Policymaking in Latin America: How Politics Shapes Policies; Civil Society and Social Movements: Building Sustainable Democracies in Latin America

In This Review

Policymaking in Latin America: How Politics Shapes Policies

Edited by Ernesto Stein, Mariano Tommasi, Carlos Scartascini
Harvard University Press, 2008
500 pp. $29.95
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Civil Society and Social Movements: Building Sustainable Democracies in Latin America

Edited by Arthur Domike
Inter-American Development Bank, 2008
413 pp. $23.00
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For investors, diplomats, and journalists struggling to comprehend why things work the way they do in Latin America, Policymaking in Latin America is an astute guidebook. Breaking loose from the academic straitjacket of "rigor" that narrows analysis to a few measurable variables, this group of mostly Latin American social scientists takes a more comprehensive approach to policymaking, one in which presidencies, legislators, courts, regulators, civil servants, central bankers, governors, and the multilayered rules that govern interactions among them drive the complex design, implementation, and verification of policy choices. This is not a juicy insider account of policy dramas. Instead, it offers judicious, coherent explorations of local institutions and incentives that yield cooperation or distrust; the "rational" outcomes may or may not serve a broader public purpose. Most frustrating is Argentina, whose dysfunctional culture produces myopic, self-serving, weakly enforced, and highly volatile policies. In sober, successful Chile, in contrast, high-quality, tightly knit political leadership generates farsighted strategies. The policymaking process is improving in Brazil and Colombia, in need of a new consensus in Mexico, and deteriorating terribly in Venezuela. There can be no cookie-cutter path to improvement; institutional reforms must be firmly rooted in local history.

The contributors to Civil Society and Social Movements are less concerned with efficiency and outcomes than they are with participation and process. Whereas the economists Stein and Tommasi fear that large numbers of participants slow and sometimes block timely decision-making, Domike's associates seek to deepen democracy and transform political culture through a wider inclusion of diverse voices. Speaking of the "bruising nature of democracy," the Mexican academic and activist Sergio Aguayo grapples passionately with the tensions inherent in many social movements between those who practice a perennial "culture of denunciation" and those who move from protesting to proposing specific policies. A particularly rich and skillful contribution by Joan Caivano and Thayer Hardwick chronicles the progressive advances of Latin American women. They find that increasingly, results-oriented technical nongovernmental organizations focused on policy impact are gaining more funding and influence than traditional social movement groups geared toward feminist consciousness-raising and mobilization. In his upbeat conclusion, Domike contends that where citizen engagement expands and conflict resolution is smartly practiced, Latin American democracies can become at once more participatory and legitimate and more effective at achieving economic and social development.