Populism and Austerity: A Comparison of Left and Right-Wing Economic Policy in Latin America from 1995-2020




Halter, Colton

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The pink tide in Latin America was a wave of left-of-center governments that took power in the late 90s to the early 2000s as a reaction to the neoliberal world order that had been established since the end of the Cold War. An important question for these governments is how their economic policies, that range from quite orthodox to forms of “economic populism” compare with that of their right-wing counterparts. They are often dismissed as irresponsible spenders and that austerity is necessary to recover from their policies. To discover the truth behind these ideas two governments, a leftist and a rightist one during the same timeframe were chosen from each of four countries, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador. These governments were: Argentina - Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), Brazil - Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), Lula da Silva (2003-2011), Chile- Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010, 2014-2018), Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014, 2018-), El Salvador - Antonio Saca (2004-2009), Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) and, Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014-2019). For each government, four economic indicators were chosen to give a broad idea of the health of the economy, growth in GDP per capita, unemployment, inequality (Gini coefficient), and inflation. These four indicators were compared between the left and right governments in their respective countries and an analysis was made on their performance. The data seemed to show that, in these cases, left-wing governments tend to perform at least as good, and often better than their right-wing counterparts. This seems to show that many conceptions around the left in Latin America are not justified. These relatively successful governments may serve as a model for many of the new left movements that are returning to power after the Conservative Wave of the 2010s.



Latin America, economics, populism, austerity, Honors College


Halter, C. J. (2021). Populism and austerity: A comparison of left and right-wing economic policy in Latin America from 1995-2020 (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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