Income inequality: the Latin American experience

As part of the second plenary looking at ‘Comparative Experiences of Social Justice‘ Carlos Vélez (Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia) presented a case on inequality in Latin America. Despite relatively high levels of income inequality when compared with other regions, data has revealed a fall in levels of inequality in Latin American countries. These improvements have mostly been witnessed in the last decade. In his opinion, the key factors driving inequality are changes in the distribution of human capital and policy variables such as transfers, subsidies and taxes that are not sufficiently ‘progressive’ in Latin America.


When interviewed, Vélez explained that these are pervasive factors across all regions of Latin America. However, in his presentation Vélez compared data on falling levels of inequality with survey data suggesting that many Latin Americans continue to perceive high levels of inequality and remain uncomfortable with policies they see as unfair. Public preference for aggressive redistributive policies lie at the heart of a dichotomy in Latin American countries, given enduring public attachment to market economics. Examining data from the Human Opportunity Index, Vélez gave reasons for renewed public optimism, particularly highlighting that Latin American countries are mostly performing well in education, social security and basic housing.

There are signs that improvement in equality of opportunity for children is occurring. Vélez spoke of positive signs indicating improvements across many dimensions relating to human opportunity and economic equality. However, large gaps still exist, and some countries lag behind in development, particularly on education and food security.

View Vélez’s presentations on the ERF SlideShare account.

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