Why are Latin American politicians so bad?

A loyal MR reader asks:

[Please discuss] Latin American politics. Why do our politicians ****?

A few points:

1. I’m not convinced they are worse than average, once you adjust for per capita income.  If East Asia looks better, perhaps the quality of the bureaucracy is more important than the relative quality of the elites.

2. Combining parliamentary, proportional, and presidential systems, as much of Latin America has done, is a recipe for disaster.  Read Ljiphart and others on this topic.  It is too easy to block reforms, there is too little accountability, and there is no coherent ruling coalition.  If you are going to have a strong presidential role, try to restrict the number of major parties to two.  Or if you want many parties, make the president directly accountable to a coalition. 

3. The charismatic traditions in these cultures do not make for responsible politicians.  Visit Eva Peron’s grave in Buenos Aires if you need to be convinced.

4. It is difficult to rule a country with significant ethnic divisions.  This covers many Latin countries, though not Argentina or Chile or Uruguay.

5. Latin tax systems are underdeveloped, so distortionary policies are needed to collect sufficient revenue.  Citizens then become cynical about government, and consider it illegitimate.  Tax evasion is rampant.  The spiral worsens and again no one can govern well.

The bottom line: If they put me in charge of a Latin country, I don’t think I could deliver superior growth performance.  At best I would avoid some of the really stupid mistakes, but I couldn’t turn the country around.

This post is #02 in a series of 50 (?).

Addendum: Bryan Caplan adds comment, but I think he is just proving my point.


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