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Working Papers

Privatization in Latin America - Working Paper 31

8/1/03
John Nellis
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In Latin America, privatization started earlier and spread farther and more rapidly than in almost any other part of the world. More, and larger, firms were sold, and more proceeds were raised. Despite positive microeconomic results, privatization is highly and increasingly unpopular in the region. The core social criticism is that privatization contributes to growing poverty and inequality levels in Latin America—and there is evidence to support the claim. But recent and rigorous studies contest or dilute the negative views, calculating that privatization has contributed only slightly to rising unemployment and inequality, and either reduces poverty or has no effect on it. Still, while privatization may be winning the economic battle it is losing the political war: The benefits are spread widely, small for each affected consumer or taxpayer, and occur (or accrue) in the medium-term. In contrast, the costs are large for those concerned, who tend to be visible, vocal, urban and organized, a potent political combination.