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Global Development Institute

WP182/2013

Politicising poverty in Latin America in the light of Rawls’ ‘strains of commitment’ argument for a social minimum

Armando Barrientos

The paper discusses the rise of poverty and poverty reduction in the political and policy agenda in Latin America, reflected inter alia in the growth of social assistance. It identifies and discusses two main explanations offered in the literature: democratisation and left partisan power. It then introduces a third explanation based on Rawls’ theory of justice, in which a social minimum is essential for preventing the ‘strains of commitment’ from becoming excessive. Analysis of cross-country panel data for 18 Latin American countries for the period 1990-2008 assesses the plausibility of these explanations.