Thursday, 24 February 2011

An altruistic turnaround for Chile?

By Carlos Fortin

An opinion poll in Chile has shown that there is a large consensus for a bigger role of the State in the economy. This poll was carried out by the Latin American Public Opinion Project of Vanderbilt University, USA, and the Catholic University of Chile released in January 2011. 

However, various opinion polls have found that at a general level the individualistic approach has made inroads in the attitudes of the Chilean population. The results clearly demonstrate that the nation tends to value efficiency over equality and to affirm the possibility of upward social mobility.

Nevertheless, as demonstrated below, when presented with concrete questions about the role of the State in the economy the responses show a different picture.
  1. The State, rather than the private sector, should own the most important industries and enterprises in the country  - 67.3 per cent
  2. The State, rather than the individual, should be mainly responsible for ensuring the welfare of people - 88.7 per cent
  3. The State, rather than private enterprise, should be mainly responsible for job creation - 89.2 per cent
  4. The State must implement strong policies to reduce income inequality among rich and poor - 92.7 per cent
  5. The State, rather than private enterprise, should be mainly responsible for the pension system - 93.0 per cent.
A powerful role for the State with respect to the economy is a prospect far removed from the economic model inaugurated by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973 and which has hardly altered in its fundamentals by the democratic governments that began in 1990. This model proclaims the superiority of individual initiative and private enterprise over state intervention, and the essential inefficiency of government regulation and enterprise.

The reason for such opposing results may just be that old ideas die hard; but it might also be that the experience with eliminating the State from economic management has not been successful. In another, earlier opinion poll (Encuesta LatinobarĂ³metro 2010) found that only a minority of Chileans are happier with privatised services (27 per cent) or feel the privatisation of public enterprises have been beneficial for the country (34 per cent).

I think this phenomenon is comparable, though not identical, to the recent findings of the 2010 UK Public Opinion Monitor report which explains ‘the UK public think promoting human rights in poor countries is more important in deciding how and where UK aid is spent than benefits to the UK in terms of security, global influence and/or the economy.’

4 comments :

j.georgalakis said...

A really interesting post. It makes me wonder why attitudes to state provision of services seem so positive in Chile compared to some western european or US attitudes. Despite the UKPOM result mentioned I think if IDS surveyed UK public attitudes with the same set of questions we'd get quite different results. Many feel the UK government's Big Society is an attempt to role back the state from services.

Carlos Fortin said...

Thanks, James, for raising a very pertinent issue. As it happens, there is some data on this in the European Social Survey which is conducted every two years.

In the 2008/2009 Survey - http://www.epc.eu/documents/uploads/pub_1211_what_do_citizens_want.pdf - respondents were asked to indicate whether the individual or the government should be mainly responsible for aspects of welfare provision. They were asked to give scores on a scale of 1 (only the individual should be responsible) to 10 (only government should be responsible). The responses were then averaged.

The scores for the UK:
• jobs for all - 6
• unemployment benefits - 6
• childcare for working parents – 7
• paid leave to care for sick family – 7
• standard of living for old - 8.5
• health care - 8.5.

It seems therefore there is support in the UK for a role of government in the provision of welfare services despite the individualistic economic philosophy prevailing since the Thatcher years.

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