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The Soul of Chile

I started this article several weeks ago with good intentions to provide the best personal description and interpretation I could of the social explosion that was affecting Chile; I entitled it “The Soul of Chile”. Every now and then the small, relatively insular South American country of Chile bares its soul and I felt that what I was seeing then was a struggle for that soul.

Five decades ago, having ended my Peace Corps service, I was preparing to depart Chile with my Chilean bride and exciting plans for the future. Chileans also seemed generally intent on continuing their quest for development in democracy, their “revolution in freedom” as defined and led by Eduardo Frei Montalva, President of Chile from 1964 to 1970. It was an exciting time. As it turned out, the way ahead for them was tragic. Social, political and economic chaos of the socialist experiment of Salvador Allende (1970-73), its premature demise by a bloody military coup (September 11, 1973), and the consequent authoritarian regime of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) engulfed the country in a two-decade struggle. During these years, Chile’s soul seemed confused, at times bright and constructive but generally internally divided and struggling; it also cast dark and violent shadows.

Then, three decades ago, Chileans succeeded in coming together enough to begin disentangling the country from the oppressive 17-year dictatorship. Chilean society reached deep into the republican space of its soul, used persistence and the ballot box to peacefully force the Generals out. A broad coalition across the ideological spectrum committed to a national project to rebuild a political system based on constitutional democracy and a liberal free market economy. During the ensuing years, the soul of Chile seemed to reflect a more optimistic, happy while serious, industrious people, well on their way to reaching “developed country” status. Their pursuit of socioeconomic development served to unite them.

The democratic process was working pretty well, free and exemplary elections were held regularly, and there was alternation between opposing political coalitions for leadership of the country. Unemployment and extreme poverty were decreasing significantly. Chile had accomplished in recent years what no other South American country had, membership in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), hitherto mostly made up of northern hemisphere countries (Colombia has recently joined).

Sure, there were problems, some big ones, caused in part by the entrenched oligarchical structure of Chilean society. The private pension system, after forty years, was falling far short of promised retirement income, leaving part of an entire generation of senior Chileans risking poverty-level incomes in their later years. Inequality of access to education and prohibitive costs of health care persisted, motives for deep discontent and protest. And too many working Chileans, even in what was perceived as the middle class, lived on the edge, hardly making it to the end of each month but rather going deeper and deeper into high interest consumer debt.

So recently, and especially since October 18, 2019, if you penetrated the facade of prosperity and looked deeper into Chile’s soul, what appeared was frankly disconcerting. As described in the two previous postings on this blog, Transition in Chile and Por la Razón o la fuerza, this long-festering societal discontent of a large portion of middle class and poor Chileans rose to the surface and exploded into massive protests in the public arena. In unison, the talking heads and analysts on TV strained to call the action “peaceful social protests”. The most peaceful actually was one notable massive demonstration of maybe a million and a half Chileans expressing desire for broad change. To some, the size and transversality of this protest reflected an important slice of Chile’s soul: deep resentment of inequality. This peaceful protest convinced many that the situation was serious and would not just wane and die out.

Weeks of daily protests continued, announced as peaceful and meant to demand legitimate economic and social reforms. However, these were intertwined with violence perpetrated by hooded gangs of thugs, thieves, anarchists, and arsonists who targeted everything from hotels and supermarkets to municipal buildings and stations of the modern underground Metro public transport system. The movement over time became transversely referred to as the “estallido social“, the social outburst.

After observing a couple of weeks of daily protests in November, I returned to the U.S., convinced of the seriousness, depth and breadth of civil discontent and the reasons for it. I was sympathetic with the general thrust of the protest, but also nagged by an uncomfortable concern for what would surely be the ballooning costs of violent, indiscriminate destruction of public and private buildings, transportation facilities, schools, police stations, and finally, believe it or not, churches. Chile’s soul was being torn apart by the pervasive, more obscure violence of poverty, injustice, inequalities, and the curse of hate-laced violence in the street.

I struggled with conflicting feelings about all that had happened in such a short time to the Chile I love, the country I thought I knew. I could not explain why the outburst happened when it did, why it was so violent and persistent, and who, if anyone, was behind it all. I harbored an even cloudier view of what was to come, how it would evolve, and what might cause the protest and destruction to subside. Friends and relatives offered uncharacteristically timid explanations of what was going on. Their views were no more revealing than the irritating deflection “it’s complicated”. But in the same vein, when my opinion was sought on the situation, I would fall too easily into the same response: “it’s complicated”.

Over a month had passed since the official start of Chile’s “social outburst”. In the words of a well-known Chilean artist, the protest had left Santiago looking like “a sort of small and ridiculous battlefield “. My view at the time was less poetic and not near as benevolent. I saw nothing “small” nor “ridiculous”, but rather immense and heartbreaking. It seemed that the soul of Chile was in a vicious circle of self destruction, unable to break the cycle.

Something Chile’s infamous anti-poet Nicanor Parra had once said, (describing himself) seemed appropriate, “I am a sausage, ground of angel and beast”. That seemed to me to describe Chile’s soul in November of 2019: a blend of angel and beast.

Granted, the “Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution” which had been signed by political leaders on November 15 did hold some hope that the situation would calm, at least become less violent and provide some space to forge a political response to the protests.

One seasoned observer of Chilean society, whose opinion I value but don’t always share, concluded after a short visit to Chile at that time that “Chileans have every reason to celebrate: their political system and leadership have passed a monumental test and unlike in 1973 have found a consensual path forward.” (He was referring to the period just prior to the September 11, 1973, coup that brought Chilean democracy to a painful hiatus. The opposing political leaders tried at that time, too, to find a solution to the political stalemate between then president Salvador Allende and the opposition, but failed, and the coup prevailed.) I was more skeptical, unconvinced that the promises made to pursue socioeconomic reforms would be sufficient or enacted quickly enough to respond adequately to the protesters’ demands.

By now, opinion polls showed Chileans had lost all confidence and trust in key institutions, including Congress, the President, the political parties and their leaders, the Church, and the national police force. The trust and dialogue needed to make deals appeared non-existent.

However many opinion leaders held out some hope that the November 15 agreement would be a game changer and that the country would find a way out of the vicious cycle of violence and the political no man’s land they had created. President Piñera tried, in his characteristically clumsy way, to regain control and the authority he clearly had lost. The new set of younger ministers he had appointed in key positions seemed inclined to work with opposition leaders of the Assembly and the Senate to get legislative packages moving again through Congress, focusing first on tax and pension reform.

The end-of-year holidays were approaching, immediately followed by the summer vacation hiatus, inviolable for a majority of Chileans. Working against the pressure of the calendar, the leaders of the main political forces in Congress prepared a process to address the call for a rewrite of the constitution. A technical commission of government and opposition representatives met over a couple of weeks and presented a road map for the process; Congress and the President approved. April 26, 2020, was set as the date for a plebiscite to determine if a majority of the voters wanted to rewrite the constitution, and if so, to choose between two options for forming the constituent assembly tasked with the rewrite.

If a rewrite of a new constitution is chosen in the plebiscite, elected members of the assembly would then be chosen in an election in October of 2020. And then, the assembly must present the new constitution a year later, to be approved or not by another plebiscite. In short, if a new constitution were in the cards, it would not be legalized until the end of 2021 or even early 2022. Therein lies the dilemma causing my skepticism that the plan would ever come to fruition: an urgent desire for a new constitution was being clearly expressed, while a seemingly long, drawn out process had been devised to actually produce one. This reality began to cause many to have doubts. Hence, objections to the plan began to grow.

Nonetheless, the framework for the process had been agreed upon, so the discussion turned to important issues of gender equality and indigenous peoples’ representation in the constituent assembly (should the plebescite approve an assembly).

As they drifted off to the beach and to the lakes for vacation, it seemed that just maybe, as my friend had suggested earlier, Chileans had again stepped back from the edge and would find a way to get on with their lives, not precisely as before, but maybe better for those most in need of greater satisfaction of their basic needs. After all, that was ostensibly the objective of the “estallido social”.

We again returned to Chile in late January of this year, two months since President Piñera and the leaders of the major political parties had agreed to more aggressively address the social and economic demands expressed in the protests, and start the process leading to a new constitution to replace the existing one. Inherent, no, explicit in the agreement was a call to decrease the violence that had become a regular feature of the street protests. Our plan was to stay in Chile until after the April 26 plebiscite on the new constitution.

Upon arrival, I again visited “ground zero” of the protests, Plaza Italia. I walked to the center of the plaza and can confirm that the statue of General Baquedano was still mounted defiantly on his horse, but stripped of the accompanying smaller statue memorializing the heroes of Chile’s victory in the War of the Pacific. A suggestion had been floated via social media that the plaza now presented a symbol of dignity, a dignity earned by rising up in a civilian “awakening” to the injustices of the prevailing system. Therefore, the proposal that the plaza should be renamed Plaza de la Dignidad. Those who saw destruction and disrespect for the Plaza and its monuments as a desecration of some of Chile’s proudest heroes and history, obviously objected.

But instead of hanging around, we too escaped from the hot, dusty, suffocating climate of the capital city. We visited family and friends outside of Santiago, enjoyed several wineries, and relaxed in the Chilean countryside. What we saw, among the sites, was a background of man made destruction heretofore unseen and the effects of the impending recession, especially in the tourism industry, throughout the country. Obviously, the “estallido social” caused many fewer international visitors to vacation in Chile this year, especially the neighboring Argentines who were caught up in their own political milonga.

While we toured the southern regions of the country, the daily news reported a continuous stream of violent acts against public buildings, the police, and offices of political parties, not just in Santiago and Concepción (the main sites of student protests over the years), but also Antofagasta in the north and Osorno in the south. The outbursts of violence, although very much reduced compared to the earlier period of protest, were dismissed by many political figures and publicized broadly by the media as simple street crime and vandalism, probably drug induced, that the hapless Piñera government was not able to control.

Nurtured by several critical reports from national and international human rights organizations regarding the government’s out dated and crude methods of crowd and crime control, the story was often more about the tactics of the police than on the source and nature of the violence itself. The unique, monopolistic power of the government to provide public safety seemed checkmated. A sense of lawlessness prevailed.

It was becoming clear to a broad cross section of Chilean society that the security apparatus of the State needs significant reform, especially the Carabineros and internal intelligence agencies. This has become an urgent legislative reform package passing through congress.

The nagging reality towards the end of February suggested that the agreement for peace and a new constitution was delivering more on the quest for a new constitution than on the promise of peace.

In that environment, those who wanted greater and more immediate public spending on health, education, and pension benefits, not just promises of marginal improvements in the future, knew that the threat of renewed levels of protests (including a little violence) would be helpful to keep pressure on the President and the legislators to take faster, more significant action on reforms.

So, the summer of 2020 (January and February) was not peaceful in Chile. A pervasive tension increased as March approached. Everyone would be back home in the cities and the students back in the schools, surely it would be a time of dangerously high stress and intense political action. After all, there were still segments of society who wanted Piñera out of the presidency before his term ends in March of 2022, and everyone knew that campaigning for the Apruebo (Yes) or Rechazo (No) positions on the plebiscite to be held on April 26 for a new constitution, would be intense and very likely divisive and disrupting.

From the breakout of social unrest in October of 2019, and actually from well before that landmark event, the movement to write a new constitution has edged its way into the mainstream of Chilean politics. It had been an underlying objective of the second Bachelet presidency, but she did little to make it happen during her tenure. What she did do, was to drop a draft plan, developed by a series of community based consultations, on her successor’s in-box.

But Piñera won the election on a platform that clearly gave low priority to a new constitution. So, confident that he had no mandate to do so, he did not pursue Bachelet’s eleventh-hour constitution rewrite initiative. But many academic constitutionalists and many progressive politicians, operating from the opposition, did pursue it. The supporters of a new constitution continued to argue that it was the only way to obtain meaningful progress on social and economic changes needed to reduce poverty and inequality. The October “estallido” brought a myriad of demands for change to the surface, and the movement for a new constitution opportunistically gathered all of them under their banner.

So as March arrived, Chileans focused on putting their children back in school and the Universities girded themselves for a new academic year that would surely include strikes, a continuation of protests, and more damage including to schools. By this time, the threat of removing Piñera from the presidency, externalized by the most extreme in the opposition groups, was pretty much put aside. Most politicians decided, some reluctantly, that the crisis of governance created by pushing a democratically elected president out of power before the next election would further weaken their threatened democracy, not an acceptable outcome.

Writing a new Constitution was being presented as a cure all for the deficiencies in the Chilean socioeconomic system the protests had targeted. Changing the neo-liberal economic “model” became the battle cry of those in favor of a new constitution. Saving certain aspects of the “model” embedded in the existing constitution, became the cause of the more conservative groups who defended precisely that model as the reason, the motor, of Chile’s socioeconomic development post dictatorship.

The arguments for or against a new constitution focused on changing the nature of the State from its present subsidiary role to a more supportive involvement in provision of social services and the economy; dilution of executive power to give more responsibility to the legislature, possibly moving to a parliamentary system seen by some as more representative of society broadly; defining a more explicit space in the Nation and government for the Mapuches and other indigenous peoples; decentralization of decision making and resources to the regions; degree of independence of the central bank; protection of private property; security of universal quality health care, education, and a “decent” income and retirement.

So the sides were drawn by early March. The terms were set (Approve vs Disapprove) for the political question to be determined in the plebiscite, then scheduled for April 26. A complex agenda of social and economic legislation was passing through Congress.

And then, as if that wasn’t challenging enough, the Covid-19 virus reared its ugly head. A few schools had opened for a few days, but the Chilean government made the decision so many other countries were making, and began closing down to defend citizens from the effects of the pandemia.

One of the first decisions taken in concert with the leadership of the opposition was to postpone for six months the plebiscite for a new constitution from April 26 to October 25. Staying healthy became everyone’s main task.

So on March 19, we boarded one of the last Delta Airlines flights from Santiago to Atlanta, and on to home in Virginia. What has happened in Chile since that day of our quick, unplanned, and unwelcome departure from Chile, is another whole story, still playing out. Chileans must now struggle through the effects of the social uprising launched on October 19, 2019, plus the pandemic of 2020, and when that happens, once again they will be faced with putting their country and society back together. The process they have begun to consider a rewrite of their constitution may just turn out to be the means to come together. In fact, many other democracies will surely be facing similar economic, political and social restructuring as the global pandemic subsides.

What has happened here in the US, where we rushed to harbor ourselves in March of 2020, mostly for family and medical reasons, of course provides an interesting parallel story. As these stories play out, the similarities between Chile and the US beg consideration. They are instructive, and at the same time disheartening. Poverty and bigotry are revealed in both. Inequalities and racism are exposed in both. Social safety nets are proven weak and discriminatory. The challenges scream out for effective but compassionate leadership in both countries, but compassion and solidarity are all too scarce in both.

Chileans will continue the struggle to define their society’s soul. I recall that Gabriela Mistral, National poet and Nobel recipient, noted that Chile’s soul was represented in the national emblem by the juxtaposition of a huemul (small Andean deer) and a condor; one is modest and elegant, the other threatening and blood thirsty. She always wished for her country to be more huemul than condor.

That is a nice metaphor, but for the moment, I prefer to stick with the characterization (borrowed from Nicanor Parra) of the soul of Chile as a blend of angel and beast, and close with the firm hope that Chileans find the way to continue their quest for progress and peace, hopefully with more angel, less beast.

Posted in Leesburg, Virginia, on June 12, 2020

David Joslyn

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David Joslyn
David Joslyn, after a 45-year career in international development with USAID, Peace Corps, The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and private sector consulting firms, divides his time between his homes in Virginia and Chile. Since 2010, David has been writing about Chile and Chileans, often based upon his experience with the Peace Corps in Chile and his many travels throughout the country with family and friends.
David Joslyn

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21 thoughts on “The Soul of Chile”

  1. Avatar
    Gaer Wetterberg says:

    Nice write-up Dave.

    Gary

  2. Bill
    Bill says:

    Dave, well done.

    Since October, I have been playing with the idea, based on some public information as well as my own surmise, that the new Unidad Social organization had a lot to do with the estallido. It was formed in mid-2019 by dozens of leftist organizations, including the CUT, the teachers federation, the N + AFP, and a lot of grass roots neighborhood committees from the poblaciones. It held a “rehearsal” protest before Oct. 18, and it used the internet and social media to promote the Oct. 18 and subsequent protests.

    I think many of the more radical leftists were instigators of at least some of the violence, including the coordinated fire-bombing of subway stations on Oct. 18. Everyone knows, and not just Chileans, that protest movements without violence do not have nearly as much impact as those that include barricades, rock-throwing, fires and looting. Obviously, as you note, a lot of the violence was perpetrated by thugs, hooligans, anarchists and others who came to join the fun.

    I also found it curious that the flags of the leftist parties were almost entirely absent from the protests. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think that meant that the Socialist, Communist and other leftist militants were absent.

    Still, I have no doubt that a major motivation behind the protests was the widespread feeling of resentment over Chile’s class system and its socio-economic inequality. “Inequality” is the current catchword of social protesters everywhere these days. Never mind that Chilean inequality has been tremendously ameliorated over the past 30 years. We always want more, and we tend to be impatient when the good life doesn’t come our way fast enough. I believe that the protests, if not the violence, were a healthy, democratic expression of public sentiment that political leadership needed to be aware of. Pensions, salaries, education and health care need much improvement in Chile.

    I don’t think the new constitution was something that the pueblo was concerned about in the early stages of the protests. I am guessing that this issue was superimposed on the movement by more sophisticated political operators. And I imagine that some of those of the more “progressive” left would like a “popular,” constitution that leaves behind the old models based on the U.S. Constitution. We’ll see how that works out.
    Sorry to go on and on, but your good essay stimulated me.
    Saludos y salud,
    Bill

    1. David Joslyn
      David Joslyn says:

      Bill,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. For me, it’s most difficult to comprehend the broad tolerance in Chile for lawlessness. The connection between actions and consequences is nearly nonexistent. Obviously there are consequences of corporate fraud, tax evasion, high-speed auto races on the main highways, protest violence, etc, etc, but it is not the perpetrators who pay the costs. People on all sides are simply tired of it, but there still does not seem to be the effective leadership required to slay the dragon, so to speak. I am tempted to bet that long before Chileans have their new constitution, something or someone will have begun the renewal process within the bounds of the existing constitution, albeit probably amended further to facilitate a stronger safety net for at least half the population.

  3. Al Howlett
    Al Howlett says:

    Hey Dave,
    Thanks for the analysis and the insights. I don’t disagree with anything you say. In fact, I agree with all of it. As you say at the end who will emerge stronger in
    Chile going forward, the angels or the beasts, good or evil? Not so different from the USA. I think greed is a big part of it. The haves try to arrange things so they have more, at the expense of those who have less. They work together for the common good at times, but that only lasts awhile, and it is not enough to bridge the gap. I am actually surprised the have nots don’t take to the streets more often.
    Al

    1. David Joslyn
      David Joslyn says:

      Al,
      Thanks for reading, and commenting. You are so right, to note that Chileans “work together for the common good at times.” A certain level of solidarity is shown after earthquakes and wild fires (I have commented on this in earlier postings on this blog), when the whole country shows up to contribute resources and lend a hand in rebuilding. But you are also right that “that only lasts awhile”. Chileans have a solidarity gene, to be sure, and they really need to put it to work now. And, yes, the parallel in this regard with the US is obvious, and disturbing.

  4. Avatar
    John Hager says:

    Dave, once again your analysis and comments are very informative and accurate, in my opinion. What strikes me is the parallel, as you and others have pointed out, with the current situation in the U.S. A comparison of the two countries would, in many people’s minds, say that Chile, as a country still in the process of development despite its recent economic success, would naturally be more lacking in terms of the overall resources required to resolve its problems vs. the U.S. with its infinitely larger economic base and relatively long-standing social support system implemented over the past 85 years (SS, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, etc.) and therefore less able than the U.S. to deal with the problems at hand. However, what we are seeing in our country is that, despite our economic might, our system is just as fragile and wanting as Chile’s in terms of meeting many of our citizens’ basic needs (healthcare for all at a reasonable cost, sustainable wages for the lower earners, adequate public education, competent policing services geared towards both public safety as well as the control of lawlessness but with less violence in many cases, etc.). The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has revealed our very vulnerable underbelly in the U.S. and additionally provided a scenario, much like Chile’s, where the disruptions caused by the pandemic and the “estallido” of social injustice issues in both cases do not provide an environment for immediate resolutions of the problems. One can compare the process of defining a new Constitution in Chile to the revamping of policing and other public support policies in the U.S. as related to black and brown Americans as being very thorny and fundamental issues that, amidst the chaos of the pandemic and its effects, will prove to be very messy and drawn out, with the polarization of U.S. politics in an election year thrown in as an additional complicating factor. As you suggest, our collective souls in both countries we’ll be bared in the process, and we’ll see if our better angels prevail to a greater measure.

    1. Joslyn David
      Joslyn David says:

      John, in October the postponed plebiscite will determine the route Chileans will take towards a new constitution; in November the presidential election will determine the fate of Trump’s regime in the US. Both processes run the risk of being inhibited by effects of the pandemia, raising the possibility that both processes, and the related outcomes, will be questioned and possibly challenged. Neither the US nor Chile seem very well prepared to deal with more public discontent especially if it spills again into the streets. More uncertain times ahead, to be sure.

      1. Avatar
        John Hager says:

        I agree. We can only hope that perhaps the best outcome on both cases is that there is a clear majority of the voters (if not the citizens) who will express their support of one platform/candidate so that in each case the country and its governing entities can address the issues at hand in a significant way without returning to the social unrest which in the midst of the continuing pandemic will only hinder rather than contribute to finding solutions. Too obvious a comment? Probably, but the acceptance by the governed Is a minimum for the possibility that real progress can be achieved, one way or another, without further (or at least minimal) unrest.

  5. Avatar
    Anamaria Viveros Long says:

    Thanks David for such insjghtful analysis . Let us hope that when all of this nightmare is over we come out a little better than before….
    Anamaria

  6. Avatar
    Lee Baker says:

    Dave, I had been under the impression, naively, that the balancing act between economic growth and improving the lives of the under served as practiced to a greater or lessor extent by center-right and center-left governments since 1990 had made actual perceived inroads in reducing poverty and inequality. The events since October 2019 have proven me wrong. While the writing of a new constitution is now a politically necessary first step, getting the benefits of future economic growth to accrue equitably to all sectors of Chilean society will be a much tougher challenge.

    1. David Joslyn
      David Joslyn says:

      Lee, I would suggest that your impression of reduced poverty and inequality in Chile since 1990 was not entirely wrong, especially the reduction of poverty. Hence, it has been, and continues to be, difficult for some to fathom the depth of the crisis that exploded October 19. Perhaps if the rate of economic growth during the last Bachelet government had kept up with that of prior periods the discontent might have been ameliorated or simply delayed. Then Pinera, regaining the presidency after Bachelet, was unable to reactivate the economy as promised. Now, of course, the global and national effects of the pandemic make economic growth and therefore social investment, even much more difficult.

  7. Avatar
    NED STRONG says:

    Dave,
    This has me thinking about our upcoming election in the US. Like Chile, the path forward requires significant and fundamental change. I am concerned about social experiments like Allende’s leading to an ultra-conservative backlash like the 1973 coup. So, how far can change go? What kind of leadership can make it happen? As a nation, are we competent to vote? Based on the last national election, I have my doubts about the latter.
    Thanks for the insights on Chile, a country I have grown to love.
    Ned

    1. David Joslyn
      David Joslyn says:

      Ned,
      Thanks for your comments. The age-old argument between slow reform versus more drastic, revolutionary change continues. In Chile, as you know, they have been highly critical of late how the post-Pinochet, center-left governments were pretty much guided by politics of the art of the possible. I suspect they will speed up the rate of change somewhat now, constricted though by recessionary limitations on public and private budgets.
      Regarding your question about competency to vote, be it Chile or the US, I trust you are not suggesting either is not competent to do so. That sounds a bit like Pinochet.
      DJ

  8. Avatar
    Peter Wadsworth says:

    I´d argue that precisely because of the important strides in eliminating poverty, expectations had risen faster than income and thus became an important contributing factor to the October Revolt.

    But what got so many people into the streets was a generalized feeling of unfair treatment by the banks, the government, the big companies, the AFPs, etc., where all of these actors were nickel-and-diming people to death, mostly via abuse of monopoly power.

    The neoliberal economic vision, accepted and enforced by all the governments from Pinochet onward (yes, including all the Concertación governments) has a lot to do with this, because it accepts as an article of faith that unfettered markets solve all problems, while the first things they teach you in business school are devoted to how to thumb your nose at the market mechanism.

    I´d further argue that this is a big factor in what´s happening in the States, as well. INJUSTICE, rather than inequality, is what motivates people to say “enough !” The cognitive dissonance has gotten to be too large to ignore.

    Just sayin´.

    1. David Joslyn
      David Joslyn says:

      Peter,
      Appreciate your comments, and entirely endorse your focus on the “generalized feeling of unfair treatment” as a huge motivator for the social protests that exploded in October. Not to parse the issue of inequality too much, you might see “injustice” as one of the most onerous expressions of inequality. I still wonder how the rewritten constitution, should it ever see the light of day, will actually contribute to a more just and equal society.
      DJ

      1. Avatar
        Peter Wadsworth says:

        No, actually I think that injustice is not entirely contained within inequality, not by a long shot. The problem with making “inequality” the banner-word is that it´s too easy to knock down, define away, or ridicule, which forces you go to the fall-back position of “(in)equality of opportunity”; better, but still easy prey for the sophist.

        On the other hand, fairness is something we all viscerally understand. It doesn´t even need to be taught (have you seen the experiments with monkeys that demonstrate this?) It can be practiced, or not. And when it is not practiced, everybody understands it.

        Just sayin´

        1. David Joslyn
          David Joslyn says:

          Which leads back to the question, if fairness isn’t being practiced, can fairness be legislated or “defined” in a constitution?
          DJ

          1. Avatar
            Peter Wadsworth says:

            Totally agree. That´s the conundrum we´ve all been wrestling with for a long time. In the debates around the US Civil Rights Act of 1964, how many times did we hear “There´s no way to legislate morality” ? But that of course posits a binary choice when in fact there are lots of continua. (continuae?)

            (For the record, I adhere to the idea that change must start from within each person. And with regard to the Chilean constitutional question, I don´t think it´s necessary or useful, and could be the beginning of a major cagada. But it looks like the idea is going to be approved whether I like it or not. Let´s just hope that a minimum of the professional political class will be allowed to participate.)

            As an economist, though, I must observe that the market mechanism really does work, generally for the best when we account for special cases. BUT, I can see how far we´ve strayed from the necessary conditions for the free market to work the way Adam Smith described it. So the first, second and third order of business would be to rein in monopoly abuse and corporate regulatory capture, clearly easier said than done, but not impossible when the will is there. Then of course you need transparency. And common sense, otherwise eventually you need regulators regulating regulators

            Sometimes bumbling through is the best we can hope for.

  9. Avatar
    Arthur Flanagan says:

    Dave,
    Since I have only visited Chile once ( 2018) since I lived and worked there from 1978 to 1980, I am a bit reluctant to believe that my opinions are based on anything other than superficial feelings and observations about what I believe I am seeing, –primarily from press sources (and they are almost always dangerously superficial). I was impressed with the modern Chile that I saw during my vacation, but I was there to have fun and visit friends -not to study the situation. However, following the events since our trip, I do get the impression that the MONOPOLY GAME going on inside most of the free world seems to be coming to an end: and their will be only a few winners. And guess what, the losers who were born into the game ( including the poor and middle class in Chile) are not happy campers right now. That is because its hard for them to believe that the winners are really nice guys who will make sure that all citizens will be taken care of in the future. In many free countries, the overall wealth continues to be dangerously concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, while the relative cost of living increases for the poor and middle class . This reality is driving people ( especially young people) to demand some kind of Assurance that their right to decent health care, education, housing, and a decent wage etc. will be institutionalized. I believe that the attempt to re-write the constitution is a logical start to assuring the average citizen that he/she is valued and that in the future there will be some reasonable sense of security for all. Also, while the protest were obviously organized, (get real- all big protests are organized) it appears to me that these series of demonstrations were organized out of social concerns and the players/organizers were, for the most part, locals rather than outside political forces. I do believe that solid representative groups ( formal and in-formal) must be included in the negotiations of the new Constitution or Chile will continue to have strifes. A new, Revitalized Constitution -could make a big difference. Art

  10. Avatar
    Jesse Dubin says:

    Many social and economic issues worldwide have come together at the same time exacerbated by Covid 19–critical mass was reached–and here we are. Now, where do we go? Quien sabe. Cheers.

    1. Joslyn David
      Joslyn David says:

      We will need what is always needed, but too often in short supply: wise leadership, resources, effective and efficient public institutions, and trust between the “tribes”.

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