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Francis Fukuyama on the Americas

What are the biggest challenges confronting Latin America and the United States?

December 19, 2011

What are the biggest challenges confronting Latin America and the United States?

1. What is the biggest problem confronting Latin America?

“Latin America has the highest level of economic inequality of any region in the world, in which class hierarchies often correspond to racial and ethnic ones.”

2. What does the rise of populist leaders in the region symbolize?

“The rise of populist leaders like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia is less a cause of instability than a symptom of that inequality and the feeling of social exclusion felt by many who are nominally citizens.”

3. How does entrenched poverty wreak havoc on the region’s societies?

“Persistent poverty often breeds other kinds of social dysfunctions, like gangs, narcotrafficking and a general feeling of insecurity on the part of ordinary people.”

4. Where are these problems most pronounced?

“In Colombia, Mexico and El Salvador, organized criminality threatens the state itself and its basic institutions, and the failure to deal effectively with these problems has undermined the legitimacy of democracy.”

5. What are the most serious challenges facing the United States?

“Over the past generation, Americans have spent money on themselves without paying their own way through taxation, a situation that has been exacerbated by years of too-easy access to credit and overspending on both a household and governmental level.”

6. Is the United States as mobile a society as most Americans think?

“Rates of intergenerational social mobility are far lower in the United States than many Americans believe them to be, and lower than in many other developed countries that traditionally have been regarded as rigid and stratified.”

7. Why is the United States becoming increasingly unequal?

“Over time, elites are able to protect their positions by gaming the political system, moving their money offshore to avoid taxation and transmitting these advantages to their children through favored access to elite institutions.”

8. What made this painfully apparent?

“Much of this was laid bare during the financial crisis of 2008-2009, when it became painfully clear that there was little relationship between compensation in the financial services sector and real contributions to the economy.”

9. Does the U.S. financial industry still have too much power?

“The industry had used its considerable political muscle to dismantle regulation and oversight in the previous decade, and continued to fend off regulation in the crisis’s aftermath.”

10. And finally, what will it take for the United States to get back on track?

“The danger is that the United States’ situation will continue to worsen over time in the absence of some powerful force that will knock the system off its current dysfunctional institutional equilibrium.”

The quotes in this Read My Lips are drawn from Mr. Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution,” published in April 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.