Evelyne Huber and Zoila Ponce de León
Latin American welfare states have undergone major changes over the past half century. As of 1980, there were only a handful of countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay) with social policy regimes that covered more than half of their population with some kind of safety net to insure adequate care during their old age and that provided adequate healthcare services. With few exceptions, access to social protection and to healthcare in these countries and others was based on formal employment and contributions from employees and employers. There were very few programs, and those few were poorly funded, for those without formal sector jobs and their dependents. The debt crisis and the ensuing neoliberal reforms then damaged the welfare state in all countries, including these leading nations. Deindustrialization, shrinking of the public sector, and cuts in public expenditures reduced both coverage and quality of transfers and services. Poverty and inequality rose, and the welfare state did little to ameliorate these trends.
With the turn of the century, the economic and political situation changed significantly. The commodity boom eased fiscal pressures and made resources available for an increase in public social expenditure. Democracy was more consolidated in the region and civil society had recovered from repression. Left-wing parties began to win elections and take advantage of the fiscal room which allowed for the building of redistributive social programs. The most significant innovation has been expansion of coverage to people in the informal sector and to people with insufficient histories of contributions to social insurance schemes. The overwhelming majority of Latin Americans now have the right to some kind of cash assistance at some point in their lives and to healthcare provided by their governments. In many cases, there have also been real improvements in the generosity of cash assistance, particularly in the case of non-contributory pensions, and in the quality of healthcare services. However, the least progress has been made toward equity. With very few exceptions, new non-contributory programs were added to the traditional contributory ones; severe inequalities continue to exist in the quality of services provided through the new and the traditional programs.
Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari
Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union.
While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations.
Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.
Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke
Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.
Stephanie J. Rickard
Policies as diverse as tariffs, exchange rates, and unemployment insurance vary across democratic countries. In an attempt to explain this cross-national variation, scholars have turned to the institutions that govern countries’ elections. The institutions that regulate elections, also known as an electoral system, vary significantly across democracies. Can these varied electoral institutions explain the diversity of policies observed? This question remains unanswered. Despite a growing body of research, little consensus exists as to precisely how electoral institutions affect policy. Why is it so difficult to untangle the effects of electoral institutions on economic policy? One reason for the confusion may be the imprecise manner in which electoral institutions are often measured. Better measures of electoral systems may improve our understanding of their policy effects. Improved theories that clarify the causal mechanism(s) linking electoral systems to policy outcomes will also help to clarify the relationship between electoral systems and policies. To better understand the policy effects of electoral institutions, both theoretical and empirical work must take seriously contextual factors, such as geography, which likely mediate the effects of electoral institutions. Finally, different types of empirical evidence are needed to shed new light on the policy effects of electoral institutions. It is difficult to identify the effects of electoral systems in cross-national studies because of the many other factors that vary across countries. Examining within-country variations, such as changes in district magnitude, may provide useful new insights regarding the effects of electoral institutions on policy.
All governments require revenue, and domestic taxes are the primary means for generating it. Yet both the size and shape of taxation vary significantly across countries and have been transformed over time. What explains variation in domestic taxation? To answer this question, recent scholarship on taxation has focused on the politics of taxation as a tool for redistribution. This has led to a wide body of research on the fiscal impact of taxation and on the introduction, evolution, and variation in direct and progressive tax regimes, particularly the income tax. Yet the focus on taxation as a redistributive tool yields a puzzle, as more progressive tax systems tend to be found where redistribution is in fact the lowest. Explanations of this paradox often center on the impossibility of high and progressive taxes on capital in the context of international economic integration. Not as well studied are taxes other than the taxation of income, and the deliberate politics of nonfiscal, regulatory, and incentive effects of different tax choices. Methodologically, problems of endogeneity are ubiquitous in the study of tax policy choices, but more sophisticated experimental work is well underway in research on individual preferences for taxation.
Elissaios Papyrakis and Lorenzo Pellegrini
The resource curse hypothesis suggests that countries that are rich in natural resources are more likely to experience poor economic growth and other developmental problems. Latin American countries show a mixed picture, confirming the idea that the resource curse is not a deterministic phenomenon and that dependence on, rather than abundance of, natural resources is associated with developmental failures. When looking beyond the nation state, local communities may benefit from royalties accruing to regional governments, often, though, at the expense of other socioeconomic liabilities (as in the case of negative environmental externalities). The case of Ecuador is in many ways exemplary of the resource curse in Latin America and the failure of policies to overcome the curse. While the country was always a commodity exporter, the intensification of extractive activities and the expansion of the extractive frontier (over the last five decades) intensified the severity of boom-and-bust cycles and compromised socio-environmental values in the vicinity of extractive activity.
The surge in the appointments of technocrats to the top economic portfolios of finance since the 2009 Great Recession, and even the formation of fully technocratic governments in Europe, raises questions regarding the role of technocrats and technocratic governments in economic policy in democracies. Who are the technocrats? Why are they appointed in the first place? What is their impact on economic policy, and finally what are their sources of policy influence?
Surprisingly, we know little about the role of technocrats in economic policy despite their prominent presence in Eastern Europe since the early 90s and in Latin America since the early 80s. Technocrats were behind major market-conforming reforms in Latin America with lasting economic and political effects in the region. Technocrats we also appointed in many former Eastern European countries to reform the system of production and the labor market. Yet, to this day, we have little systematic knowledge and even less cross-regional comparative work on the policy effects of technocratic appointments.
Moreover, the term “technocrat” itself does have a shared meaning and is not uniformly used by scholars across the European and American continents, further inhibiting the study of technocrat policymakers. This article seeks to advance the study of technocratic government by providing a clear definition of a technocrat and of technocracy more generally; by reviewing the extant literature on the role of technocrats in economic policy with a special focus on the sources of their policy influence and finally by proposing a theoretical framework for understanding the role of technocrats as policymakers.