What becomes clear throughout is that there is a paradox at the heart of Latin America's democracies. Despite decades of struggle to replace authoritarian dictatorships with electoral democracies, solid economic growth (leading up to the global credit crisis), and increased efforts by the state to extend the benefits of peace and prosperity to the poor, democracy—as a political system—is experiencing declining support, and support for authoritarianism is on the rise.
The Paradox of Democracy in Latin America demonstrates the deep divisions between rulers and ruled in Latin America that undermine democratic processes, institutions, and norms.
Taking a comparative historical approach, Francisco E. González looks at how the Great Depression, Latin America’s 1980s debt crisis, and the emerging markets' meltdowns of the late 1990s and early 2000s affected the governments of these three Southern Cone states. He finds that democratic or not, each nation’s governing regime gained stability in the 1980s from a combination of changes in the structure and functioning of national and international institutions, material interests, political ideologies, and economic paradigms and policies. Underlying these changes was a growing ease in the exchange of ideas.
As the world’s balance of power transitioned from trilateral to bipolar to unipolar, international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund increased crisis interventions that backstopped economic freefalls and strengthened incumbents. Urban-based populations with relatively high per capita income grew and exercised their preference for the stability and prosperity they found as a class under democratic rule. These and other factors combined to substantially increase the cost of military takeovers, leading to fewer coups and an atmosphere friendlier toward domestic and foreign capital investment. González argues that this confluence created a pro-democracy bias—which was present even in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile—that not only aided the states’ ability to manage economic and political crises but also lessened the political, social, and monetary barriers to maintaining or even establishing democratic governance.
With a concluding chapter on the impact of the Great Recession in other Latin American states, Eastern Europe, and East Asia, Creative Destruction? lends insight into the survival of democratic and authoritarian regimes during times of extreme financial instability. Scholars and students of Latin America, political economy, and democratization studies will find González's arguments engaging and the framework he built for this study especially useful in their own work.
Public Policy in Latin America is a masterful synthesis of scholarship on the region. Sloan studies political phenomena not by making superficial comparisons between leaders, parties or styles, but by examining what governments do-the creation of public policy through political process. The decisions to stress accumulation versus distribution of economic goods, the role of the bureaucracy, and the quality of political participation tell more about a nation than what party or persons are in power.