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High Levels of Inequality Putting Latin America’s Future Generations at Risk

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Returning economic growth across Latin America could mask serious economic challenges for future generations, according to the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index (IDI). The index seeks to provide leaders with a more accurate picture of an economy’s health based on inequality, debt and environmental burdens placed on future generations as well as economic growth.

The 2018 assessment was undertaken following two decades of solid economic activity. During this time, expansion of access to education and government transfers contributed to reducing the level of income inequality in Latin America. While these developments and measures have helped to narrow the income gap between skilled and unskilled workers, Latin America remains among the most unequal regions in the world.

“Economic approaches need to emphasize the well-being of future generations and inclusion as key priorities for Latin American economies, and many countries lag behind their peers according to the Inclusive Development Index. As countries move out of recession, they should seize the window of opportunity for speeding up reforms to this end,” said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, Head of Future of Economic Progress, Member of the Executive Committee.

The index’s findings provide a fresh lens through which to examine the region’s economic challenges. While 2017 finished on a positive note with recessions ending in Brazil and Argentina, modest rises in economic activity and efficiency over the past five years and a projected growth rate of 1.7% in 2018 will be insufficient to alleviate the region’s sustainability concerns and support a robust rise in median living standards.

The World Economic Forum believes that building inclusive societies is essential for long-term economic growth. With elections in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico in 2018, governments are urged to prioritize proactive strategies to further reduce levels of inequality and ensure the well-being of future generations.

Key findings

According to the index, the most inclusive Latin American economies are Panama, Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica and Peru. Panama made great strides in reducing its carbon intensity of GDP, down 39.7% from five years ago. The country also has the second highest level of labour productivity in the region after Chile.

Adjusted net savings, which measures the true rate of savings in an economy after taking into account investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources and damage caused by pollution, has declined in one-half of the Latin American economies ranked in the index, with Bolivia, Brazil and El Salvador performing the worst on this indicator.

Moreover, public indebtedness as a share of GDP, which roughly illustrates the scale of borrowing by the current generation against the capacities of future ones, has increased in every country, notably in Brazil (+16%) and Mexico (+14.9%) over the last five years.

Although income inequality has declined in 14 out of the 16 Latin American countries ranked in this year’s IDI, the region accounts for 11 out of the 25 developing economies with the highest levels of income inequality.

Latin America’s largest economies

Ranking 23rd, Argentina’s overall score is supported by its performance on inclusion and intergenerational equity and sustainability. The indicators of economic growth and labour productivity are on the decline as the IDI data predate the current recovery. While Argentina’s income and wealth inequalities are relatively low compared with other Latin American countries, these disparities have been shrinking in recent years. The net income and wealth Gini indicators have dropped nearly 5% and 10%, respectively, over the last five years. Furthermore, the median household income in Argentina ranks in the top quintile of emerging economies in the sample. Although the employment rate is relatively low compared with the regional average, it has increased slightly despite the recent recession.

Mexico’s performance, ranking 24th among emerging economies, is driven by its higher score on intergenerational equity and sustainability. Through the lens of the IDI framework, this is in part due to a higher savings rate and low carbon intensity in national production. The country performs comparatively well across the board on growth and development factors, ranking 13th out of 74 emerging economies. It performs in the top quintile among Latin American countries in terms of labour productivity. In contrast, inclusion measures illustrate high levels of economic disparity, although they have shrunk over the last five years.

Brazil ranks 37th out of 74 emerging economies on this year’s IDI. Brazil’s overall score in the index is pulled up by its performance on intergenerational equity and sustainability. The country benefits from a highly favourable dependency ratio and relatively low carbon intensity. With the IDI data reflecting the period preceding the economic recovery, growth and development indicators, such as GDP per capita growth, labour productivity and employment rates, are trending negatively. Nonetheless, median household income levels appear to have improved throughout this period. Wealth concentration in Brazil is among the highest in both Latin America and emerging economies and has increased slowly over the past five years. With the Brazilian economy slowly recovering, growth and development factors in the IDI are expected to improve; trends may also be affected by the growth-enhancing reforms proposed by the government to address its fiscal constraints.

The Inclusive Development Index

The IDI is published by the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Economic Progress, which aims to enable sustained and inclusive economic progress. It seeks to achieve this through deepened public-private cooperation, thought leadership and analysis, strategic dialogue and concrete cooperation, including by accelerating social impact through corporate action. The Latin American countries ranked in this index are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay.

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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