Managing Globalization: To reduce poverty, money isn’t everything – International Herald Tribune
Two developing countries: Venezuela and Brazil. Two ideologies underpinning economic growth and development: command in Venezuela versus free market in Brazil. Which system has worked better for the people of these two large South American countries?
How much can governments do to fight poverty? In South America, a couple of answers are emerging in the growing economies of Venezuela and Brazil. Both governments have publicly pledged billions of dollars to raise living standards – but have they succeeded?
Overall income is moving upward in both countries, if for different reasons. Venezuela is riding the black tide of high-priced oil, while Brazil’s relatively firm economic policies have built confidence in its business prospects among both locals and foreigners.
The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has portrayed himself as an ardent socialist and a disciple of Fidel Castro. Reducing inequality is fundamental to his agenda, whether by dividing up Venezuela’s oil wealth or, as he has obliquely suggested this month, through land reform. His consolidation of executive power has brought Venezuela closer to a centrally planned economy and, as such, has given him the opportunity to invest heavily in social programs.
But identifying the results isn’t easy. The poverty rate in Venezuela was about 50 percent when Chávez’s presidency began in 1999, according to the government’s own figures. Since then, roughly equal numbers of people have fallen into and out of poverty at various times, with a spike to more than 60 percent in 2003 and a drop below 40 percent in 2005…
Rodríguez also questioned whether Chávez’s programs could be completely effective because of the way they were managed. Some of the world’s most successful initiatives for improving the well-being of the poor, he said, linked families’ benefit payments to useful actions like their children’s attendance in school or visits to the doctor. In Venezuela, he said, the link is to political loyalty instead.
“The level of political polarization has become so high that not only is loyalty to the regime the key determinant of your access to benefits, it is also the key determinant of your capacity to be involved in the administration of those benefits to others,” Rodríguez said.
One example of this problem was a program intended to improve literacy. “The government had no system of accountability to monitor performance other than the reports of its own administrators,” Rodríguez said. “When program administrators learned that it was more important to show loyalty to the regime than to effectively run the program, any incentives that they had to administer resources efficiently, from a social point of view, disappeared.”
In Venezuela, president Chavez’s socialist inspired, command policies, paid for by the sale of expensive oil to the rest of the world have led to benefits primarily for those citizens willing to show political loyalty to Chavez and his party. Hard work and productivity is not rewarded as much as loyalty and support for the government. This system of incentives leads to some poor outcomes. The result? Only mediocre improvements in poverty rates, literacy, employment and health of the people.
In Brazil, where free market principles underlie much of the economic development policies, monetary benefits for development workers and the families they serve are linked not to political affiliation but to actual behavior of households and government employees. The result, not surprisingly, has been real improvements in education, health, and poverty levels amongst Brazilians.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, progress appears to have been more widespread. Figures compiled last year by Rômulo Paes de Sousa of the Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger, covering the period from 1999 through 2004, painted a rosy picture: School attendance was up, while illiteracy was down. Life expectancy was up, but hospital visits were down. Employment was up, and child labor was down.
Again, however, it’s difficult to say with certainty where the credit should go… [perhaps] to the simple fact that Brazil’s monetary benefits for families are indeed linked to actions like attendance in school, prenatal care and childhood vaccinations?
The lesson here? In a command economy like Venezuela’s, in which the government decides how resources are to be allocated, it appears that real improvements in people’s lives are not as important as political loyalty. Because most people involved in economic development work for the government, they focus on making themselves appear more dedicated and loyal to president Chavez, in order to make sure they get paid more and promoted up the ladder.
In Brazil’s free market economy, on the other hand, rewards are based on performance, not political loyalty. Brazilians have enjoyed access to a wider variety of efficiently run development programs than Venezuelans, despite Hugo Chavez’s pledge to alleviate poverty. Correct incentives explain why the market system is more efficient and effective than a command system, and the examples of Venezuela and Brazil illustrate this observation quite nicely
- Why do command economies fail efficiently allocate resources to where they are needed the most?
- What does Brazil do that Venezuela does not that has led to real improvements in people’s lives?
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