Reads of the Week: Latin America’s Progress, Its Unfortunate Limits, and the U.S.-Brazil Agenda

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An elderly Guatemalan woman rests before leaving Bolivia from Santa Cruz (David Mercado/Courtesy Reuters).

An elderly Guatemalan woman rests before leaving Bolivia from Santa Cruz (David Mercado/Courtesy Reuters).

For those of you that haven’t seen this yet — the Economist’s Americas editor Michael Reid provided a great overview of Latin America’s progress in recent years, as well as the challenges that lie ahead in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere two weeks ago.

The following are two, slightly less optimistic pieces – based on economics, and in particular income inequality. FOCAL recently released a policy brief authored by Guillermo Perry and Roberto Steiner on “Economic Growth and Inequality” in Latin America. Two graphs stand out here. The first, on page 3, reflects that while inequality is getting better in Latin America, the situation is still pretty abysmal, as the most equal countries in the region are still more unequal than most countries across the globe. The figure on page 5 suggests a possible explanation: Latin American countries have among the least progressive taxation systems in the world.

A World Bank study from 2008, “The Measurement of Inequality of Opportunity: Theory and an application to Latin America” gives a sense of just how much this matters in the lives of Latin Americans. Analyzing data from 6 countries in the region, it shows that up to half of differences in income are due to structural inequalities. Getting ahead in Latin America today, it seems, still depends on being born a specific race, in a particular place, and within a certain kind of family.

Lastly, CFR’s independent Task Force report “Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations” argues that the U.S. must take Brazil seriously as the newest pillar in a multipolar world.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.