30 November 2006

Chile and Argentina

This is my reaction to a post by miss cupcake in her blog, about Chile's cleanliness (in every sense) compared to Argentina. Two caveats apply for the rest of this post: one, I've never been to Chile; and two, this is not intended as criticism but as a complement to what miss cupcake said.

Chile is indeed more orderly, more efficient, less corrupt, and more modern (in some important specific aspects) than Argentina, or most of Latin America for that matter. When Roberto Lavagna, the former Argentine Minister of Economy, saw the return of foreign financial investment to Argentina as an unstabilizing force (due to short-term speculative operations that unbalanced the markets), he looked to Chile for well-tested regulations to deal with that. Chile is also an example of governability and of stable state policies.

Chile is also one of the countries with the most pronounced income inequality on Earth. People who've been there also tell me that social/class inequality is also marked. The same is true in Argentina, of course, but the Chilean disadvantaged classes have never been very organized or combative. Chile was a dictatorship between 1973 and 1990; I guess that the revolutionaries and radicals were either killed or forced to exile, so the Chileans lost their popular leaders and ideologues that could've fought for change. This is also true of Argentina, but then our dictatorship was a series of committees made up of inefficient murderers, it lasted only 6 years, and the dictators ended up discredited and in jail soon enough. In Chile, it was only Pinochet, and he remained in charge of the Army after permitting a democratic government to be elected.

The lower classes in Chile don't seem accustomed to fight for their rights. If you think you saw that in the news, it was students asking for free entrance exams to university; they are part of the minority of the Chilean population who have access to quality education. More education means higher income everywhere, but this is especially true of Chile; and in Chile, you pay to get into school, and you pay to stay there. If you're poor, you can't go to school. This is a direct consequence of the "modernization" policies started by Pinochet, presented as the "Miracle of Chile" (Milton Friedman dixit), and continued up to this day.

Argentina, for all its faults, recognized as early as 1884 that a united country requires free education. The upheavals of economic and political history have never changed that, even as some governments (often, and not coincidentally, the military ones) have tried to make education a privilege for the rich. Despite the lack of funding, the teachers' strikes and the multiple half-thought education programmes sponsored by different rulers, and despite the "modernization" carried out by Carlos Menem, Argentine professionals continue to excel in their fields.

This all goes to say that I prefer to live in Argentina... I've been through rough times and I know for sure I wouldn't be even a struggling middle-class citizen by now if I'd had to pay for my education.

This also goes to say that Chile and Argentina can learn from each other. There's no necessary causal link between free education and corruption, or between clean streets and a military dictatorship in power.


  1. Absolutley fair and probably what I had taken for granted in my post - that learning from others mean trying to learn what works while having the benefit of seeing from afar what doesn't.

    I received a tertiary education that was free while I was at university and I am a supporter of publicly available education as a way of evening out ingrained social inequality. However, one thing I would say about education in Argentina which may not go down well but I'd say it anyway...through my husband's dealings with senior university administrators and professors in BA, we both realise "free education" in this country is not necessarily benefiting the society is it was meant to (a host of reasons which deserve a post that would no doubt be a contentious one), an example here:

    The quality of teaching at the non-fee paying universities is declining drastically each year, the teaching staff are earning peanuts therefore have to hold down 2-3 other jobs to make ends meet hence little time to actually think about the quality of their teaching let alone caring about their students. (on the other hand, this in no way means that the private universities, except maybe a couple, are any good or different either).

    The students take a lot longer than those in other countries to complete their degree if at all, because they have to work to support themselves. On the whole, this lowers macro productivity a notch because these students are tolling away at low-skill and low-paying jobs which could have been filled by others who have little skills and no chance of going to university even if it is free when the brighter ones should have graduated from universities as quickly as possible and contribute to society with higher capacity.

    My personal experience is that I was able to attend university free of charge. Part of the cost of my education was then tranferred back to me, via my tax contribution, after I found a job as a graduate. If I don't work I don't pay and if my job is too low-paying (a threshold)I don't pay - I paid and I was happy to pay and thought it fair. Of course, this requires an efficient and effective tax system where people are not likely to cheat - and that would be another post.

    All in all, I'd prefer to live in a better Argentina than moving to other countries but unless more people realise each of us have some resposibility to make this a better place we would be stuck at square one.

  2. one oversight that is quite common when talking about the income-gap in chile...

    the gap is, indeed, one of the highest in the latin america but you have to also take into account that as chile has become richer, everyone in the country has become a little richer. that means that chile's poor are not as poor as argentina's poor. the wealth of the whole social spectrum has increased. not to mention that as chile's middle class grows (which means lower classes climbing the economic ladder), argentina's keeps shrinking and the poor just get poorer.

    as for social conscience/disorder, chileans have never been particularly active and have always been more inclined to respect the law even before the dictatorship whereas argentina has traditionally been seen as a country in which to 'hacerse la america' and then return to europe, chile has always been seen as a country in which to settle for good. for better or for worse, this has created a country that works, an honest, unbribable and trustworthy policeforce, generally honest politicians and a strong economy.

    Pinochet did indeed rule for quite some time and he certainly wasn't kicked out by social unrest...however, he put himself up for democratic elections and at the first opportunity the electorate voted him out. it was his arrogance and belief that he was actually loved by the people that got rid of him.

    on the other hand, there is still a strong respect for what pinochet did for the country among the upper-classes. it was him, after all, that introduced the market reforms that have now made chile so successful. the irony is that no one wanted to do business with chile whilst he was in power; it was only when he left that the reforms he implemented started to really benefit the country. even my girlfriend's cousin, a human-rights lawyer employed by the socialist government, grudgingly accepts that, in PURELY economic terms, pinochet did actually benefit the country.

    pinochet was certainly no benevolent ruler and the 5-6000 disappeared is testimony to his murderous rule. many of my girlfriend's family are scattered around the world having fled the country in fear of their lives but at least he set out to improve certain aspects of the country (the economy). the argentine dictatorship was simply an orgy of incompetence, only good at killing.

    as you mentioned, chile does have a very long way to go with education. it's no good having a growing and successful economy if the people who are going to inherit it are poorly educated. the government desperately needs to make university education more accessible to the poor. this was one of pinochet's most ridiculous moves-he created today's economy but he systematically destroyed the education system by cutting funding and salaries. i can only guess that he saw schools as a socialist feeding ground and wanted to keep the poor uneducated. whatever it was, it was a breathtakingly stupid move and one that is mmost likely going to challenge chile's 'economic miracle' in the years to come.

    chile is also very classist and the divides are very marked. as a foreigner i just ignore them and my girlfriend doesn't care for them either but some members of her family do. we try to stay away from them...

    both argentina and chile have their good and bad points (like any country). my personal desire is to mix argentina's sense of fun, excitement and daring with chile's law abiding-ness and lack of corruption-you'd end up with a world beating country. or uruguay.

  3. Anonymous21:50

    Miss Cupcake:

    Your description of the Argentinean educational system pretty much mirrors my impression of what goes on at Chile's universities. Professors have to teach at 2-3 schools to make ends-meat. Maximum monthly wage is USD$1,600 while it's normally closer to USD$800-$1000. Keep in mind Chile has a much higher cost of living, so it's a pittance what these people make for 50-60 hour weeks, commuting all over sprawling Santiago with one of the world's worst transportation systems, etc.

    But the difference with Chile is that students PAY for public universities. On top of that I think Argentina has a much more developed academia. Archives for History students are available in Buenos Aires, not Santiago. And an anthropology student at U. de Chile tells me that student writing and research that comes out of Argentina is much more advanced than what her school is producing. U de Chile is the best public univerisity, and second best over all in Chile.


    >>>the income-gap in chile

    Not only the worst in LatinAmerica, but among the worst in the world. Please stop repeating this garbage about Chile reducing poverty: you are playing into the hands of Chile's Orwellian right-wing media which still has a stranglehold on the country.

    Before repeating nonsense like "poverty is down in Chile," take a look at what Chile's poverty line is. US$100/month and you're not poor! Gimme a break! Again, we're talking Santiago cost of living where paying rent under US$130/month and you're living in absolute squalor, as do the Peruvian immigrants. And many Chilean families of 4, 5 or more making US$250 a month. That's not poor? Nope, not according to Chile's governmental standards and the newspaper duopoly which parrots those numbers.

    While the government and dominant press say that only 13.7% of Chileans live in poverty, a Chilean economist estimates that 80% are struggling under extreme financial precariousness. Read more about poverty in Chile.

    >>>it was his arrogance and belief that he was actually loved by the people that got rid of him.

    No, it was the US government that by then was tired of him (sick of him since the 1976 Orlando Letelier assassination in Washington DC, actually) and advisers who saw changing times, it wouldn't make sense to keep him in. Pinochet himself called for the military to take back the streets after the "NO" vote, but he was dissuaded. The US was involved in Pinochet stepping down from power.

    >>>it was him, after all, that introduced the market reforms that have now made chile so successful.

    My understanding is that Pinochet hindered economic reform and largely ignored Milton Friedman's advice. Didn't do it right. I'm not defending Milton Friedman, but it was only till the mid-late 80's that some changes took place. Hardly justifies 10-15 years of Pinochet's economic catastrophe ON TOP OF human rights abuses, psychological repression, etc.

    >>>pinochet was certainly no benevolent ruler and the 5-6000 disappeared

    Why do I even bother - you can't even get your facts straight it's much closer to 3,000 killed/disappeared.

    I do agree with you about Pinochet's effect on education and classism in Chile.


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