Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nice Tony Wood takedown of Michael Reid's neoliberal take on Latin America

Michael Reid's book has been a hugely lauded success in mainstream Anglo-American outlets and, among the Jeffrey Sachs's, and in the Washington foreign policy establishment. And why not -it is a lengthy articulation of a point of view they all share: that what's wrong in Latin America is a 'radical populist' movement that has swept through the region over the last decade, and the medicine is more structural adjustment, more 'friendly business climates', regimes more subservient to global Capital and Washington.

As Tony Wood points out in his deft critical review of the book, it received rave reviews in the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Economist, Wapo, the Weekly Standard, the NYTimes, Foreign Affairs, and others.

Wood's review is refreshingly radical and analytically sharp. Its hard to find this kind of stuff. I mean, you can read any of the above mentioned publications regularly and begin to think that Reid's neoliberal mantra is more or less uncontroversial or unchallengeable. In my experience, I don't think it's an exaggeration at all to say that one should prima facie doubt anything whatsoever that the NYTimes has to say about the political situation in Venezuela.

As Reid argues at one point:
"Reid’s case against the Venezuelan ‘populist’ alternative is the weakest element in his overall argument, since it does not even rest on selective deployment of facts, but rather on occlusion of the Chávez government’s actual record (though here at least Reid, unlike many others, has enough integrity not to actively distort the figures). In the social sphere, this has been indisputably positive: poverty, which had reached an astronomical 65 per cent after the implementation of the imf’s ‘Agenda Venezuela’ in 1996, has been cut by almost half since Chávez took office, from 55 per cent to 31 per cent. According to Mark Weisbrot at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, government social spending has increased significantly, from 8.2 per cent of gdp in 1998 to 13.6 per cent in 2006, a figure which does not include programmes directly administered through pdvsa or the Fondo de Desarrollo Nacional, which total another 7.3 per cent of gdp. This considerable outlay has permitted a twelvefold increase in the number of primary care physicians, and a cut in the infant mortality rate from 21 per 1,000 in 1998 to 16 in 2005. Unemployment too has dropped in Chávez’s decade in power, from 11 per cent to 7.8 per cent—a development facilitated by growth rates averaging 13.5 per cent since 2003."
It's much harder to maintain the position on Latin America cultivated by the NYTimes, et. al when one actually juxtaposes to them some real figures and facts about the social/political situation there. Why think critically about a narrative that is so common as to be banal in virtually all of our media? If a modestly 'informed' person reads in 4 different 'respected' papers that Chavez is a noxious authoritarian monster, why should they bother to stop and think twice about it?

No comments: