Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Finally Together: Democracy and Reduction in Inequality in Latin America*

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Finally Together: Democracy and Reduction in Inequality in Latin America*

Article excerpt

Finally Together: Democracy and Reduction in Inequality in Latin America* (HUBER, Evelyne and STEPHENS, John D. Democracy and the Left: Social Policy and Inequality in Latin America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

During the last quarter of the 20th century the research agenda for comparative studies of Latin America concentrated on the debate over processes of overthrowing authoritarian regimes and that of building new democratic systems. With the transitions completed, this "transitionology" field began to focus on other concerns and objectives. In the 21st century, Latin Americanists began to emphasize themes such as quality and the consolidation of democratic regimes, the institutionalization of party systems (with indicators that in both cases would reveal fragilities even in the most "consolidated" cases), innovations and difficulties in terms of public policies and the experience of governance, problems in making effective the practice of citizenship, and limitations in combatting historical problems of inequality and poverty.

The red (or pink?) wave that swept over the continent during the first decade of this century, with the rise to power of leftist parties and movements in various countries, also received particular attention in this literature, drastically increasing studies on the topic. A glance at Amazon.com using the search phrase "left in Latin America" returns dozens of titles, with an emphasis on (sometimes rough) comparisons between the democratic and moderate left (such as the Workers' Party in Brazil and the Socialist Party in Chile) and the more radical forces with questionable tendencies in regard to democracy (as in Venezuela).

Within this context, it once again became fashionable to discuss populism, a topic that had been little discussed in recent years. For some, this is a typically Latin American phenomenon that seems to foster a type of folklore mindset about the region, while retaining parallels with the literary magical realism of the 1960's. For others, it would be more precise to focus on something typically about Latin Americans, given that phenomena such as Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo in Italy, or the National Front of the Le Pen family in France, prove that demagogic appeals, direct links with the masses, and disdain for institutions are not outcomes native and exclusive to the region.

In any case, this boom in comparative studies of Latin American left has its high points that have contributed to a deeper understanding of the politics in the region. The books organized by Mainwaring and Scully (2009), Weyland, Madrid and Hunter (2010) and Levitsky and Roberts (2011) are among the most important references of recent years that manage to avoid stereotypes about the region through competent and empirically based research. To them we may add the book by Evelyne Huber and John D. Stephens, (professors at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), published in 2012. In contrast to the other works cited above, Democracy and the Left: Social Policy and Inequality in Latin America is not an edited volume, which means that it does not suffer from the problems of imbalance and heterogeneity in terms of analytical quality and empirical effort that often impede building a general panorama and comparing among countries studied by different authors (even when the editors try to maintain uniform theoretical focuses, strategies, and frameworks). However, in spite of the "Left" in the title, one should not reduce the study to just another of many contributions about the red wave in Latin America. In fact, the book focuses on the links and long-term effects between democracy, redistributive policies, poverty, and inequality in the region, with forces of the left acting as an intervening variable in this relation. Working with these principal variables, the authors develop an impressive work that is theoretically consistent, exhaustive in terms of data collected, and methodologically sophisticated, combining the solid use of statistical tools with a comparative historical analysis of selected cases. …

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