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Economic Adjustment and Poverty: Lessons from the Latin American Experience

Luis Ratinoff

This document evaluates the results of the Latin American experience in applying economic adjustment policies. It points out some of the major limitations and examines unforeseen consequences in relation to poverty. In this regard, the need to renew the discussion on the validity of a social policy for the stages subsequent to economic adjustment is proposed.

The first portion of the paper refers to the purposes of economic liberalisation, evaluating its achievements and identifying some of its more significant limitations. It is stressed that economic reforms do not constitute a technocratically defined linear process; instead, they should be regarded as an economic and political adventure, which will be faced with obstacles and challenges along the way.

From this standpoint, there are three distinct stages in the reform process. Firstly, there is a recessive stage during which high economic costs must be paid. Secondly, a stage where recession hits bottom and there begin to be signs of stability and recovery. Thirdly, a post-adjustment stage wherein the economy is rebuilt and it begins to grow beyond the levels attained during recovery.

The political consequences of economic reform are studied in the second part of the document. From the point of view of change in power structures, there is a restructuring of civil society with a marked change in the relationship between formal and informal power held by one side, and individuals on the other side. Above all, these changes affect those sectors that are on the margins of economic and political participation.

The response to the aforementioned changes come both from above, in an attempt to improve the efficiency of the new social policies, and from below, with civil society taking on the new challenges posed by the situation. In this context, the topics of "modernisation of poverty", violence, social disorder and crime are discussed, together with the loss of an ethical perspective.

Emphasis is made on the fact that once the ethical strategies of solidarity are abandoned as collective survival techniques, the remaining vacuum is filled by the effective destruction of criminal conduct. It is felt that with a greater lack of economic and legal protection, the situation generates processes that question the legitimacy of order. Consequently, without effective social policies, it is impossible to achieve equity objectives and that in the medium and long term, equity contributes to an increase in capital yields.

In the final part of the document, the question of how to prevent that the painful sacrifices faced by the less privileged members of society be made in vain is approached from a historical perspective, in the context of a world which intends that the values of solidarity should become subordinated to those of efficiency. This statement is not made from the standpoint of compassion; rather it is intended to ensure the sustainability of the new economic growth model.

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