The Race to Equality

How do the governments and people of Latin America equalize the financial playing field? Oxfam, a worldwide non-governmental organization, pinpoints several key factors to improve economic justice; progressive tax, public services, employee rights and women’s rights. In focusing on these areas with policies that support everyone rather than the wealthy few, the region can improve from its current position as most unequal in the world.


Four aspects of the current tax structure work against equality in Latin America. The United States also has several of the same problems, especially missing is the willingness to tax people with high incomes. Improved tax revenues would fight inequality by funding social programs.

  1. Taxes: In many countries the wealthy are not taxed proportionally. Oxfam says, “Tax privileges, the inaccurately named ‘tax incentives’, end up being the source of deep inequalities in the region.”
  2. Tax evasion: Tax laws are not strictly enforced, many people avoid paying.
  3. Consumer taxes: Consumer product taxes put undue burden on those with lower incomes and make key products unaffordable for them.
  4. International companies: Companies like Spanish Telefónica hide profits in off-shore tax havens, avoiding taxes in Latin America.
Costa Rican Currency Photo: R. Cuningham

Public Services

Social programs that improve equality are free education, free national health care, support for the aging, clean water, and access to sanitation. These programs keep people from slipping further into poverty and create a more equal footing for everyone in the nation. US policy makers could take note…

Employees’ Rights

The national minimum wage must be a living wage. In the United States, minimum wage is $7.25 an hour! That’s about half of the minimum of at least $15 working one job. Of the 15 countries in Latin America, only Costa Rica has a liveable minimum wage. Oxfam recommends a maximum salary cap as well.

Frida Kahlo on the Mexican 500 Peso bill Photo: R. Cuningham

Women’s Rights

In Latin America, women more often live in poverty and receive lower pay. Laws to ensure equal pay, paid maternity leave, and child care are central to improving women’s lives (and that of their families).

These all are excellent recommendations from an experienced international organization. However, in my eyes, the most startling observation Oxfam made on their site was,

“…inequality is not inevitable or accidental. It is the result of deliberate policy choices.”


That statement opened my eyes. In the United States, our public policy debates are separated into Democrat and Republican viewpoints. I find it fascinating that Oxfam supports social programs and tax equity as ways to combat inequality and uphold human rights. Perhaps we need to change the way we frame these questions in the USA.

What are your thoughts?

¡Olé! –Rebecca

La carrera a la igualdad

¿Cómo llegarían a un fondo más igualitario los gobiernos y personas de América Latina? Oxfam, una organización no gubernamental enfoque en unos factores claves para mejorar la justicia económica; impuestos progresivos, servicios públicos, derechos de trabajadores y de mujeres. Cuando se enfoque en estas áreas con políticas que apoyan a todos en vez de sólo los ricos, la región podría mejorar su posición presente de la más desigual en todo el mundo.

Los impuestos
Cuatro aspectos de la estructura de impuestos existente funciona en contra de la igualdad en América Latina. Los Estados Unidos tiene varios de los mismos problemas, particularmente se hace falta la voluntad para legislar impuestos igualitarios para personas con sueldos altos. Mejorar los ingresos de los impuestos combatiría la desigualdad con apoyar programas sociales.

  1. En muchos países de América Latina los ricos no tienen los impuestos proporcionales. Dice Oxfam, “Privilegios de impuestos, incorrectamente llamados incentivos de impuestos, son una fuente de desigualdad profunda en la región.” (traducción por RC)
  2. Evadir los impuestos: Las leyes de impuestos no se hacen cumplir, muchas personas no pagan.
  3. Impuestos de consumidores: Los impuestos para productos de consumidores ponen demasiada presión en las personas con los ingresos más bajos y pone productos claves fuera de su alcance.
  4. Companías internacionales: Companías como Telefónica (de España) esconden sus ganacias en paraísos fiscales, evadiendo impuestos en Latinoamérica.
5000 Pesos Chile, Gabriela Mistral Imagen: Banco Central de Chile

Programas públicos
Programas sociales que mejoran la igualdad son educación gratis, cuidado de salud nacional gratis, apoyo para los ancianos, agua limpia y acceso al saneamiento. Estos programas previenen que la gente cae más profundamente en la pobreza y crean una base más igual para todos en la nación. Los políticos de los EEUU podría tomar apuntes sobre este tema…

Derechos de los trabajadores
El salario mínimo nacional tiene que ser un sueldo suficiente para vivir. En los Estados Unidos, el salario mínimo es ¡sólo $7.25 la hora! Este es la mitad de lo mínimo de los $15 requirido trabajando un puesto. De los quince países en América Latina, sólo Costa Rica tiene un salario mínimo vivible. Oxfam recomienda un tope de salario máximo también.

Los derechos de mujeres
En América Latina, las mujeres más frecuentemente viven en la pobreza y reciben salarios más bajos. Leyes para asegurar el salario igualitario, permiso de maternidad pagado, y cuidado de niños son centrales para mejorar las vidas de mujeres (y de sus familias).

Estas recomendaciones de la organización internacional con muchas experiencia, Oxfam son fantásticas. Para mí, lo que más me captó la atención era el dicho en su sitio web:

“la desigualdad no es inevitable ni acidental. Es el resultado de escoger políticas intencionadas.”

En los Estados Unidos, nuestros debates acerca de la política pública están divididos en el lado Democrata y el lado Republicano. Pienso que es fascinante que Oxfam apoya programas sociales y impuestos igualitarios para combatir la desigualdad y mantener los derechos humanos. Es posible que tengamos que cambiar la manera de acercarnos a los problemas en los Estados Unidos.

¿Qué piensas tú?

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Mapa de las Américas Mapa: Jorge
Rebecca Cuningham

29 thoughts on “The Race to Equality

  1. What an interesting framework. I love your statement at the end “Perhaps we need to change the way we frame these questions in the USA.” Sounds like a good idea – and maybe a way out of the deadlock we seem to be in in this country. Thank you, Rebecca!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. To some extent, the US’s inequality isn’t far off from many third-world countries’…which is saying a lot about the quality of life here! I’m all about “taxing the rich,” as it’s really unjust that the ultra-wealthy get tax breaks whereas the rest of us do not. We could also do a lot better with our public assistance programs, e.g. food stamps, healthcare: I work first-hand on this, and it frustrates me just how the budget is stretched so thinly to accommodate for the increasing number of people who need help. Perhaps countries in Latin America will continue to improve, as well as our own country!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your detailed and heartfelt comments, Rebecca. You are pointing out trends and possible solutions that I thin are important to discuss. Fair taxes, a living minimum wage and national healthcare are cornerstones of equality in many great nations of the world. I hope we can improve our implementation of them in the Americas as well, as you said. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Not quite the same as inequality, but all the news articles recently about how much money France stole from Haiti … and similar claims can be made about many of the other Latin American countries, as well …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The UK has very high social inequality compared to the rest of Europe. One reason is that the rich get massive tax breaks, while the poor are heavily taxed in proportion to their incomes. There recently has ben a scandal about the tax avoiding biillionaire wife of a Government Mininster, The Chancellor (he is the one setting all our taxes!).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Poverty is deliberately organized in South America. No doubt about that.
    Now I would add one factor to Oxfam’s list: corruption. Corruption is directly correlated to poverty the world over.
    When public work contractors add on 12-15% to their costs to pay the required kickbacks to public officials, who pays the price? The people.
    As I once heard an expert on the radio (american, female, but I forgot her name) say: “corruption is the most efficient way to steal from the poor.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Brian. The point about corruption is well taken. That underlies several of our current problems in the US; we could use campaign finance reform. Would you say that there’s a way to lessen the spread of corruption, or would you say it is the way of the political world?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There has to be a way. We don’t accept a corrupt bank manager do we? Why should we accept a corrupt mayor or councilman, filling his/her pockets with OUR money?


      2. I think Democracy has made us too complacent with politicians, in the sense that Democracy was supposed to “protect” us and do things right. But. But. There is absolutely no reason to accept any corruption, in elected officials, in civil servants, anybody.

        Liked by 1 person

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