One remarkable trait of the current economic crisis is the perplexity of the social sciences, which are supposed to shed light on its causes, effects, and solutions. In fact, the whole episode has been, notably for economists, a long binge of humble pie. We simply know little about the way the crisis is likely to unfold. This is particularly true about the political implications of the downturn at the global, regional and national levels. So far, the political repercussions of the crisis have received scant attention when compared to its economic consequences.
In Latin America, where the slightly twisted pride of not being the culprit of the collapse led to a prolonged denial of its magnitude, the political implications have hardly been discussed at all. This is surprising, given the fact that the downturn happens to coincide with a region-wide election cycle in 2009-2010. Not just that. A region with historically fragile democratic practices ought to care about the potentially deadly consequences of sharp economic downturns for democratic regimes, consequences that are well established empirically. Inter-war Europe comes to mind. Hence, engaging in some reflection about the political aspects of the current conjuncture in Latin America seems appropriate. Four issues merit attention to begin the discussion.
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By Kevin Casas-Zamora
The Brookings Institution
June 25, 2009