That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
Second, a protest against poor conditions is not the same as a protest against inequality. Many Chilean complaints revolve around the pension system, health care, water rights, public transportation, schools and corruption. Are Chileans upset that their transport options aren’t better? That’s a complaint in absolute terms. Or are they upset that they are riding the subway while many of the wealthy have private cars with drivers? That’s a relative complaint.
The answer will depend on the protester, and in virtually all protests around the world there will be those with both motives. But some North American commentators try to equate these two grudges and subsume them all under the heading of inequality. That just won’t wash.
And don’t forget this:
In the case of Chile, it has the highest real wages in Latin America, income inequality has mostly been falling, and life expectancy is above average for the region. By Latin American standards Chile has a low rate of crime and a high degree of public order. Chile has had open and honest elections, and peaceful transfers of power, since 1990.
So high expectations may be more relevant than either “inequality” or “neo-liberalism” per se, at least for many of the protestors. There is much more of interest at the link, including some speculations as to why Chile may be different:
Another observation: Income inequality is often more galling when different economic classes encounter each other on a regular basis. So much Chilean economic and social activity is concentrated in Santiago, just as in South Korea it is in Seoul and in Singapore it is in … Singapore. In all three countries, I believe, feelings of inequality and envy are worse for that reason. By contrast, if you are a lower-middle-class person in, say, Mississippi, you may view the mansion and private plane of Bill Gates as if from a different universe.
I’ve also found Chile to have a relatively tough set of social expectations in terms of class, dress and educational background, and a relatively narrow set of expectations for women. These pressures for conformity may contribute to discontent.