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Volume 61 / Social Sciences


PETER M. SIAVELIS, Associate Professor of Political Science, Wake Forest University

MUCH SCHOLARLY ATTENTION is devoted to Chile's political economy, and certainly more than one would expect given the relative size of the the country's economy. This attention stems from Chile's macroeconomic success when compared to other Latin American countries and the controversial nature of its neoliberal experiment, which presaged the widespread adoption of market reforms across the region.

Despite a constant stream of political economy literature beginning in the early 1980s, when the results of Chile's economic "experiment" were first felt, a notable shift occurred in the late 1990s and continues in recent literature. Early efforts to evaluate economic transformation and its political implications were, with few exceptions, extraordinarily ideological. Rather than impartially evaluating the economic performance of the country, early works were often implicit assessments of the entire Pinochet dictatorship. Economic indicators were presented in a selective way to either laud or condemn Pinochet's economic policies, and by extension, the very validity of the dictatorship's project of economic, social and political transformation. Usually, free-market supporters pointed to Chile's spectacular growth and other positive macroeconomic indicators as evidence of success, while critics contended that these statistics obscured the negative consequences of the neoliberal model for the day-to-day lives of average Chileans. Similarly, for proponents of the neoliberal model, a certain triumphalism emerged as policymakers were invited by governments, universities and think tanks around the world to share Chilean insights on how health care, pensions and education could be privatized to more efficiently solve public problems. Alternatively, critics of the market model contended that its advocates missed the point and completely ignored the model's demonstrated weaknesses, its bifurcation of Chile into a country of haves and have-nots, and indeed, the profound human costs of the repression that undergirded Pinochet's economic policies.

These trends are less visible in the contemporary political-economy literature reviewed here. First, the literature has moved well beyond ideological tracts with more balanced and better researched accounts of the political implications of Chile's economic structure and performance. Ffrench-Davis' volumes stand out in this respect (items #bi2002003443# and #bi2004000811#), though most of the work annotated here also has left behind simplistic and ideologically driven analysis.

Second, the literature goes deeper and wider in its focus and scope, moving away from a primary concern with macroeconomic performance. In terms of depth, even the pro-market right has more critically analyzed the details and the application of the neoliberal model, rather than simply relying on macroeconomic variables, as Larroulet's work clearly demonstrates (item #bi2002003441#). The literature asks more profound questions about the relationship between economic reform and national identity (item #bi2003006323#) and how economic policies are related to ethics and religion (item #bi2002003444#). The scope of the literature has also widened to include analyses of the many facets of the whole neoliberal package. Taylor (item #bi2004000818#), Muñoz Gomá (item #bi2002003576#), and Ffrench-Davis and Stallings (item #bi2002003440#) evaluate the complete range of social policies that were transformed during the Pinochet dictatorship, while the new literature also includes case studies of individual social policies in the areas of health, social security and education (items #bi2004000806#, #bi2004000807#, item #bi2004000808#, and op.cit, selected chapters). Barrett's analyses of the neoliberal model's consequences for state-labor and state-capital relations are additional examples of increased breadth (items #bi2004000810# and #bi2004000805#), as is Del Valle's examination of the position and role of NGOs (item #bi2003006320#).

Third, newer literature asks more sophisticated questions about the neoliberal model, and teases out some counterintuitive results. Kurz finds that the state actually played a significant role in the development and promotion of Chile's much-heralded model of free-market, export-led development (item #bi2004000813#). Similarly, Barrett finds unexpectedly that relations between center-left governments and the country's economic elite have been surprisingly smooth, suggesting the emergence of a new socioeconomic consensus, the possibility of which most have discounted because of the profound divisions created by the dictatorship (item #bi2004000805#).

Finally, the question of Chile as a model country for economic development and political transition is being more squarely addressed in less ideological terms and with much more satisfying results. Drake and Jaksic's edited volume includes analyses of Chile's status as a model country from the perspective of many disciplines and ideological perspectives (item #bi2002003442#). What is more, it is one of the best examples of the new and solidifying trends in the Chilean political economy literature outlined here.

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