The stock market scare this week showed that the relationship between poverty and power isn’t only about workers and owners, it’s also about consumers and lenders. The quality of a government depends on how ready it is to intervene on the side of the less well-off segments of society.
And the week’s news illustrated this very well: an article in The Economist reveals that Chile, “a country that pioneered reform” at a time when most of Latin America was still ruled by caudillos, is well on its way to eliminating poverty. This conservative publication reports matter-of-factly that a program called Chile Solidario has played a major role by ensuring that the poor take up various social benefits and keep their children in school, by offering training and a grant to set up a small business. The poverty rate in Chile is about 15% compared to the overall rate for Latin american of close to 40%.
So it isn’t a surprise to learn that the government of Peru, while making an international appeal for help after the devastating earthquake, according to the BBC, agrees with the US government the US help is not necessary (according to CNN). One can surmise various reasons for this: US aid may be tied to purchases of US goods; help from the US may give the impression that the government is beholden to it, as so many have been in the past.
Rounding out the news from Latin America, Hugo Chavez announced a proposal to increase the presidential term from six to seven years and to allow the president to serve an unlimited number of terms. The right-wing press of course sees this as creeping dictatorship, but wait! The parliament having previously rejected a presidential proposal for a seven year term, cutting it back to six, this proposal will be put to a referendum. The proposal also calls for lowering the work day from eight to six hours.
Would that our “democratically elected” governments did the same! It’s long been apparent to many economists that the eight hour workday no longer makes any sense, with machines that practically run themselves and a constant struggle to maintain employment. Together with a questionable need for ever more growth, is the need to utilize less energy and reduce waste by producing fewer unnecessary things, moving to a true leisure society, where the accent is on culture rather than consumption.