In This Review

Washington Contentious: Economic Policies for Social Equity in Latin America
Washington Contentious: Economic Policies for Social Equity in Latin America
By Nancy Birdsall and Augusto De La Torre
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Press, 2001, 84 pp

The 1990s saw a remarkable convergence of views on macroeconomic policy and development. At the same time, most Latin American countries were emerging from years of dictatorship, staggering debt, chronic inflation, and slow growth. That experience prompted finance ministers to pursue a mix of policy prescriptions dubbed the "Washington consensus" -- trade and investment liberalization, state-sector privatization, and tight fiscal and monetary adjustments. But results have disappointed. Unemployment has risen, and more than a third of Latin America's population continues to live in poverty. Now the emergence of civil society and greater political representation make it inevitable that voters will become impatient with sacrifice unless living conditions improve. This report proposes policies to reduce poverty without sacrificing growth, including an income floor for workers and middle-class households during slumps, greater public spending on preschools, anti-tax evasion efforts, better worker protection, rural land reform, and improvements in public health. The authors do not believe this task will be easy, but even they may underestimate the problems ahead. Unless Latin America's governments produce results soon, new populist leaders could emerge and reject the consensual and forward-looking measures set out so elegantly here.