The Left's Resurgence in Latin America--Posner's Comment
Becker's analysis is masterful, leaving me little to add. Like him, I do not expect the rejection of free-market capitalism by Latin-American countries to endure. What happens in a democracy is that if the party in power does not deliver what the people expect, they will vote for another party, regardless of their views of sound policy--on which they probably have no settled views. Democracy is not a deliberative process (as many academics believe), in the sense that voters examine and discuss issues and so formulate a thoughtful, knowledgeable opinion on what policies are right for the nation or for them. Voters have neither the time, the education, nor the inclination for such an activity, as intellectuals imagine. All they know is results. So if the Right fails to deliver on its promises, the Left takes over, whether or not it has better or even different policies.
Becker notes the discrepancy between left-wing rhetoric and the Left's actual economic policies when in power, which in Latin America as elsewhere tend to be more moderate than their rhetoric. Political identity is more than the resultant of a sober calculation of advantages, especially since voters know that a single vote will not swing an election. Political identity is more like being a fan, attracted to one team or another for reasons unrelated to any concrete benefits. The Latin American Left is defined in significant part, for historical and cultural reasons, by hostility to the United States and, by extension, to capitalism, of which the United States is the symbol; that hostility need not be expressed other than in words and largely symbolic actions. Cuba is widely admired in Latin America for having stood up to the United States--and Cuba is both a dictatorship and communist and so lends prestige to anti-democratic and anti-capitalist attitudes. Hence Castro's imitation by Huge Chavez.
The appeal of left-wing rhetoric and, to a degree, leftwing economic policies in Latin America may be related not only to anti-Americanism and "crony capitalism," properly emphasized by Becker, but also to Catholicism. As Max Weber argued in his great book The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism (an argument that has been challenged but not refuted), the rise of capitalism appears to have owed much to Protestantism. Protestants rejected the authoritarian and collectivist aspects of Roman Catholicism (huge cathedrals, monasteries, a large ecclesiastical establishment, extensive support of the poor, hostility to commercial values) and emphasized literacy, thinking for oneself, frugality, and hard work as signs that one was a member of the Elect. Generally it was the northern European, predominantly Protestant countries, that led the way in the development of the modern economy. Of course much has changed since the Reformation, or for that matter the nineteenth century; capitalism thrives in many Catholic countries, such as Italy and Spain, and including Chile. But in other Latin American countries, Catholicism may be feeding resistance to capitalist values. Pope John Paul II, though fiercely anti-communist, also emphasized the social-welfare tradition of Catholicism. And "liberation theology," though opposed by the Vatican, was and may still be an influential Latin American movement led by left-wing priests.
But, to repeat, the "demand" for anti-American and anti-capitalist positions can, it seems, be largely satisfied by rhetoric and symbolic actions. Leftist governments intelligent enough to understand that they can benefit their constituents more by adopting capitalist policies than by nationalizing industry or redistributing wealth will do so, while employing leftist rhetoric to satisfy the constituents' emotional commitments.