Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Do Left Or Right Governments In Latin America Achieve Better Results For Their Citizens?


To discover if ‘left’ or ‘right’ governments achieve better results for their citizens, this article will analyse a range of data on two left-leaning governments, Venezuela and Brazil,  and two right-leaning governments, Colombia and Mexico, focussing on the timeframe from 2002 to 2010. The analysis of these governments will centre on their performance in a number of social and economic indices and will include data on gross domestic product (GDP), unemployment and inflation as well as Human Development Index (HDI) values, life expectancy, child mortality, health and education spending as well as homicide rates. 


Much has been written by scholars of the recent ‘pink tide’ (Robinson 2009, pp.4-8) that has swept through the Latin American region. However, some states have stuck to the path of staunch neo-liberal market based policies, and while states such as Venezuela and Brazil have favoured social programmes over market based policies, states such as Colombia and Mexico have kept on track with the so-called Washington consensus.  The beginning of the pink tide was signalled by the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 (Beasley-Murray, Cameron and Hershberg 2010, p.2). Chavez used a ‘Manichaean discourse’ to characterise himself as the voice of el pueblo, as the good against the evils of capitalism and imperialism (Hawkins 2009, pp.4-5). He made grandiose promises to electorate that he would use the country’s vast oil wealth to benefit all of society and not just the few. 

By looking at economic indices we can see that from 2002 to 2010, GDP annual percentage growth rates in Venezuela had negative growth of -8.85% in 2002. However by 2004, growth had shot up to a massive 18.28%. This dropped steadily from still excellent growth rates of 10.31% in 2005 to 5.27% in 2008 before dipping into negative growth of -3.2% in 2009 and -1.48% in 2010 (The World Bank  2013a). Venezuela also experienced a halving in the percentage of unemployed (as a percentage of total labour force) from 16.2% in 2002 to 7.59% in 2009 (The World Bank, 2013b). In the area of inflation (consumer prices) initially dropped from 31.25% in 2002 to 15.8% in 2006, however since then rose to 30.39% in 2008, decreasing slightly to a still huge 28.18% in 2010 (The World Bank  2013cc) and (Index Mundi  2013). 

In looking at social indices, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) human development index (HDI) reports show that Venezuela’s HDI value rose from 0.656 in 2000 to 0.692 in 2005, and 0.734 in 2010 (United Nations Development Programme  2013aa). Life expectancy at birth has also grown from 72.4 years in 2000 to 73.2 years in 2005 and 74.2 in 2010 (Ibid). Child mortality rates (probability of death between birth and age one per one thousand births) showed a steady decline from 19 in 2000 to 15.9 in 2005 and 13.4 in 2010 (United Nations  2013aa).  Education expenditure as a percentage of GNI declined from 3.87% in 2002 to 3.39% in 2007, before it rose to 3.55% and remained at that level up to 2010 (The World Bank  2013d). In crime, the homicide rate (per 100,000 citizens) in Venezuela went from 38.1 in 2002 to a high of 52 in 2008 (United Nations  2013b). Finally, per capita total expenditure on health at average exchange rate (US$) went from $207.29 in 2002 to a high of $687.87 in 2009, dropping slightly to $663.38 in 2010 (The World Bank  2013ee).

Luis Inácio Lula da Silva won Brazil’s presidential election in October 2002 with 61.3% of the vote, with his Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) becoming the largest party in Brazil’s parliament (Samuels 2004, pp.999). Both his campaign and his election sparked panic in the markets, with fears over Lula’s past support for debt repudiation at the core of the problem (Williamson 2003, pp.105-106). Lula proclaimed “Brazil, a country for everybody” (Wiarda 2007, p.127) and promised a new politics for Brazil. 

Economically, the GDP annual percentage growth rate stood at 2.65% in 2002. This grew impressively to 5.71% in 2004. This growth slowed before jumping again to 6.19% in 2007 before decreasing heavily in 2009 to negative growth of -0.32% and rising again to 7.53% in 2010 (The World Bank  2013aa). During this same period, Brazil’s unemployment rate went from 9.1% in 2002 to 9.3% in 2005 before showing steady decline to its lowest rate under Lula of 7.09% in 2008. The rate climbed again to 8.3% in 2009 (The World Bank  2013bb). In the area of inflation Lula’s government saw an initial huge jump from 8.45% in 2002 to 14.71% in 2003 before declining steadily to 3.63% in 2007 then rising again in 2008 to 5.66%. The rate dropped slightly to just above 5% again in 2010 (The World Bank  2013cc). 

Socially, HDI indices show that Brazil’s value grew from 0.665 in 2000 to 0.692 in 2005 and 0.715 in 2010 (United Nations Development Programme  2013bb). Their life expectancy at birth also showed improvement growing from 70.1 years in 2000 to 71.6 in 2005, and a further rise to 73.1 in 2010 (Ibid). The child mortality rates dropped from 27.7 in 2000 to 22 in 2005. This showed a further huge drop to 15 by 2010 (United Nations  2013aa). Education expenditure as a percentage of GNI rose year on year from 3.70% in 2002 to 5.16% in 2010 (The World Bank, 2013d). Brazil’s homicide rate per 100,000 people remained fairly steady at 22.5% in 2004, rising to a high of 22.8% in 2008 before dropping to a low of 21% in 2010 (United Nations  2013b). Finally, per capita total expenditure on health displayed a year on year growth rate from $203.25 in 2002 to $990.39 in 2010 (The World Bank, 2013e).

Alvaro Uribe was elected president of Colombia in 2002 as a hardline, authoritarian politician whose base was the middle and upper classes. He promised to restore order in Colombia by dealing with the leftist guerrilla movements in an uncompromising manner (Dugas 2003, p.1117). He is best described as a liberal conservative and followed a largely neo-liberal economic policy during his time is office. With politics in Colombia dominated by individuals of the middle and upper income groups (Kline, H.F. & Gray, V.J 2007, p.201), Uribe’s government focused on neoliberal economic policies during its terms in office.

Economically, Colombia’s GDP annual growth rate grew impressively year on year from negative growth of 0.86% in 2002 to a high of 5.32% in 2007. This however dropped to 0.2% in 2009 before growing to 2.56% in 2010 (The World Bank  2013a). Total unemployment rates were also positive showing a decline from 14.6% in 2002 to 10.5% in 2006. It then rose to 13.19% in 2008 before dropping again to 11.6% in 2010 (The World Bank, 2013b). Inflation, after an initial rise from 6.35% in 2002 to 7.1% in 2003, declined to 6.99% in 2008. It then fell to a low of 2.27% in 2010 at the end of Uribe’s second term (The World Bank, 2013c). 

Social indices show that their HDI value rose  modestly from 0.652 in 2000 to 0.675 in 2005, and this again grew to 0.707 in 2010 (United Nations Development Programme  2013c). Life expectancy grew from 71.0 in 2000 to 72.3 in 2005 and 73.5 in 2010 (Ibid). The child mortality rates showed a year on year decrease from 20 per 1000 births in 2002 to 15.4 in 2010 (United Nations, 2013a). Colombian education expenditure grew from 3.51% in 2002 to 4.1% in 2005, before decreasing to 3.54% in 2008. This grew slightly again to 3.95 in 2010 (The World Bank  2013d). Their homicide rate showed year on year decline from a very high rate of 70.2 in 2002 to 33.4 in 2010 (United Nations, 2013b). Finally, per-capita health expenditure also showed impressive year on year growth from $149.8 in 2002 to $472.15 in 2010 (The World Bank  2013e).

When Vicente Fox was elected President of Mexico in 2000, it was a result that many had once deemed impossible. However, the National Action Party (PAN) had made important gains at local and state level over the previous twenty years (Shirk 2000, p.25). His victory started twelve years of PAN rule with a further victory in the 2006 election going to Felipe Calderón, largely due to positive economic performance in the final three years of Fox’s presidency (Moreno 2007, p.16). Both presidents espoused a right wing agenda.

The economic indices for Mexico show that the GDP annual percentage growth rate stood at 0.82% in 2002 and grew to 5.15% in 2006. The unemployment rate during the same time was comparatively low at 2.9% in 2002, rising to a high of 5.3% in 2010 (The World Bank, 2013b). Mexico’s inflation rate fell slightly from 5.03% in 2002 to 3.62% in 2006 before growing each year to 5.29% in 2009. From here it fell to 4.15% in 2010 (The World Bank, 2013c). 

Mexico’s social indices showed that their HDI value grew from 0.718 in 2000 to 0.741 in 2005 and 0.767 in 2010 (United Nations Development Programme  2013d). Their life expectancy at birth grew from 74.3 in 2000 to 75.6 in 2005 and 76.7 in 2010 (Ibid). Child mortality rates showed year on year decreases from 21.6 per 1000 births in 2002 to 13.4 in 2010 (United Nations  2013a). Education expenditure declined from 5.25% in 2002 to a low of 4.70% in 2007, before rising slightly to 4.79% in 2010 (The World Bank, 2013d). The homicide rate in Mexico flip/flopped between approximate rates of 8 and 9 between 2002 and 2007 before rising sharply to 12.7 in 2008, 17.7 in 2009 and 22.7 in 2010 (United Nations  2013b). Finally, per-capita health expenditure in Mexico during the Fox and Calderon presidencies grew year on year from $391.47 in 2002 to $598.37 in 2008, before dropping slightly to $524.65 in 2009 and then rising again to $603.67 in 2010 (The World Bank  2013e).

The economic and social indices from each country provide an interesting comparative analysis framework. Economically, GDP annual growth rates were most impressive in Venezuela were there was a jump from 0.85% in 2002 to a massive 18.28% in 2004. This rate however dropped to negative -0.32% in 2009. Brazil also showed good growth rates, achieving a high of 7.35% in 2010 which was higher than Colombia’s high of 5.32% in 2007 and Mexico’s high of 5.53% in 2010. Venezuela also scored impressively in cutting unemployment from 16.2% in 2002 to 7.59% in 2009. Brazil also cut unemployment from 9.1% in 2002 to 8.3% in 2009 while Columbia’s rate also fell from 14.6% in 2002 to a low of 10.5% in 2006, before rising again to finish at 11.6% in 2010. Mexico was the only country to actually grow unemployment during the timeframe. For inflation, Colombia and Mexico both score well. Colombia’s rate fell from a high of 7.1% in 2003 to 2.27% in 2010, while Mexico’s fell from 5.3% in 2003 to 3.6% in 2006, before growing back to 5.295 in 2009 and dropping again in 2010 to 4.15%. Taking all of these figures into account, it could be argued that the left-wing governments of Venezuela and Brazil have performed better in the areas of GDP growth and reducing unemployment, whilst the right-wing governments of Colombia and Mexico have succeeded much better at containing inflation rates than their left-wing neighbours. 

Social indices show that according to the UNDP human development index, Venezuela’s citizens have experienced the bigger improvement in their life development standards, with a growth of 0.078 on the HDI scale, compared with 0.055 for Colombia, 0.050 for Brazil and 0.049 for Mexico. In terms of growth in life expectancy growth rates, Brazil scored best with a 3 year increase from 70.1 to 73.1, followed next by Colombia at 2.5 from 71 years to 73.5 and Mexico at 2.4 going from 74.3 years to 76.7. Venezuela showed the lowest growth at 1.8 years going from 72.4 years to 74.2. Each country showed good reductions in child mortality rates with Brazil most impressive with a drop of 12.7 per 1000 births, compared with a drop of 8.2 for Mexico, 5.6 for Venezuela and 4.6 for Colombia. These figures seem somewhat inconclusive as to who does better on the left/right divide, however if both left and both right are added we can hypostasise that for HDI, left-wing governments did better while for life expectancy the right-wing governments performed better. By using the same method it could be argued that left-wing governments also performed better at reducing child mortality rates. 

For education expenditure as a percentage of GNI, Brazil was the country to increase its rate most over the timeframe with a 1.46% increase. Colombia increased by 0.44% over its term. Mexico cut its percentage most by 0.46% with Venezuela cutting spending by 0.32%.  The issue of crime is huge across the political spectrum in Latin America and the homicide rates of each of the countries analysed illustrates this. In this regard Uribe’s government succeeded best in cutting a huge rate of 70.2 per 100,000 citizens to 33.4, a drop of 36.8. Brazil was the only other country to cut its rate, with a 1.5 drop. Both Venezuela and Mexico grew by 13.9 and 14.7 respectively. In the area of health per capita total expenditure, it was Brazil with the biggest growth rate with a per capita increase of $787.14, followed by Venezuela at $456.09 and Colombia and Mexico at $322.35 and $212.20 respectively, although Mexico’s base rate remained higher than Colombia after the increase. These figures are again somewhat inconclusive for the left/right divide although if we apply the same adding method as before, left-wing governments perform better on education expenditure. For per capita health expenditure, left-wing governments far outperform their right-wing counterparts. Finally, the area of crime is hard to judge with varying results on the left/right divide, although Colombia has achieved excellent results in reducing their rate so drastically.

In conclusion, the analysis of economic and social indices for Venezuela, Brazil, Columbia and Mexico between 2002 (2000 for HDI statistics) and 2010 have provided some interesting results. Economic indices show that left-wing governments have performed better in the areas of GDP annual growth and lowering unemployment rates, but fail to keep inflation in check, which right-wing governments perform much better at. Social indices show somewhat inconclusive left/right divide results, however  by adding both left governments and both right governments’ results in can be argued that left-wing governments perform better at improving human development and reducing child mortality rates while right-wing governments improve life expectancy more. By using the same adding method, social indices also show that left governments perform better on health and education spending for their citizens. Finally, in the area of crime and in particular homicide, a conclusive answer was difficult to ascertain although Colombia did do extremely well at reducing its huge rate by over half. What the overall analysis suggests is that the left governments of Venezuela and Brazil provided better results for their citizens during the selected timeframe. However, in order to find a definitive answer to the question, a much more wide ranging study would be required.  



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