Targeted social programs are simply not sufficient.
Rebuilding social cohesion and reducing inequality
will mean returning to universal social policy.
Getting there, though, will require a new fiscal pact.
The perennial argument over social
policy—universalism versus targeted
subsidies to the poor—is once again
galvanizing policymakers and scholars
across the region. In recent decades, Latin
American governments have generally
inclined toward limited social assistance programs,
but that model is increasingly under attack in a continent where high levels of inequality continue to
be endemic. Yet the alternative, a universal welfare
system based on the principle of social citizenship—
or social rights—is often regarded as having limited
applicability in Latin America, where access to formal
employment and a solid tax base—key elements of
this model—are limited.
to return to the idea of universalism that inspired
social policies around the world in the past. The best
“targeting” for the poor is in fact a universal social
policy. The targeted programs that have become the
policy fashion in the region should be seen not as a
substitute but as a complement and, indeed, as an
instrument of universalism.
To be sure, social policies based on the principles
of social citizenship demand more fiscal resources.
Developing and implementing such broad programs
require a new “Fiscal Covenant” in Latin America
along the lines proposed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) nearly
a decade ago. Sadly, the notion of social citizenship
on which these entitlements is based too often has
been ignored by policymakers in the region.