Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism

University of Chicago Press
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The political and economic history of Latin America has been marked by great hopes and even greater disappointments. Despite abundant resources—and a history of productivity and wealth—in recent decades the region has fallen further and further behind developed nations, surpassed even by other developing economies in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

In Left Behind, Sebastian Edwards explains why the nations of Latin America have failed to share in the fruits of globalization and forcefully highlights the dangers of the recent turn to economic populism in the region. He begins by detailing the many ways Latin American governments have stifled economic development over the years through excessive regulation, currency manipulation, and thoroughgoing corruption. He then turns to the neoliberal reforms of the early 1990s, which called for the elimination of deficits, lowering of trade barriers, and privatization of inefficient public enterprises—and which, Edwards argues, held the promise of freeing Latin America from the burdens of the past. Flawed implementation, however, meant the promised gains of globalization were never felt by the mass of citizens, and growing frustration with stalled progress has led to a resurgence of populism throughout the region, exemplified by the economic policies of Venezuela’sHugo Chávez. But such measures, Edwards warns, are a recipe for disaster; instead, he argues, the way forward for Latin America lies in further market reforms, more honestly pursued and fairly implemented. As an example of the promise of that approach, Edwards points to Latin America's giant, Brazil, which under the successful administration of President Luis Inácio da Silva (Lula) has finally begun to show signs of reaching its true economic potential.

As the global financial crisis has reminded us, the risks posed by failing economies extend far beyond their national borders. Putting Latin America back on a path toward sustained growth is crucial not just for the region but for the world, and Left Behind offers a clear, concise blueprint for the way forward.
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About the author

Sebastian Edwards is the Henry Ford II Professor of International Economics at the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 15, 2010
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Business & Economics / Development / Economic Development
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / General
Business & Economics / International / Economics
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Many of the rules that govern labor markets in Latin America (and elsewhere) raise labor costs, create barriers to entry, and introduce rigidities in the employment structure. These include the exceedingly restrictive regulations on hiring and firing practices, as well as burdensome social insurance schemes. Such labor market regulations contribute to an over-expansion of precarious forms of employment and to rural poverty, and hinder countries from responding rapidly to new challenges from increased foreign competition.

At the same time, other norms can reduce costs and raise productivity; they should be kept in place and their enforcement improved. For example, some occupational health and safety standards lower medical costs and save lives. One may also want to keep legislation aimed at providing a minimum social insurance for unemployment, old age, sickness, and disabilities.

In practice, the most common decision that governments confront is not whether to intervene but to choose among different forms of intervention. This volume provides analysts and policymakers with useful insights on this issue. Part I addresses labor market institutions in a broader context, such as collective bargaining arrangements, minimum wages and poverty, and optimal unemployment insurance schemes. Part II analyzes labor market performance in Latin America, the links between performance and labor market regulations, and the status of labor market reform in the region. These questions are addressed for the region as a whole and in great detail for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia. The book provides a comprehensive description of the existing labor institutions in Latin America, the problems they pose, and the trends in labor market reforms as well as the difficulties encountered by the reform process in specific cases.

In addition to the editors, the contributors are Edward Amadeo, Jose Marcio Camargo, Alejandra Cox Edwards, Rene Cortazar, Enrique Davila, Marta Lus Henao, Eduardo Lora, Hugo Hopenhayn, Darryl McLeod, Juan Pablo Nicolini, John Pencavel, and Carola Pessino.

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