Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

have fomented uprisings. In this environment the pressures against income concentration that have resulted from Colombia's democratic forms have not been strong enough to produce a distribution of income nearly as egalitarian as those of authoritarian systems like Korea and Taiwan, although it does seem to be the case that within the Latin American context, the typically democratic regimes have had somewhat less inequality than ones (like Brazil and Peru) that have more often been under military rule.

However, some of the economic elements that have contributed to the stability of the political system in the past have disappeared or weakened. The illegal nature of the booming drug industry lowers the citizenry's respect for the law, raises the expectations of quick wealth, and slows the growth of the modern sector engaged in the production of internationally tradeable goods. The growth of mineral exports controlled by the government is likely to strengthen and embitter the fight for the government's spoils and the rents and privileges it can create. The increased open urban unemployment, particularly among collegeeducated individuals with high income expectations, is another factor likely to contribute to increased social tension and to put stress on the political system. Thus, it is possible that Colombia, following O'Donnell's suggested stages, 30 may be entering a period in which the modernization process slows down after substantial success, economic groups are already well organized and active, social tensions increase, and political repression becomes more likely. This scenario, considered possible but unlikely by Sheahan in 1980, 31 is now unfortunately a more serious threat for the near future.


NOTES

The authors wish to thank Mr. Sergio Uribe for comments on a previous version of this chapter and Mrs. Martha Rountree for her efficient and always cheerful typing assistance.

1
Cross-country comparisons of income distribution and inequality are risky, as the available data come from surveys that have diverse methodologies and coverage. To these problems one must add others that arise from differences in the ways of defining and measuring income and income recipients; that is, some works measure the distribution of income among individuals while others measure household-income distribution. The data problems are compounded by those inherent in the nature of the inequality measures. In general, there is no one-to-one relationship between income distribution and the inequality measure; that is, it is possible for the distribution of income to change and a measure of inequality to remain constant. For example, the Gini coefficient could remain constant when the income share of both the upper and lower classes goes up and the middle class loses. All these factors make international comparisons of income inequality difficult. In the comparisons that follow, we use household data for 1970 or the closest year for which household data were available. We do not compare inequality measures, such as the variance or the Gini coefficient. Rather, we refer to the income of the different population quintiles to provide an approximation of the degree of inequality. The source

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