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Judge Posner
I think you properly addressed the role of the US and the anti-Americanism that is fueling the election victories of the Leftist parties (whose policies once in office may or may not be leftist at all). But in addition to the general anti-Americanism there are some very specific complaints that Latin American countries can raise against the US. For one, despite its constant promotion of open markets, the US has closed off those areas where Latin American countries could compete. Central America has no access to the huge US sugar market because we have quotas in place to protect swing-state sugar producers, and the cheap labor of Latin American countries is facing quotas, subsidies, and tariffs in manufacturing (particularly textiles) and agriculture. Given this experience with American "free market capitalism," it is no wonder that Latin American voters are drawn to leftist policies, whether simply to spite the US or as an imitation of US (and western) policies.


Judge Posner wrote, "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."

I would suggest that there are *intelligent* people (and so, presumably, governments) who are not yet convinced that pure free market capitalism is the best possible economic system. Those people might well be wrong, but intelligence is no guaranty of inerrancy. Even in the U.S., symbol of capitalism, the system has lead to what many people might consider to be "unfair" outcomes, as economic efficiency does not necessarily lead to "fairness." (Of course, "fairness" itself is an almost wholly subjective standard.)

Even here, on average, the rich really do seem to get richer. The customs of inheritance and nepotism (both of which likely being older and more entrenched in human culture than capitalism--hence unlikely to disappear any time soon), skew results towards outcomes that would not exist in a purely competitive/meritocratic society.

My own view, to channel Churchill, is that capitalism is the worst type of economic system, except for all the others; but I would not go so far as to suggest that those who disagree with my assessment are "unintelligent." More likely, leftists in general are more concerned with fundamental fairness than they are with pure economic efficiency, and simply have markedly different notions of what a ÔøΩfairÔøΩ economic outcome might look like.

I also note that Judge PosnerÔøΩs comment seems to suggest that ÔøΩintelligentÔøΩ leaders will pander to the voting base, saying whatever that base wants to hear with no intention of affirmatively following through on the promises made to that constituency. Since that voting base is, concerned more with results than with the integrity of their politicians, presumably they would reward such two-faced politicians with continued political support. That certainly might be true, but one must admit that, if so, it is a rather perverse truth. One might argue that any politician willing to dissemble in such fashion, paying lip service to the ideals of his or her constituency with no intention of putting those ideals into practice, is a person of low moral character. It suggests that, if the voters of Latin American nations are lucky, their candidates for public office will, simultaneously (i) be willing to mislead them in order to get into office and (ii) have their best interests at heart. More likely, anyone willing to lie or mislead the voting in order to get into public office would have his or her own best interests at heart.


Would it be fair to say that Latin America's economies are oligarchical in nature? And, if true, that its governments do what is necessary to preserve this structure? If so, then the hostility to capitalism (and, by extension, the United States) that has turned Latin America even more Leftward will not abate unless true capitalism combined with real democracy, i.e., free markets, the rule of law, etc., become the order of the day from Buenos Aires to Mexico City.
And no, I'm not holding my breath that this will happen.

Half Sigma

"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"

But that assumes that the people running the government care about any of that stuff; possibly their only interest is in staying in power.

Or, maybe they just don't understand capitlism. There are many seemingly smart and educated people on the U.S. who just don't get it.


I'm not so sure that the Protestant Ethic was the prime cause of the rise of Capitalism, but more of a case that the rising Mercantile Class embraced Protestantism much like the landed gentry continued to embrace Catholicism. Both have different agendas when it comes to political economic organization and we know what the outcome was. Cromwell and the New Model Army. Even Coke and Mansfield carreid it into the Common Law. Sorry Max!

As for the Leftist shift now occuring in Latin and South America, I ascribe to the "Pendulum Theory of Political and Economic Organization". As for the Anti-Americanism there are historical antecedents for this position. Such as the Monroe Doctrine (how would we feel about Brazil or Argentina telling us that they will protect us from an evil European Imperialist). Or should I mention the intervention in Nicauraga by the US Marines on behalf of the United Fruit Company? Or how about Scott's invasion of Mexico? When confronted by a such a history it's only natural that someone will take a position diametrically opposed to ours.

Bob K

To understand better leftist nationalism's resurgence in South America, both Mr Becker and Mr Posner must read peruvian economist Hernando de Soto's "The Other Path" and "The Mistery of Capital".

Their analysis is too superficial and no better than casual observations of a journalist.

De Soto basically says that so far all pro-business policies have failed to gain widespread popularity there because a large portion of the population are not included into the modern sector of the economy. He proposes to improve the "market infrastructure": property rights, reduce bureaucracy, improve laws, to incorporate those non-citizens into the formal economy.

It is also undeniable that there are racial undertones in the leftist demagogue's discourse. Why? Because the excluded are mostly amerindians. To those people, free-markets or no markets do not make any difference as they are always excluded and ignored anyway. Why should they be in favor of free-markets if they are not going to be part of and benefit from it?

I digress, but the large mexican immigration in the US could be partly explained by Mexican racism. There is huge exclusion there against amerindians, so they prefer to come here, as they expect to lead a more "normal" life, even as illegals. The "nacos" as they are called there have very low expectation of becoming prominent citizens as they are excluded on sight from the best jobs.

Amy Chua's "World on Fire" has good points too, as she correctly identifies race as an explanatory variable for the resurgence of nationalism, she writes also about crony capitalism, but overall she's too leftist for my taste.

If Becker and Posner cared to research these leftist demagogues supporters' demographics, they would discover plenty of evidence for de Soto's theories: it is the rural population, the empoverished and the amerindians who vote for leftist nationalists, who happen to look, mostly, like them, like amerindians. The urban middle class, and the rich, vote predominantly for the right or the social democrats, i.e, the pro-business socialists like Chile's Bachelet.

I finally wanted to say that it is very prejudiced and offensive to assume South Americans stupidity or catholicism as a catch-all explanation. After all, most of their recent policies have been shaped by World Bank and IMF bureaucrats, many of them Chicago alumni. The population is expressing their disatisfaction with those policies.

To Mr Posner: Austria is about 80% Catholic and its quality of life is much better than the United States, so please take your prejudice elsewhere. Italia, Spain are catholic too and they are OK. I don't know why you find so intellectually stimulating to criticize catholics. Maybe you are just trying to be provocative a-la Larry Summers? I am not sure if you find intellectually stimulating to discuss, e.g. the sociological characteristics of Jewish people, as well. That would be called anti-semitism, wouldn't it?


To Mr Posner: Austria is about 80% Catholic and its quality of life is much better than the United States, so please take your prejudice elsewhere. Italia, Spain are catholic too and they are OK. I don't know why you find so intellectually stimulating to criticize catholics.

I'm guessing this was prompted at least in part by this section:

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.

Not being a Catholic myself, I am not an authority on this, but I fail to see where the criticism of Catholicism is in the above. I think it's undeniable that one of the features of Catholicism is the above-mentioned social welfare tradition. In fact, it might be the best feature of Catholicism and other religions that stress it. Concern for the destitute and underprivileged is not a quality to be criticized. I think Judge Posner's argument is that when such a charitable attitude is prevalent, it can be used or interpreted to support a government's "leftist" redistributive policies. Of course, it can also be interpreted in a way that says the government should equalize opportunity and education, with the gaps filled in by private charity. These conditions aren't necessarily present, or not as strongly, in places where Protestantism emphasized other aspects of Christianity.


What exactly would need to be shown to refute Weber? How many features of capitalism would the very Catholic Italian city-states need to exhibit to locate the origins of capitalism there as opposed to Protestant nortern europe? Rodney Stark and other historians have pointed out that double-entry booking, lending at interest and banking, and most other, if not all, essential "capitalist" practices were introduced to Protestant Europe after the Italians were using them for at least a century or two. Joseph Schumpeter, if I am not mistaken, credited the Scholastic theologians at Salamanca with founding economics as a discipline in his "History of Economic Analysis", for eroding the prohibition against usury, equating just price with market price, and for introducing the concept of the time-value of money. In this day and age, it is Catholic Ireland that is dubbed Europe's Tiger and it was Catholic Poland that lead the former Soviet bloc away from socialism with shock therepy. It is is true that there is a tradition of rather statist writing in Catholic social thought. The U.S. Bishop's last pastoral letter on the economy would be a case in point. However, there is also a tradition that is market-oriented. I find it easier to explain the lack of a developed market economy in countries that happen to be Catholic by pointing to the usual suspect of corrupt, authoritarian rule than to invoke the idea that Protestantism has some special relationship with capitalism or that Catholism is anti-capitalist by nature. The alternative requires a narrower, selective reading of history.


Posner said:
"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."

My god, do you realize how patronizing and elitist that sounds coming from an appointed Federal Judge? That has got to be the most anti-democratic thing I have ever read here. Ironic then that it comes in a discussion of leftist politics, which have always been (in our history and the history of Latin America) a populist-oriented reaction to pro-capital excesses of "representative" governments.

I think the rational self-interest maximizer model has infected the air around UChicago so much that some people are no longer capable of seeing their fellow humans as anything but selfish and fickle. Real voters have real ideologies, and they vote them. I suggest asking them about it.


Leftist Latin American governments that have failed did so because of sanctions, assassinations, and terrorist campaigns by American-backed groups like the Contras, not simply because they failed to deliver results. I think it is intellectually dishonest not to acknowledge the role that US and WTO pressure (in the form of sanctions, covert operations, propaganda, and flat out warfare) have played in undermining democratically elected leftists in around Latin America.

Of course it is better rhetoric if nationalizing and redistributing regimes are understood to have failed all alone simply because of their own misguided policies. The brief Reaganite triumphalism over America's role in bringing down communism has almost completely been supplanted by a revisionist myth of Hayek and friends passively waiting for the coming end of history. How much more useful is that account. "Leftists fail because they are wrong, not because the largest superpower in the world commits massively to destabilizing them..."

Some of us voters see through that.


"Not being a Catholic myself, I am not an authority on this, but I fail to see where the criticism of Catholicism is in the above. "

Haris, on this particular blog, as on FOX news and in the White House press room, the word "leftist" is itself a criticism.


Haha, fair point, Corey. I'm using "leftist" in a "statist" or "socialist" sense, and only to the extent that it concerns a particular government's economic policy. These terms often connote other views on personal freedom that I did not mean to impute to anyone.


I think the rational self-interest maximizer model has infected the air around UChicago so much that some people are no longer capable of seeing their fellow humans as anything but selfish and fickle. Real voters have real ideologies, and they vote them. I suggest asking them about it.

I don't think that the "UChicago model" is at all incompatible with your interpretation of real voters. It just requires a broader interpretation of "results," and, more generally in economics, "utility." A voter with an ideology, like you suggest, also aims to maximize results. He, too, seeks to maximize utility, though he defines it in different terms. For example, someone voting for a candidate based solely on ideology (be it anti-abortion or income redistribution) is still acting in his own self-interest, since his utility will be increased when the particular policies he favors are put into effect. The "results" Judge Posner do not have to be economic.
The ideological voter you refer to also conforms to the other aspects of the "UChicago" model. Even someone wealthy voting for income redistribution that would hurt his own economic standing can be acting in his own self-interest. Self-interest does not have to mean selfishness; one can prefer to be less wealthy if it results in a more egalitarian society. Also, it is perfectly rational not to be fully informed about all the issues, but that was well-explained by Judge Posner's post. The rational maximizer model is very applicable to all types of voters. One must just remember that one's utility is not always measured in cash.


"One must just remember that one's utility is not always measured in cash."

If you can't quantify something numerically, you can't model it empirically. Inserting "priceless" or even "transcendental" values/rights into a model that is fundamentally about cost/interest balancing requires that you estimate a cost for something incommensurable.

That estimation is subject to manipulation according to the values of the person doing the estimation. For example: the Clinton Administration used a much different number for the value of a human life in its health and safety regulations than the Reagan Administration did. This leads to different levels of funding and different end policy results.

So you are right, it is possible to incorporate ideological committments into rational utility models. But because doing so is difficult and requires a contestable value estimation, such committments are very often left out or seriously undervalued. Becker and Posner are left suprised and "disturbed" that Latin American voters don't abandon their socialist leanings in the face of the good example of the US or Chilean economy. I suggest because they are undervaluing the effect of historical memory and unequal wealth distribution, which we know from last week they think is a "non-issue" here at least.

Steve Podraza

Maybe voters do have real ideologies. But its probably fair to say that most of them don't arrive at them through thoughtful deliberation. We who read this blog, as thoughtful deliberators, all know how much time and energy we put into it. We're a small minority, if you hadn't noticed.

I suggest people who haven't read Byan Caplan's work on rational irrationality/ignorance. In short, voters receive zero marginal political benefit in casting a vote in an election where the outcome is not determined by a single vote (virtually all elections). Their vote does not get them a better or worse set of policies than would have occured absent their vote. Therefore they have no incentive to vote for any reason other than expression of values and self-identity.


"But its probably fair to say that most of them don't arrive at them through thoughtful deliberation."

No I don't think that is fair to say. As you suggest, there is no payoff to voting except as an expression of values. People don't go down to the polls to cast votes on issues they don't understand at all.

Second, your working definition of "thoughtful deliberation," modeled apparently after folks like you or me who post on political blogs, is far too narrow. Why isn't it OK to rely on vetted heuristics? For instance, say someone is a person of abnormally high emotional intelligence who has come to respect the judgment of someone else with high "deliberative" skills. Why can't he rely on her policy choice? If I respect and share the values of Chomsky or Nader, I might choose not to deliberate myself but instead to appropriate their deliberation and duplicate their vote. It would be wrong to say my vote was not deliberated at all just because it was not deliberated in a "rational individual interest maximizer" framework.

Most if not all voters have at least obtained one opinion on an issue from a personal or media source that they trust. They needn't have perfect information, just a slightly greater probability of making the "right" choice for them. It is a Concordet jury theorem. (See recent work of Cass Sunstein) If you aggregate enough slightly informed guesses about something, perhaps the number of jellybeans in a jar, you can approach the actual right result with suprising accuracy.

Applying this to political voting is reasonably straightforward. Trust and credibility figure as much as interest balancing. To criticize voters on the grounds that Posner does is merely to express a preference for a certain manner of rationalized choice.

Voting is not rocket science, even people with no education living in the slums of Rio can have extremely sophisiticated views on issues that directly effect their daily lives. (Watch the documentary accompanining the DVD of City of God for proof of this.)


Incidentally, I spent much of last weekend in rural Missouri with farmers, shopowners, commercial airline pilots, and factory workers; discussing politics and the interaction between their conservative social values and leftist economic values.

Their views on the need for a living wage resemble the views advanced in the 1930s by populist intellectuals. Perhaps because their economic situation is increasingly resembling that of the 1930s.

Which perhaps explains my strong reaction to the counterfactual claim that such people "have neither the time, the education, nor the inclination for such an activity." I am always encouraged by talk of deliberative democracy, or the new populism of law professors like Kramer or Waldron, because such talk actually gives regular people some due credit. Sadly, the L&E crowd persists in the old paternalistic ways.


I guess it's not clear to me that anyone is insulting the voters with this characterization. Consider two cases:

Alice is an ideologue. She continues to vote for Party X even though their last three terms in office have been an endless sequence of disasters and bad outcomes.

Bob is not an ideologue, though he has some broad ideas about how the world works. He starts out voting for Party X, but over time, becomes convinced that these guys aren't doing a good job, and so switches to voting for Party Y.

It's not clear to me that Bob is the ignorant or irrational person in this example. But this seems like pretty much what Posner's saying.

In fact, even when you do have a pretty clear mental model of the world, you may vote on results rather than on ideology, either because you think your ideology may be flawed or incomplete, or just because you think the people implementing your ideology are incompetent or complacent.

Thomas B

I cited Posner over on my blog, and one of my co-bloggers raised a really provocative point:

If voters are so disinterested, if they have no time for political thoughts or discussions, then how do you explain the incredible popularity of pundits in this country?

People like thinking about politics in a Democracy, and we have a number of news sources to help them do so more efficiently (if not more accurately).

Jorje C.

Both Becker and Posner assume that if Latin American voters are not satisfied with the results achieved by the new Left-wing governments, they will invariably "throw the bums out", so to speak, and elect more centrist or conservative governments.

This assumption ignores the problem of leaders such as Hugo Chavez and those who may emulate him. As with Cuba and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, Chavez has modified the electoral and governmental system to ensure that he remains in power, and is in the process of stiffling dissent and opposition. These types of dictatorial "reforms" are tremendously difficult to undue -- hence the Sandinistas only allowed open and free elections after a bloody civil war. At the same time, Chavez (and perhaps others) have invited Cuban "advisors" and professionals who assist the ruling government to indocrinate the poor in the type of anti-capitalism and ant-Americanism Becker and Posner discuss.

Whether other Latin American leaders go the way of Chavez and Cuba remains to be seen, but we should not be so sure that another round of elections will be enough to undue the trouble they cause.


Just as an aside, Are there "Two Latin Americas" just as there were/are "Two Spains"? Perhaps Antonio Machado was right when he wrote, "Proverbios Y Cantares LIII". The Left/Right dicohtomy is very strange. Especially in the Latin/Spanish mind.


Unfortunately, Judge Posner prefers engaging in stereotypes to actually addressing the issue of why left-wing politicians are doing well in some South American countries. To quote Bill Clinton (not that I often do), "it's the economy, stupid." Not necessarily "the economy" in terms of total GDP and rates of growth, but "the economy" in terms of quality of life for the average voter. If the economy, in the abstract, is growing, but most people are struggling, the economic policy of the country is not succeeding, at least as far as the majority is concerned (and the majority elect the government in democracies, whether Wall Street likes it or not).

In Latin America today, the wealth is still concentrated in a few hands, and many average people are still struggling. The same is becoming increasingly true in the U.S., after six years of tax cuts for the super-rich. So a leftward turn should not surprise anyone, whether in Bolivia or in Peoria. I do not believe that Latin Americans worship Castro any more than Floridians do. But when they see vast social injustice, they vote for change. The challenge for capitalists is to merge a free-market economy with a baseline of social justice. That requires compromises on all sides. Lately, in the Americas, the compromises have been abandoned in favor of paleo-capitalism, whether imposed by the Republican Congress, here, or the IMF in debtor nations. The backlash is only natural.

American Phoenix

Judge Posner writes:

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.

There is definitely resistance to capitalism by many in the Latin Ameican Catholic heirarchy. The Jesuit order was perhaps the strongest proponent of Liberation Theology on the continent, and it was precisely because Liberation Theology is a melding of Catholicism with Marxist ideology that Pope John Paul II opposed it. Twice the Vatican wrote on this issue, including current Pope Benedict XVI, and condemned Liberation Theology.

The Catholic social welfare tradition must have, at its heart, human freedom, and this is utterly lacking in "Liberation" Theology despite its nomenclature. The Catholic social welfare tradition can never be Marxist. During the 1980s there was all but a war between the Vatican and the Jesuits over this issue. Priests spewing liberation theology were telling the masses that it was acceptable to steal from those who were more wealthy, thereby promoting class warfare. This couldn't be further from true Christian teaching.

At least 5 Jesuit priests held cabinet positions in Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government, which was responsible for the attempted genocide of at least three different indigenous tribes, including the Miskitos. Pope John Paul II demanded that the priests get out of Ortega's cabinet or be defrocked. He ultimately had to defrock them.

In my opinion, the Jesuits have utterly disgraced themselves and they show no signs that they have changed their ways. So it would not surprise me in the least if there are hangers on in Latin America who think that the "Liberation Theology" movement isn't really dead, and who hope for its resurrection at an opportune moment. Unfortunately, crony capitalism gives them their opportunity. And so will Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.


Aren't these movement a direct reation to rising commodity prices and reflect the shift in power from the consuming nations to the producing nations? Just as Russia, a resource based economy, is regaining its voice in the world--the rise of populst movements in Latin America may be its attempt to more directly benefit from the rising commodity prices and a reaction to the uneven distribution of wealth and ownership of what they deem are national assets (oil, ore, natural gas) - which current are seeing supernormal profits. At $25 oil and cheap gas, one wonders how much traction these movements would have. It is interesting to note that the two examples of countries moving to capitalism--India & China--are commodity consuming nations that need to rely on their human capital for advancement.


thanks for your post.perhaps you will like ed hardy





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