Latin America: Anti-Poverty Schemes Instead of Social Protection

By Lavinas, Lena | Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Latin America: Anti-Poverty Schemes Instead of Social Protection


Lavinas, Lena, Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice


"If public goods - public services, public spaces, public facilities - are devalued, diminished in the eyes of citizens and replaced by private services available against cash, then we lose the sense that common interests and common needs ought to trump private preferences and individual advantage. And once we cease to value the public over the private, surely we shall come in time to have difficulty seeing just why we should value law (the public good par excellence) over force."

Tony Judt, III Fares the Land, 2010, p. 129.

1. From Selectivity to Universality: Back and Forth

1.1. Overview: Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America

Conditional cash transfers targeted to the needy have become widespread in Latin America since the early 2000s. In many cases, they are seen as the main mechanism that contributed to reductions in poverty and extreme poverty, whose rates have fallen sharply as of the late (CEPAL 2012). These schemes are relatively low cost and eventually benefited from a period of economic recovery in the region (CEPAL 2012). This new macroeconomic context coupled with the consolidation of democracy is likely to have given national states the resources to adopt or expand safety nets. Conversely, the establishment of comprehensive social protection systems is likely to face higher hurdles. Universalism is at stake, challenged by the social risk management strategy, lately updated by the social protection floor proposal (ILO 2011). This paradigm would fit the developing world, and Latin American countries in particular, where some basic standards are already in place for the most vulnerable. The following sections center these newer programs and their implications in the context of the logics of welfare state programs in market societies.

1.2. From Poverty Reduction towards Equity in Market Societies

In the aftermath of World War II, the quest for universality was not only an ideological issue but a sensible approach to resetting effective economic policies to recover from devastation and help capitalism to pick itself up again. In this respect, the Keynesian Consensus (Judt 2010) played a crucial role for making the case that uncertainty and unpredictability in people's lives under market rules require a different format for policies in general, and a more active and permanent role for the state. Contrary to the "embracing inequality" theories (Thompson 2012) that were hostile to state intervention in the economy, backing individualistic capitalism, Keynesianism favored a more disciplined relationship between market and state, and also grounded the case for welfare states (Townsend 2002).

The regulatory socioeconomic model that prevailed until the mid-1970s in Western advanced countries - and as partly embodied in the developmentalist framework (Bielschowsky 2006) in Latin America - put the State at center stage as the most prominent agent in charge of building up a national collective project committed to addressing two main issues to preserve freedom and democracy in a context of social political peace: renewed prosperity coupled with enhanced security. One may note that in Latin America, the shortage of the security leg of this framework was surpassed by the faith that soaring economic growth through a genuine and nationally-rooted industrialization process would automatically improve well-being and curtail high levels of social and economic inequality. The social dimension of development was not recognized within the state-led import substitution strategy that boosted the first wave of industrialization in the region. Instead, well-being was an expected output to be derived from increases in per capita GDP. The 1990s brought a different understanding about how essential equity issues were to consolidate economic growth. The second phase of developmentalism or the neo-structuralist wave from the 1990s onwards correctly added social policy into the Latin American progressive agenda. …

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