Monday, November 30, 2015

Macri's Election and the "Pink Tide"

Economists have been saying Argentina cannot continue its populist ways. Debt grew too much and the money is running out, while inflation is high. People figure that some sort of belt-tightening is going to be necessary, and although the president-elect hasn't said much about specifics, he will likely shift course. That was the gist of a 1989 New York Times article immediately after the election of Carlos Menem. This NYT editorial of the time could easily have been written today with some minor tweaking.

These were different elections (especially, of course, because Menem was a Peronist) but the general point is that pundits are clamoring to explain the long-term impact of an election without knowing much at all about specifics. We should remain aware that all the excitement about Menem's shift toward the market disappeared and became embittered once his vaunted reforms fell apart.

Is Mauricio Macri's election the end of Latin American populism, as some argue? I don't really know how you could comfortably come to that conclusion. Just look at Menem, whose reforms became the source of a traditional Peronist resurgence. Your best bet is probably that like other democracies this will be cyclical. Even in the U.S. presidential elections are routinely labeled as an "end to conservatism" or an "end to liberalism" and they never really are. Voters get tired of incumbents but that is not the same as being tired of the message.

If you see stuff about the "pink tide" ebbing, an image that is now being used constantly, then be skeptical. As I wrote back in May, this imagery is misleading in the first place. Pundits like to talk in ideological terms, while Latin American voters are far more pragmatic than we tend to acknowledge. They want solutions.

In other words, most Latin Americans do not view governments of the left or right (or somewhere in between) as inherently superior. They want to see improvements in their quality of life, and clearly they do not believe any ideology necessarily addresses their concerns any better or worse. 
The 2013 Latinobarómetro poll shows that 55 percent of Latin Americans don’t even consider themselves “left” or “right” at all. A majority are centrist, with keen interest in moderate solutions to universal problems. Unfortunately, countless news stories play up the ideological angle.

I think this fits Argentina after Macri's election as well.


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