Declining Inequality in Latin America: Some Economics, Some Politics - Working Paper 251

May 19, 2011

This paper was prepared as a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Latin American Politics edited by Peter Kingstone and Deborah Yashar, to be published in March 2012.

Latin America is known to have income inequality among the highest in the world. That inequality has been invoked to explain low growth, poor education, macroeconomic volatility, and political instability. But new research shows that inequality in the region is falling.

In this paper, we summarize recent findings on the decline in inequality across the region, analyze how the type of political regime (populist, social democratic, right of center) matters to the sustainability of the decline, and investigate the relationship between changes in inequality and changes in the size of the middle class in the region. We conclude with some questions about whether and how changes in income distribution and in middle-class economic power will affect the politics of distribution in the future.


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