Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism

In This Review

Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism
By Sebastian Edwards
University Of Chicago Press, 2010
296 pp. $29.00

Twenty years ago, Edwards and Rudiger Dornbusch explained how populist largess and misconceived state intervention in Latin America led inevitably from initial euphoria to lasting regret. Updating his classic argument, Edwards rips into the Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chávez and predicts his inevitable demise. But Edwards' real targets here are the run-of-the-mill policymakers who have failed to tackle the deeper institutional reforms -- ranging from building efficient judiciaries to demanding quality education -- required for growth. An exacting grader, the UCLA professor bestows an A only on his native Chile and suggests that a mere handful of other Latin American countries -- Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru -- will likely dislodge vested interests (such as corrupt corporate monopolies and entrenched teachers' unions) and sufficiently advance reforms. At a time when Latin America's democratic strides and financial resilience suddenly compare favorably on a world scale, the author's anguish seems off key.

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