The Guardian wants to tell us all that those Latin American populist leaders, largely of the left, have done oh so well in reducing poverty and inequality in their countries. Which does pose the Thomas Sowell question – compared to what? The correct comparison being to everyone else over the same time period of course. What we want to know is what reduces extreme poverty best, not whether extreme poverty can be reduced. We know that second, we’ve no extreme poverty in any of the rich countries after all. The end goal is obviously possible, our task is to find the best path to it.
Is it left wing economic populism? Or perhaps it’s red in tooth and claw capitalist globalisation? Who knows?
Lopez, whose broad-brimmed hat carries the emblem of the ruling Movement for Socialism party, is not free of political bias. Yet the hard numbers bear him out. The percentage of people living in poverty in this landlocked South American state fell from 59.9% in 2006, when Morales first came to power, to 34.6% in 2017, with extreme poverty more than halving (from 38.28% to 15.2%) over the same period, according to government figures. The statistics for Bolivia tally with a startling trend associated with populist leaders, particularly in Latin America. Their time in government is correlated with significant declines in economic inequality, according to new research by political scientists. The academic group Team Populism discovered the correlation in an analysis of the Global Populism Database, which tracks populist discourse by world leaders. The association between populist leaders and a decline in economic inequality holds true for a slew of Latin American leaders, mostly on the left, who use populist rhetoric in their speeches. They include ex-leaders such as Peru’s Alan García, El Salvador’s Antonio Saca, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.
There’s a certain giggle there in including the performance of Maduro, no? The man who has reduced the entirety of Latin America’s richest economy to extreme poverty. But to Sowell, compared to what?
Ah, yes, the world, the entire globe, has managed more than that 50% reduction in extreme poverty over that same time period. Meaning that left wing populism seems to underperform at reducing extreme poverty.
Well done to the socialists there.