP was the key political innovation of the period. But scholars have paid little attention to corresponding changes in the city’s political economy. To the extent that they have, it has been interpreted as a maneuver to reduce the influence of the national confederations of industrial workers and peasants—thereby removing any constraints they might have placed on economic growth.30 Implicitly, the urban self-employed were deemed marginal, or at best secondary. But the experiences of vendors demonstrate this was not the case. From the vantage point of Mexico City’s markets, the formation of the CNOP, which soon became the largest branch of the party, was the corollary of two decades of government efforts to learn how to mediate their social relations and respond to vendors’ quests for proprietary progress.

While state actors used the new political connections to reconfigure the vendor movement, eliminating certain organizations and promoting others according to political (and personal) imperatives, vendors in turn used the PRI to channel their own demands. They mobilized effectively to elect sympathetic congressmen and made their voices heard during national election campaigns. Chapter 5 argues that, like industrialists and urban developers, vendors requested more, not less, state intervention—but on their terms. They wanted the government to upgrade markets and provide them with social services. They also expected officials to crush their competitors, especially street vendors. Their hopes were not misplaced. A combination of economic growth, public investment, and repression allowed politicians and vendor organizations to negotiate a successful program of urban renewal.31 Between 1952 and 1966, the Department of the Federal District built 160 markets with a capacity for over fifty thousand stalls.32 In these markets proprietary traders earned their piece of the Mexican miracle, constructing a way of life that promised they too could become middle class.33 Nevertheless, further tens of thousands remained on the streets, where they suffered the repressive side of Mexico’s state-led development—a reminder of the limits of the midcentury’s achievements.34

Today, vendors remain in the same public markets the city government built in the 1950s and ’60s, defending them against all odds from the combined threats of gentrification, Walmart, convenience stores, and an ever-growing number of street stalls.35 These markets were the product of the interactions of multiple groups that systematically used whatever advantages they had to further their social aspirations and material interests. Their history does not fit a teleological framework; their future is as uncertain now as it was then. The mid-twentieth century offered capitalists and the state an array of possible institutional arrangements to supply the city’s residents with everyday necessities, including supermarkets, small private shops, and government stores. They could have allowed itinerant peddlers to dominate retail trade in at least certain areas of the city. Instead, if in the 1960s market vendors provided upwards of 90 percent of the capital’s food supply, and their halls epitomized the height of Mexico’s high modernism, it was because of their unrelenting collective efforts, whose success was by no means guaranteed.36 Over the course of the century this book covers, vendors adapted to and reshaped the urban political economy, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unintentionally, their actions always embedded in dynamic power structures that generated and reproduced inequality. Looking closely at vendors’ dealings with their suppliers, customers, competitors, market administrators, urban planners, redevelopers, and politicians, we can see both proprietary traders’ role in the story of capitalism and statecraft in Mexico, and the messy, constrained contingency of historical change.


1. Neruda, “México florido y espinudo.”

2. While historians of Mexico have explored state formation in depth, the process of economic development has not been a focus of historical narratives in recent decades. For the seminal work on state formation, see Joseph and Nugent, Everyday Forms of State Formation. What is more, with the exception of Susan Gauss, historians have rarely interrogated the relationship between the two processes. Gauss, Made in Mexico.

3. This paragraph and the next synthesize my interpretation of John Womack Jr.’s lecture series at Harvard University on Latin America since 1914 and provide the conceptual underpinnings of this book. Historians of Latin America have a long tradition of analyzing the different modes of production that developed and operated in different times and places, in particular in relationship to the region’s participation in the global economy. The emphasis, however, was on the colonial period and the nineteenth century. For an overview, see Stern, “Feudalism, Capitalism, and the World-System in the Perspective of Latin America and the Caribbean.” After the 1980s the historiography moved away from these topics as economic history migrated to economics departments and historians embraced the cultural turn. For the case of Mexico, John Tutino’s attempt to bridge the global longue durée and local social and cultural histories of the Bajío marks the return of capitalism to the tool kit of historians of the region. Tutino, Making a New World.

4. Structuralist economic sociologists have analyzed these practices from the perspective of the links between formal and informal economic sectors. Manuel Castells and Alejandro Portes, “World Underneath: The Origins, Dynamics, and Effects of the Informal Economy,” in Portes, Castells, and Benton, Informal Economy; Portes and Schauffler, “Competing Perspectives on the Latin American Informal Sector.” More recently, historians of global labor have also explored the multiple ways in which value is created, distributed, and appropriated in the world economy, both in the past and in the present. Van der Linden, Workers of the World; Komlosy, Work: The Last 1,000 Years.

5. Adelman and Levy, “Fall and Rise of Economic History.”

6. Sociologist Diane Davis bases her analysis of the political economy of the city between 1929 and 1943 on the Actas y Versiones del Consejo Consultivo. She consulted them in what she calls a “semiprivate archive in the Departamento del Distrito Federal.” Davis, Urban Leviathan, appendix, 325–26. After a long search I found bound volumes containing these sources tucked away on a top floor of the library of the old ayuntamiento building. They were moved to the library of the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México, where I studied them in 2006.

7. The federal government declassified a large body of intelligence reports in 2002, and historians immediately saw their potential. See Aviña, Specters of Revolution; McCormick, Logic of Compromise in Mexico; Mendiola García, Street Democracy. For the methodological and historiographical innovations allowed by the availability of intelligence files, see Padilla and Walker, “In the Archives.”

8. There is a dearth of archival materials pertaining to Ernesto P. Uruchurtu’s tenure as regente of the Federal District between 1952 and 1966 in both the Archivo General de La Nación and Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México. Rachel Kram Villarreal reports that according to his relatives, he had kept the files at his personal residence but decided to burn them shortly before his death. By the time they gave her access Uruchurtu’s private office, all she found was twenty-five empty filing cabinets. Kram Villarreal, “Gladiolas for the Children of Sánchez, 21–22. His nephew, Alejandro Gárate Uruchurtu, gave me the same account in 2006. It is plausible that the study of Mexico City’s midcentury urban redevelopment projects has suffered from the resulting lack of substantive materials. With regard to the CNOP, as Louise Walker writes, to date there is no available archive of this branch of the PRI, which might help explain why we know so little about the middle classes and about how their confederation worked. Walker, Waking from the Dream, 16n84 and 17.

9. Thompson’s notion of the moral economy refers to the emotions and confrontations over the marketing of foodstuffs in times of severe scarcity in a very specific historical context. E. P. Thompson. “Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century”; and “Moral Economy Reviewed,” chap. 5. James C. Scott extended the use to peasant studies more broadly in Moral Economy of the Peasant, and Domination and the Arts of Resistance. For a discussion of the development of the concept of moral economy in European religious and philosophical circles starting in the mid-eighteenth century, see Götz, “Moral Economy.” For its application to contemporary Latin America, see Aguirre Rojas, “Edward Palmer Thompson en América Latina.”

10. As I discuss in chapter 1, markets produced on average 10 percent of the city council’s yearly income between 1869 and 1880. Calculation based on Rodríguez Kuri, La experiencia olvidada, el Ayuntamiento de México, 120; Memoria que el Ayuntamiento Constitucional de 1879 presenta a sus comitentes, 220; and Discurso pronunciado por el Dr. Manuel Domínguez, Regidor 1º del Ayuntamiento Constitucional de México en 1880 al separarse de su puesto el 1º de Enero de 1881, y contestación del C. Pablo de Lascurain, Regidor 2º del Ayuntamiento Constitucional de 1881, 12. Market revenues were also the most stable source of month-to-month funds. Márquez Colín, “Entre dos mundos.”

11. There is growing interest in the role of religion in public life and the construction of the social identities of the popular classes in Mexico. Buffington, Sentimental Education for the Working Man; Barajas Durán, Posada, mito y mitote; and Forment, Democracy in Latin America, 1760–1900.

12. Following Habermas, I understand the public sphere “as a forum in which the private people, come together to form a public, readied themselves to compel public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion.” Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 25. However, as many authors have demonstrated, some caveats apply. The construction of a public sphere involved the exclusion of multiple sectors of society, and the model needs rethinking for its application to Latin American realities. Guerra and Lempérière, Introducción; Palti, “Guerra y Habermas”; Piccato, “Public Sphere in Latin America.”

13. Evidence of a capitalist expansion can be found in indicators such as the kilometers of railway track, the level of foreign trade and investment, the creation of banking institutions, and the growth of productivity implicit in the growth of GDP per capita. The literature on the economics of the Porfiriato is vast. For two examples, see Kuntz Ficker, Empresa Extranjera y Mercado Interno; Connolly, El Contratista de Don Porfirio.

14. Lear, “Mexico City, Space and Class”; Tenorio Trillo, “1910 Mexico City.”

15. In this chapter I build on a rich body of literature that explores how vendors experienced and reacted to attempts at urban modernization during the Porfiriato. Historians Pablo Piccato, Christina Jiménez, and Mario Barbosa Cruz highlight vendors’ creative responses to the elite’s attempts to constrain their use of public space between the 1880s and the 1930s, in Mexico City and Morelia. Susie Porter and Judith Martí unearth the gender relations of this period, showing the ways female street and market vendors coped with, and to some extent challenged, upper-class discourses of morality, hygiene, and public order in the national capital and Guadalajara. See Piccato, “Urbanistas, Ambulantes, and Mendigos; Jiménez, “Performing Their Right to the City”; Barbosa Cruz, El trabajo en las calles; Porter, “And That It Is Custom Makes It Law”; Martí, “Nineteenth-Century Views of Women’s Participation in Mexico’s Markets.”

16. On the criminalization of the city’s popular classes, see Piccato, City of Suspects.

17. The implications of the political and administrative reorganization of the city, in terms of both changes and continuities, remain understudied. Two notable exceptions are Rodríguez Kuri, La experiencia olvidada, el Ayuntamiento de México; Barbosa Cruz, “La Política en la Ciudad de México.”

18. González y González, “La Revolución Mexicana”; Rodríguez Kuri, Historia del desasosiego.

19. On workers’ activism in these years, see Womack, “Luchas sindicales y liberalismos sociales, 1867–1993”; Lear, Workers, Neighbors, and Citizens.

20. “¿Quién disparó?” El Demócrata, August 4, 1924, 3.

21. “El pueblo ametrallado por intereses políticos,” El País, August 3, 1924, 1.

22. Pablo Piccato demonstrates that starting in the 1920s the nota roja became an avenue for debates about “the places, characters, motives and outcomes of a public event.” As journalists gathered and reproduced testimonies from victims and perpetrators, they fostered discussions about violence in social life among an increasingly engaged public. Piccato, “Murders of Nota Roja,” 229.

23. Here I am drawing on Davis, Urban Leviathan, 65–72. On the government and management of the Federal District, see Sánchez Mejorada’s Rezago de la modernidad.

24. On the conflicts that pitted the owners of the largest bakeries against small-scale, independent producers and traders of bread, see Weis, “Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Bread, and Class Negotiation in Postrevolutionary Mexico City.” A similar trend is discernible in the milk industry. Ochoa, “Reappraising State Intervention and Social Policy in Mexico.”

25. This was part of a broader urban reform program that politicians and businessmen pursued in Mexico City in the 1930s. Olsen, Artifacts of Revolution; Ageeth Sluis, Deco Body, Deco City, chaps. 5–7. For the changing patterns of economic development that underpinned urban reforms of these years, see Cárdenas, La industrialización mexicana durante la Gran Depresión; Gauss, Made in Mexico.

26. Art historian James Oles considers this market one of the most important urban renovation projects of the decade. Oles, “Noguchi in Mexico,” 16.

27. As inflation mounted, price controls and food subsidies were offered as substitutes for nominal wage gains. This trend continued in the 1940s, when the state food agencies NADYRSA (1941–1949) and CEIMSA (1949–1961) became primary vehicles the government used to manage industrial relations. Ochoa, Feeding Mexico, chaps. 3–5.

28. The economics of the so-called Mexican miracle have not received significant attention from scholars in recent times. Raymond Vernon’s The Dilemma of Mexico’s Development, published in 1963, remains the most eloquent characterization of the period’s political economy. See also Hansen, Politics of Mexican Development; Garza, El proceso de industrialización en la ciudad de México. For a critical view of the developmental potential of the midcentury economic model, see Carmona et al., El Milagro Mexicano. While I do not disagree with Carmona and coauthors that poverty and inequality remained high, my recent work with Amílcar Challú and Paul Segal finds that from the 1950s to the 1970s economic growth was more inclusive than in any other period since independence. Bleynat, Challú, and Segal, “Inequality, Living Standards, and Growth: Two Centuries of Economic Development in Mexico.”

29. Ochoa, Feeding Mexico, 112–13, 127.

30. Bertaccini, El régimen priísta frente a las clases medias, 256–66; Garrido, El partido de la revolución institucionalizada, 331–40; Schers, Popular Sector of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional in Mexico, 1–20. Alternatively, those scholars who have focused on the groups that constituted the CNOP have seen its creation as the result of the growing power of middle-class professionals and state employees. Soledad Loaeza goes as far as claiming that after 1946 the middle classes held the state hostage. Loaeza, Clases medias y política en México, 230.

31. Kram Villareal, “Gladiolas,” 17, 51–53. There are not many historical studies of the urban transformations of these years, probably because of the paucity of archival material, as discussed in note 8.

32. John C. Cross and Gary Gordon examine the political behavior of street vendors in Mexico City from 1952 to the 1990s, arguing that a combination of market construction and repression allowed the government to bring vendor organizations under tight control. While there is no doubt this is true, the process was more nuanced. These authors disregard organized vendors’ decades-long attempts to engage the state to improve their material condition. They also assume the existence of a coherent state attempting to bend vendor organizations to its will. By tracking vendor activism in the previous decades, and by building on a more recent historiography on the strengths and limitations of the PRI’s rule, I show the extent to which the incorporation of vendors to the corporatist structures of midcentury was the product of both negotiation and contestation. Cross, Informal Politics; Gordon, “Peddlers, Pesos, and Power.”

33. Soledad Loaeza and Louise Walker highlight the importance of the middle classes and the realization of their material and cultural aspirations to the consolidation and legitimation of the PRI. See Loaeza, Clases medias; Walker, Waking from the Dream. My book finds that market vendors were a crucial part of this story. Walker’s groundbreaking book analyzes how the “endless unraveling and remaking” (4) of these middle classes after 1968 illuminate the connections between the dismantling of the midcentury economic development model in the 1980s and the transition to procedural democracy in the 1990s.

34. Given growth in street vendor numbers, in contrast to the fixed number of market stalls after 1966, their political weight within the PRI would overpower that of market vendors in the coming decades. But with further population growth compounded by de-industrialization in the 1980s leading to ever more people taking to the streets to make a living, street vendors also began to organize outside of the PRI. Attempts at managing ambulantes and their use of public spaces in the 1990s featured prominently in the demise of the PRI in the capital. Cross, “Debilitando al clientelismo”; Silva Londoño, “Comercio ambulante en el Centro Histórico de la ciudad de México.” On the struggles of street vendors in the neoliberal city, see Crossa Niell, Luchando por un espacio en la ciudad de México. In contrast to the case of Mexico City, Sandra Mendiola’s pioneering work on the economic and political activism of radical street vendors in the city of Puebla shows that starting in the early 1970s their organizations fought hard to reject incorporation by the state, in stark defiance of the PRI. Mendiola, Street Democracy.

35. See Delgadillo, “La disputa por los mercados de La Merced,” and Téllez Contreras, “Los mercados de San Juan.”

36. In contrast, at the turn of the twenty-first century markets only traded around 22 percent of the city’s food supply. Castillo Berthier, “Los mercados públicos de la Ciudad de México.”