The Economist: Up from the bottom of the pile
Something rather exciting is happening in Latin America.
MUCH of the news coming out of Latin America in recent years has been of radical populists proclaiming “revolution” or, as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez would have it, “21st century socialism”. In their widely propagated caricature, a tiny white elite in Latin America oppresses an indigenous majority whose poverty has been exacerbated by the free-market reforms imposed by the IMF and the United States.
So it might be hard to believe that in many countries in the region, and especially in Brazil and Mexico, Latin America's two giants, things are in fact going better today than they have done since the mid-1970s. The region is in its fourth successive year of economic growth averaging a steady 5%. In most places inflation is in low single digits. And for the first time in memory, growth has gone hand-in-hand with a current-account surplus, holding out hope that it will not be scotched by a habitual Latin American balance-of-payments crunch.
What is more, financial stability and faster growth are starting to transform social conditions with astonishing speed. The number of people living in poverty is falling, not only because of growth but also thanks to the social policies of reforming democratic governments. The incomes of the poor are rising faster than those of the rich in Brazil (where income inequality is at its least extreme for a generation) and in Mexico.
In both these countries a new lower-middle class is emerging from poverty (see article). Low inflation, achieved through more disciplined public finances and trade liberalisation, has brought falling interest rates. Credit has at last returned. So these new consumers are buying cars and DVD players or taking out mortgages. No wonder Latin Americans are in an optimistic mood: earlier this year a poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found a greater increase in personal satisfaction in Brazil and Mexico over the past five years than in any of the other 45 countries it surveyed. ...
See related story: Latin America's middle class: Adiós to poverty, hola to consumption