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Inequality in Latin America is fuelling a new wave of populism

By The Economist

06 Aug 2022 · 6 min read

You should read this story to learn how lack of competition, income inequality, false promises by incumbent politicians are pushing Latin America in the throes of populist leaders.

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On August 7th Gustavo Petro will be inaugurated as Colombia’s president, the first left-wing politician to hold that office. Together with his vice-president, Francia Márquez, a human-rights activist and environmental lawyer, Mr Petro campaigned on promises to redistribute wealth from Colombia’s richest to its poorest, to expand public education and to scrap all new oil exploration in the country. “We will cease to be one of the most unequal societies in the world,” his programme declared. The radical message worked: in June’s election he was backed by 11m people, or 50.4% of voters.

It is not surprising that many Colombians are fed up. The country’s Gini coefficient, which measures how income is distributed in a country—zero implies that it is shared equally and 100 implies that one person scoops up all the nation’s income—is, at 54, higher than almost anywhere else in the world. At current levels of social mobility, it would take a whopping 11 generations for a child born to a typical poor Colombian family to reach the country’s average income, according to the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. That is more than double the average in the OECD (see chart 1).

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