La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

First two paragraphs of my book manuscript

In the first half of the twentieth century, the most economically advanced Latin American countries established extensive welfare institutions for government and industrial workers, only to begin the process of dismantling some of those institutions, notably pensions, in the last two decades of the century. Social insurance, including extensive pension, health, and worker’s compensation programs, protected formal sector workers, or those in the regulated labor market, in the majority of Latin American countries by mid-century. These welfare institutions were often central to the fabric of political life. The debt crisis of the 1980s ushered in a new economic orthodoxy and efforts in most countries to substantially reform social insurance institutions, though with varying success. The reform or privatization of public pensions was the most notable of this trend, though public health insurance was also targeted for reform. Given their political importance, the reform of these welfare institutions was (and is, where reform efforts are on-going) highly contentious. Despite the centrality of these welfare institutions to Latin American politics, few studies have systematically examined their political origins and historical development. This lacuna is conspicuous when compared to the extensive comparative literature on similar welfare institutions in the advanced industrialized economies of Western Europe and North America. This book begins to bridge this gap in our understanding of the dynamics of welfare in Latin America through a comparative historical analysis of social insurance institutions in Mexico since the Mexican Revolution.

The study of welfare in Mexico provides a good opportunity to deepen our understanding of the politics of welfare in Latin America because Mexico suggests a number of interesting theoretical puzzles. For instance, why would a country that was predominantly agrarian in the 1940s opt to invest considerable political and economic resources into welfare institutions that benefited a small, but growing, number of primarily urban, industrial workers? If the creation and expansion of welfare in Europe is associated with the expansion of suffrage to workers and the consolidation of democracy at the turn of the twentieth century, why were welfare institutions created during the consolidation of authoritarianism in Mexico? And, if organized labor was so co-opted and weak during the height of Mexican authoritarianism in the 1950s through 1970s, why was this the period of greatest expansion of welfare coverage and benefits? And more recently, if the regime that dominated Mexican politics for the majority of the twentieth century had so completely established control of organized labor, why was the regime unable to impose all the pension and health insurance reforms it favored during the 1990s? The answers to these questions, I argue, can be found in the relationship between organized labor and the state and in the processes of institutional change. My explanation is not one that stresses Mexican exceptionalism, though Mexican history does reveal certain particularities. Because my explanation is theoretically grounded in the literatures on welfare and institutional change, it emphasizes the theoretical affinities between the Mexican experience and those in other countries that have faced the incorporation of an organized working class into national politics.

posted by Michelle @ 1:20 PM,


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