The Economist: Latin America - So near and yet so far
... As Latin America marks the bicentenary of the start of its struggle for political independence, many of its constituent countries have more recent cause for celebration too. The five years to 2008 were Latin America’s best since the 1960s, with economic growth averaging 5.5% a year and inflation generally in single digits. Even more impressively, a region which had become a byword for financial instability mostly sailed through the recent recession. After a brief downturn in late 2008 and early 2009, a strong recovery is now under way, with most forecasts suggesting economic growth of over 5% this year for the region as a whole.
Along with growth came a better life. Between 2002 and 2008 some 40m Latin Americans, out of a total population of 580m, were lifted out of poverty, and income distribution became a bit less unequal almost everywhere. Poverty increased in 2009 because of the recession, but will start declining again this year. Average unemployment went up slightly to 8.2%, but should come down again this year to 7.8%, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Latin America weathered the recession partly thanks to good fortune but also to sound policies. After the cataclysmic debt crisis of 1982 the region’s policymakers abandoned the protectionism and fiscal profligacy that had brought hyperinflation and bankruptcy. In their place they adopted the market reforms of the Washington Consensus (opening up their economies to trade and foreign investment, privatisation and deregulation).
But they found the road to stability and faster growth a long and bumpy one. During a second bout of instability, from 1998 to 2002, the region introduced more pragmatic policies. ...
... Some Latin American countries may at last have found a path towards economic development. But getting there may be no quicker or easier than achieving independence. Latin America has often flattered to deceive (see article). Today there are at least three big worries. First, since 1960 it has seen the lowest growth in productivity of any region in the world, not least because around half of all economic activity takes place in the informal sector. Second, despite some recent improvement, its income distribution is still the most unequal anywhere. This has acted as a drag on growth and caused political conflict. Third, it suffers from widespread crime and violence, much of it perpetrated by organised drug gangs. The murder rate is hideously high in some countries.
A problem for any report such as this one is that Latin America is so diverse as to defy most generalisations. ...