In Brazil, Turkey, and Chile, Protests Follow Economic Success

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Op-Ed Bloomberg
Summary
The citizens of economically successful Chile, Turkey, and Brazil have recently erupted into widespread protests, demanding that their governments address the lag in development and the unfulfilled expectations of a rising middle class.
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What is happening in Brazil? Not so long ago, it was the toast of the global economy. More than 40 million Brazilians joined the middle class, the number of indigents plummeted, and the nation achieved the feat of reducing its legendary income inequality. The Latin American giant was awarded both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. It seemed to have finally buried the old cliche: Brazil is the country of the future … and always will be.

Now Brazil has hit turbulence. Since the middle of June, its biggest cities have been convulsed by rolling street protests. The initial spark was a 9¢ rise in bus fares, but the protests have since become wider, more clamorous expressions of anti-establishment anger. The day after the government backed down on the bus fare hike, 1 million demonstrators turned out in more than 100 cities to voice frustration with corruption, the inefficiency of the health-care and public transport systems, and runaway costs of hosting the World Cup. Some protests have turned violent, with mobs vandalizing banks and attempting to break into the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Police responded with pepper spray and rubber bullets. The uprising is Brazil’s biggest since 1992, when a student revolt against then-President Fernando Collor de Mello led to his resignation.

Around the world, eruptions of mass rage are becoming increasingly common, often sparked by relatively minor incidents or grievances. In Chile, student protests about the high cost of education turned into violent clashes. In Turkey, the instigation was the government’s intention to raze a park in Istanbul. In 2011 a Tunisian fruit vendor, exasperated by the constant harassment of the authorities, set himself on fire and started a revolution that ousted dictator Zina al-Abidine Ben Ali and ignited popular revolts throughout the Middle East. Chinese cities are often rocked by street demonstrations spurred by the most varied of reasons: protests against shoddy construction, the abusive behavior of local authorities, corruption, or contaminated food or water.

While critics of capitalism might claim the unrest represents a backlash against the global economic order, the reality is that the protest movements are highly localized, focused on grievances specific to a single country. However, the countries in which these protests have occurred do have something in common: economic success. And that’s no coincidence.

In all the countries in which street riots erupted, the government was stunned by the rapid escalation of the protests. It didn’t expect them, didn’t understand their true nature, and was ill prepared to react effectively. The common response was to repress the protests by sending in the riot police. Inevitably, the clashes between the people and the police led to casualties and scenes of brutality that spread rapidly through social media, thus exacerbating the protests and spurring even more people to take to the streets.

Governments have difficulty dealing with movements that lack a clear chain of command or a discernible organizational structure. The protests—informal, spontaneous, collective, often chaotic—are baffling to governments organized along hierarchical lines of authority. In Brazil, for example, a survey found that 81 percent of those who participated in one of the massive rallies simply learned about it via Facebook (FB) or Twitter and decided to join. In these cases, with whom should a government negotiate to restore order?

The leaderless, spontaneous nature of the protests also makes it difficult for the government to find someone to blame—or to decide whom to arrest in the hope of weakening the movement by cutting off its head. There is no head. In this sense, it’s interesting to compare the reactions of Brazil’s and Turkey’s leaders. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff shied away from denouncing the protesters and instead insisted that their voices needed to be heard, their demands taken seriously and changes made. She has pledged to spend billions upgrading public transportation, promised to crack down on official corruption, and proposed a national plebiscite on political reform. In contrast, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has attacked, threatened, and insulted the protesters, claiming they were part of a widespread conspiracy against his Islamic government. Among those Erdoğan singled out as participants in the conspiracy are local bankers and, of course, unnamed foreign powers.

Just as nobody could anticipate the start of these protests, it’s equally impossible to predict how and when they will end. In many countries caught up in the recent wave of unrest, the protests have had little to no lasting impact; in others, they’ve produced small, cosmetic reforms. In a few places, particularly in the Arab world, the protests have toppled governments. But Brazil, Turkey, and Chile are not Tunisia or Egypt. Their democratically elected governments are far more resilient and their leaders far more popular and secure in their power than the North African dictators swept away by the Arab Spring. Nonetheless, one thing is certain: The political climate of these countries was radically changed by the protests, and their leadership has been weakened.

This comes as a rude shock to policymakers in emerging economies who convinced themselves—with some justification—they’ve done things right. Chile is often cited as the example of a poor country able to overcome its troubled political past to become a world-class model of economic progress, development, and democracy. Same with Turkey: It’s common to call it an “economic miracle.” Moreover, Turkey was widely seen as the ideal of a country where East and West, modernity and tradition, Islam and democracy could peacefully blend and coexist.

So why did thousands of citizens of Chile, Turkey, and Brazil take to the streets to protest, instead of celebrating the obvious and tangible progress of their respective countries? The answer may be found in a book that the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington published in 1968, Political Order in Changing Societies. His thesis is that in societies experiencing rapid change, the public’s demand for public services grows at a faster clip than the government’s ability to satisfy it. His more general point is that institutions cannot develop at the pace required by the fast-growing expectations of a population recently empowered by prosperity, literacy, more information, and a newfound expectation—indeed hunger—to shape its own better future. In Huntington’s words, “The primary problem of politics is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social economic change.”

That lag is what brings people into the streets and amplifies more limited protests against high college tuitions in Chile, the redevelopment of Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, or the 9¢ increase in public transport fares in Brazil.

In these three successful nations the current street protests will eventually abate. But that doesn’t mean their roots will disappear. In some countries the gap identified by Huntington is the source of debilitating turmoil and paralyzing political instability. In others it awakens apathetic citizens and forces them to engage, politicians to listen, and governments to change. In some lucky cases, Huntington’s gap propels society forward.

The Turkish and Brazilian situations will provide interesting lessons for the many governments facing newly empowered populations that want more from their leaders. Hopefully the lesson will confirm that dialogue, inclusion, and sincere responses to popular grievances work better than demagoguery and repression. No government will be able to fully satisfy all the expectations of its people. But governments in the 21st century need to hear their people’s voices and offer something real in response. That means building a democracy that goes beyond holding free and fair elections.

This article was originally published in Bloomberg Businessweek.

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About the International Economics Program

The Carnegie International Economics Program monitors and analyzes short- and long-term trends in the global economy, including macroeconomic developments, trade, commodities, and capital flows, drawing out their policy implications. The current focus of the program is the global financial crisis and its related policy issues. The program also examines the ramifications of the rising weight of developing countries in the global economy among other areas of research.

 

Comments (1)

 
 
  • Susana Iribarren
    1 Recommend
     
    So the same action is long over due in Venezuela. After 15 years of Cuban ocupation, election fraud, lack of toilet paper, 33% inflation and highest crime rate of the hemisphere. Conclusion? People can also get acostum to dreadful conditions and
    horrible situations. Stockholm Symdrome is real and worth of further studying.
     
     
    Reply to this post

     
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Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/06/27/in-brazil-turkey-and-chile-protests-follow-economic-success/gc7t

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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