Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Oscar Arias article

Oscar Arias has an article in Foreign Affairs exhorting change in Latin America.  Here are the main points:

Latin Americans must look in the mirror and confront the reality that many of our problems lie not in our stars but in ourselves. We must lose our fear of change. We must embrace entrepreneurship. We must learn to trust. We must strengthen our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. And we must abandon the military practices that continue to rub salt into the wounds of our past. Only then will the region finally attain the development it has so long sought.

Not terribly controversial, but I kept wondering who it is aimed at (or, rather, should be aimed at).  Latin America is the most unequal region in the world, more so even than sub-Saharan Africa.  Substantive political and economic change will be extremely difficult without explicitly recognizing that reality.  That is why militarism is embedded in political culture, that helps explain why people are less trusting, and that is one reason why clientelist ties become so firm.

So we can have lots of talk about how "Latin Americans" need to change, but the only way this will happen is if income inequality is reduced.  That means elites need to accept progressive tax laws (and, of course, collection!), increased spending on primary education (yes, you need to pay for poor people to go to school even if you don't like them very much), and other types of redistribution that are consistently blocked and even mocked.

To be fair, Arias mentions such things in passing:

The way to prevent that [authoritarianism] is to show the public that democracy works, that it truly can build more prosperous and equitable societies. Moving beyond political sclerosis, becoming more responsive to citizens' demands, and generating fiscal resources by taxing the wealthy are all essential steps to take in moving toward a true culture of liberty and progress.

But this article would be much more effective if it were addressed directly to the small percentage of Latin Americans who control the vast majority of the wealth and political power, telling them they--and not some vague catch-all "Latin American" individual--need to accept real change.


Anonymous,  8:34 PM  

In the Dominican Republic the General Education Law 66-1997 was passed more than a decade ago, yet to date, no government has complied with its mandate to spend at least 4% of the GDP or 16% of the national budget on investments in education. Lets keep those poor masses down, yeah.

Russell Bither-Terry 10:02 PM  

Excellent post, Greg.

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