[Marxism] Chile's President Lagos talks about his socialism

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Thu Dec 9 13:22:28 MST 2004

4 November, 2004 Life beyond General Pinochet

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos talks to Karina Robinson about reform and
the challenges ahead of next year's election. (...)

The day before our lunch, Mr Lagos was inspecting the Costanera Norte, a
concessionary toll road in Santiago begun during his time as minister of
public works in an earlier government. Like many of the state projects, it
is a 30-year BOT (build, operate and transfer) concession.

"One of the workers said: 'We want stability; here they hire and fire us.' I
said to him that in the modern world there is no stability. That is why I
gave you unemployment insurance. I said to the worker: 'If you lose your job
you will get it [unemployment insurance] for six months.' I said to him: 'Do
you have unemployment insurance?' 'Yes, sir,' [he said]. 'Did you before?'
'No, sir,' [he said]. He understood. When I explained the story to him, the
workers applauded. If I had said I would dictate a law for him not to be
fired, that would have been demagoguery," said Mr Lagos, with the
satisfied air of having accomplished his educational mission.

"Can you believe this country did not have it [unemployment insurance]
before I came in?" he adds, with a rhetorical flourish.

What Mr Lagos refers to as social cohesion is an important element in his
beliefs. He maintains that without it, Chile will not maintain its
international competitiveness. "It is said we are a good pupil of the
Washington Consensus. The second part is never mentioned, that we are a bad
pupil because we have too many social policies," he jokes. "But thanks to
those, we have lowered poverty from 40% [of the population] in 1990 when
democracy arrived, to 18% in 2004." (...)

When asked about the outlook for the Doha Round in the World Trade
Organisation negotiations, Mr Lagos appears relatively optimistic: "Talking
with Lula [President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil] once, he said to
me: 'The easiest thing for a union leader is to go on strike. The most
difficult is how it finishes.' Then, I will tell you, the failure of [trade
talks at] Cancún is the call to strike. Now, we must finish the strike and
be constructive. I think that based on that failure we can start to
 advance." (...)

[Chile] has the second most unequal income distribution in Latin America,
although Mr Lagos defends his record by putting on his economist hat. The
richest 20% of the population are 14 times wealthier than the 20% poorest,
which is "brutal", he says, but he adds: "If I add in the [government's]
social policies, the difference goes down drastically to seven times."

He believes on a long-term basis, this problem can only be solved with
education. (...) He still calls himself a socialist, but says that socialism 
is a way
of creating opportunities for all. "Three hundred years ago, socialism was
about who owned the land. [Karl] Marx arrived and he said: 'Socialism is the
ownership of the means of production.' And today? Today it is about
knowledge. Today the richest man is Bill Gates, and he got there not through
the means of production but through applied knowledge. Thus socialism today
is about how you give access to knowledge to everyone. That is the
challenge." (...)

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