Federalism, Democracy, and Poverty Alleviation in Brazil and Argentina
Kellogg Institute Series on Democracy and Development
Published by: University of Notre Dame Press
296 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 22 tables and 17 line drawings
- ISBN: 9780268028961
- Published: December 2015
With the goal of showing the effect of domestic factors on the performance of poverty alleviation strategies in Latin America, Tracy Beck Fenwick explores the origins and rise of conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs) in the region, and then traces the politics and evolution of specific programs in Brazil and Argentina. Utilizing extensive field research and empirical analysis, Fenwick analyzes how federalism affects the ability of a national government to deliver CCTs.
One of Fenwick’s key findings is that broad institutional, structural, and political variables are more important in the success or failure of CCTs than the technical design of programs. Contrary to the mainstream interpretations of Brazilian federalism, her analysis shows that municipalities have contributed to the relative success of Bolsa Familia and its ability to be implemented territory-wide. Avoiding Governors probes the contrast with Argentina, where the structural, political, and fiscal incentives for national-local policy cooperation have not been adequate, at least this far, to sustain a CCT program that is conditional on human capital investments. She thus challenges the virtue of what is considered to be a mainly majoritarian democratic system.
By laying out the key factors that condition whether mayors either promote or undermine national policy objectives, Fenwick concludes that municipalities can either facilitate or block a national government’s ability to deliver targeted social policy goods and to pursue a poverty alleviation strategy. By distinguishing municipalities as separate actors, she presents a dynamic intergovernmental relationship; indeed, she identifies a power struggle between multiple levels of government and their electorates, not just a dichotomously framed two-level game of national versus subnational.
"This carefully crafted study offers us critical insights on how institutional design affects both governing elites and the poor. It deserves a broad audience among policy makers, academics, and activists." —Nancy Bermeo, Nuffield Chair of Comparative Politics, University of Oxford
"Tracy Beck Fenwick makes a compelling argument about the conditions that either facilitate or retard one of the most important social policy innovations of the contemporary period, which is the turn toward the use of conditional cash transfers to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Her core interest in how different levels of government interact in the provision of social services has become a question of great import. With respect to the recent literatures on decentralization, federalism, and subnational governments in Latin America more generally, Avoiding Governors is by far the most sophisticated attempt yet to integrate municipal governments more directly into the theoretical frameworks we use to study intergovernmental relations.” —Kent Eaton, University of California, Santa Cruz
"This book puts into stark relief an argument that has only been made implicitly so far: that governors are to be avoided if federal governments in Latin America are to successfully put forth antipoverty policies. The question or pursuit is well stated: to examine why Brazil and Argentina had differing outcomes from similarly designed CCTs. The answer the author provides is that differences in federalism are key: While the setup in Brazil is such that the federal government can bypass governors, the national government in Argentina does not have the opportunity within its federal system to truly bypass the provinces and put through national policy in an equitable fashion throughout the territory. Rather, municipalities in Argentina are captured by the provincial level." —Wendy Hunter, University of Texas at Austin
“Fenwick’s very useful book compares the implementation of anti-poverty programs in Brazil and Argentina. . . Fenwick also makes the interesting (and counterintuitive) argument that the extreme party fragmentation in Brazil may have actually been an advantage there.” —Choice
“Fenwick’s book is a superb example of the power of political science to offer penetrating insights by coordinating the nuances of policy, history, and institutional configuration.” —Hispanic American Historical Review