interview

José Manuel Salazar Xirinachs, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the ILO

Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International Labor Organization

...it is when microfinance offers other, supplementary services that we see the best outcomes. These additional services include the empowerment of women, who have shown themselves to be better administrators and multipliers of the assets they are given...

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs has been ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, headquartered in Lima, Peru, since 1 June 2015. He has a PhD in Economics from the University of Cambridge, UK, and a degree in Economics from the University of Costa Rica.

From 2005 to 2013 he was the Executive Director of the ILO’s Employment Sector, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. He was Director of the Trade Unit at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington DC (1998-2005), the technical support unit for negotiations to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA); Costa Rica’s Minister of Foreign Trade (1997-98); and Executive Director of the Federation of Private Entities of Central America and Panama (FEDEPRICAP) (1990-97). He set up the Business Council for Hemispheric Integration in 1995 and managed it until 1997.

He has published widely on economic growth and productive development policies, trade and competitiveness, economic integration, employment and human talent. His books include: Towards Free Trade in the Americas (Brookings Institution, 2001); Trade and Employment: From Myths to Facts (2011); Transforming economies: Making industrial policy work for growth, jobs and development (2014), co-authored with I. Nubler and R. Kozul-Wright.

He sat on the Advisory Panel for the 2010 Human Development Report and the Board of the International Centre for Trade & Sustainable Development (ICTSD) (2012-2015). Since 2015 he has been a member of the World Economic Forum’s Advisory Panel on the Future of Production.

 

1. Would you share with us your agenda priorities when you were appointed Regional Director?

When I took over as ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean in June 2015, it was important for me to define a limited number of priority issues, so that I could better focus and align the organization’s various mandates to the needs of the region. We defined three major priorities: (1) Productive Development Policies (PDPs) for inclusive growth with more and better jobs; (2) Bringing more jobs into the formal economy, and (3) Respect for and observance of International Labor Standards (ILSs).

In the case of Priority (1), we stressed that the PDPs should be the policy area with the most powerful instruments for influencing structural transformation, productivity and the characteristics that growth should take (sustained, inclusive and sustainable, in line with Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals). This was an innovative way to achieve more traction in job markets and create decent jobs. There are many factors involved: an average productivity rate that is under half that of leading countries and a gap that is widening; productive development that is still highly dependent on the export of just a few primary products and under-diversified; heavy preponderance of “freelancer-ism” and of micro-enterprises, instead of medium and large companies, with new technological revolutions and productive paradigms. All these issues indicate that the route towards quality employment in the region entails paying much more attention than we do today to productive development, productivity and human talent.

Priority 2 is an imperative in a region in which, despite a 4-point fall during the high-growth “golden decade” between 2003 and 2013, 47% of all employment is still in the informal economy. This is, of course, highly correlated with Priority 1, but it has specific characteristics that warrant treating it separately, with its own action plan.

Priority 3 brings a number of related issues and challenges together; the gaps where labor law fails to respect the ILS in certain countries; the breaches in upholding of basic rights, particularly in the area of freedom of association and trade union freedoms, as well as collective bargaining rights; unacceptable levels of child and forced labor (despite considerable progress); the existence of certain types of discrimination, particularly, but not exclusively, related to gender. This priority also covers the discrimination suffered by indigenous people and the application of Convention 169, as well as the need to strengthen the labor administration and inspection services.

2. In your opinion, what are the inalienable principles that should guide governments and international organizations to work towards productive transformation that would lead to economic growth that creates employment in Latin America?

In the 80s and 90s there was a highly ideological, and rather sterile, debate about the role of the state and the market, whenever industrial policies or Productive Development Policies (PDPs) were discussed. I think this did a lot of damage because it led to paralysis, whereas other countries, in Asia especially, achieved successful innovations in institutions and found ways of collaborating to improve competitiveness and productivity. Fortunately, this has changed in the region. It is now moving towards a more pragmatic conversation that, as Dani Rodrik says, has “normalized” PDPs, and focuses on the practical application of PDPs that work and speed up the process of learning and economic transformation.  This is more important than ever in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Incidentally, I edited a book about this, originally in English, which has just come out in Spanish.  

The need to develop intelligent forms of public-private partnership that involve all the important players is widely acknowledged nowadays and is based on three basic reasons, or principles: i) no-one has access to all the information, whether in the public or the private sector. Information must be aggregated through dialogue and committees that engage companies of all sizes in clusters: the public sector, workers, laboratories, training centers and other relevant parties; ii) productive development is an area which inherently suffers from strategic uncertainty: nobody knows what needs to be done. It has to be built up collectively. This requires collaborative “discovery processes”, in which the players identify the problems and work together on their solutions cooperatively. This is known as “experimentalist governance”; and iii) long-term policies, state policies, need to be put in place that are not dependent on a particular government.

The problem in Latin America is, as Sergio Bitar so correctly noted, that “macro-economic thinking has predominated excessively, delegating onto the market the definition of the direction to take, and preaching a minimal state. But this is not the state of affairs either in the United States, or in Germany, or in South Korea, or even in China. And not in the European Union either. Strategic decisions are adopted by society and are driven forward from the State, to put itself in an advantageous position. And this has never been truer than it is today, with the speed of technological change.”

It is certainly the case that the new wave of technological change is speeding up the momentum of job creation and destruction, together with the demand for new skills. This challenges the systems of formal and vocational education not only to keep abreast of but also to anticipate these changes. So, aligning educational policies and professional training with productive development and employment policies is a principle that today should be more important than ever.

Another point on which we should be clear is that PDPs should not be viewed, as they were in the past, as simply a push to industrialize. New technologies have generated a new production system and have eliminated the traditional distinctions between agricultural, industrial and service activities. I am not talking about returning to protectionism, it is not a question of going back to tariffs. What PDPs should be, however, is a coordinated concentration of efforts, with public policy taking the lead, involving all the nation’s different players: its public agencies, private companies, workers’ representatives, universities and research centers, accompanied by international partnerships.

Finally, the principle of implementing long-term policies is essential. There is a huge lack of forward thinking, of dialogue and of long-term planning in the countries throughout the region. It is characterized by short-term planning policies, and by the absence of forums and exercises for strategic dialogue and thought. For example, in 2011 the Asian Development Bank published the report Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century, with the purpose of taking action to keep the momentum going for the next 40 years. The worst-case scenario it posits is nothing less than that Asia embarks on the path that Latin America has taken in the last 30 years and falls into the middle-income trap. And this scenario was presented in the book as a wake-up call for all leaders of Asian countries. Latin America is presented there as a sluggish region, with low levels of investment, modest productivity gains, little appetite for carrying out long-term programs, excessive inequality and lack of pragmatism in debates about the division of roles between the state and the market, debates in which ideology predominates over all else. We have to acknowledge, even if it pains us, that this is a pretty accurate description. So it ought to be our wake-up call, telling us not to carry on as usual. We need to get stuck into productive development policies and productivity in earnest.

In short, I would say that the need to aggregate information, to conduct “experimentalist governance” in facing up to strategic uncertainty, to implement long-term policies and to align education and professional training policies with policies of productive development, are key principles in pushing forward economic and productive transformation towards a more sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth process with more and better jobs.

3. Which of the policies implemented in Latin America do you think have achieved best results in the journey towards economic and social inclusion?

There are many examples of interventions and programs that have contributed to economic or productive inclusion through employment and social inclusion, by improving and expanding social protection systems. There are lots of programs targeted at young people, women, informal workers or enterprises to get them into the formal economy, to eradicate child labor so that girls and boys are educated, for the expansion of the social security net, etc. I would say that the most significant results in terms of big numbers are in poverty reduction. Let us recall that between 2000 and 2015, over 83 million Latin Americans escaped poverty, and the average rate of poverty fell from 45% in 2002 to 29% now.

Poverty reduction is complex because not all this impressive progress can be attributed to social programs; a good part of it is a result of the high rates of growth and jobs created during this period’s “golden decade”. But it was the combination of high sustained growth, backed up by innovative conditional transfer programs (CTP) and transfer programs with shared responsibility, that produced these results. In 1997 there were only three CTPs in the region, but by 2010 eighteen countries had this kind of program, including Bolsa Familia in Brazil, Oportunidades in Mexico, Avancemos in Costa Rica, Chile Solidario, Bono de Desarrollo Humano in Ecuador, among others.

Recent research and assessment, for example work done by ECLAC  https://repositorio.cepal.org/handle/11362/27855, confirms the effectiveness of these programs and analyzes the circumstances and characteristics that have contributed most to favorable outcomes. The right financing is a necessary condition. It’s no coincidence that the most successful programs have taken place in times of high growth and in countries with the fiscal space to fund them. The effectiveness of these programs also depends on the presence of robust universal health and education systems, as well as on a dynamic economy that generates decent jobs over a sustained period of time.  

I think it is important to mention too the progress made in education. Despite the quality and relevance deficiencies, measured by the well-known PISA tests, the reality is that educational systems have expanded to provide virtually universal basic education, while there has been significant growth in secondary and tertiary matriculations. This is very important, because the evidence of the impact of education on employability and the quality of employment is very clear: education improves the likelihood of getting a job. Individuals with tertiary education are more likely to be hired than those with secondary education, and these are more likely than those with only primary education. Unfortunately, countries in the region suffer huge shortcomings in quality and relevance, which is very worrying. As we have argued in a recent report, it would be difficult to imagine a greater injustice to the new generations than making them spend 10, 11 or 12 years in academic education, only to discover at the end that they do not have the instruments they need to get a good job and earn a decent living with that job. (http://www.oitcinterfor.org/publicaciones/futuro_fp)

Finally, I would like to point to the important progress achieved in eradicating child labor, which has fallen substantially in the last 15 years. Over 9.5 million boys, girls and adolescents have been saved from child labor since 2000. This is due to specific policies directly related to the causes underlying this phenomenon and has been a joint effort between governments, employers’ organizations, workers’ organizations, civil society and the support of the international cooperation sector.

4. One of the ILO’s priorities in the region is to overcome the challenges of the informal sector. In your opinion, what should public-sector institutions do to tackle this problem?

The first thing we have to do is to acknowledge that informality is a heterogeneous phenomenon. We have informal employment and informal economic units and companies. Certain occupations are characterized by having high levels of informality, such as domestic work, and others have very low informality. Informality has a much greater impact on self-employed workers and on micro and small enterprises than on medium and large companies. And it affects workers with lower educational levels, women, young people and the poorest. No single policy is going to work for this diverse set of situations. Each target group must have its own customized policy package or intervention model. That is why programs to lower informality that only hone in on tax instruments, for example, are not enough.

The second thing that has to be done is to adopt integrated approaches with several points of entry. Policy packages must leverage several instruments: (1) legislative and regulatory amendments in tax, labor and social security, when registering companies or other bodies, which could bring down the costs of operating in the formal economy and in some cases creating special regimes for certain groups of workers.  (2) Generating incentives to go into the formal economy, such as the “monotax”, to consolidate and reduce the tax burden for micro and small enterprises; or measures that make it easier, as well as cheaper, to sign up in the social security system, and work towards a universal social safety net. (3) Strengthening the capacity for regulatory compliance, by encouraging a compliance culture with the help of public awareness campaigns, and boosting the enforcement capacity of labor administration and inspection.

All that is helpful, but much of the informality is structural, linked to low and volatile economic growth. In other words, to reduce informality there must be a favorable eco-system for investment and Productive Development Policies that provide the spark for new growth engines and promote the development of medium and large enterprises. It is the combination of these interventions and factors, tailored to the different target groups, that in aggregate can move the needle of informality in the right direction and by a significant degree.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the ILO encourages the transition from the informal to the formal economy through its “FORLAC” Program to Promote Formalization, set up in 2013, which now follows the Recommendation 204 guidelines on the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy, adopted by the International Labour Conference in 2015. This was the first international regulatory instrument to be approved by consensus by the tripartite representatives of the 186 member countries of the ILO, and promotes an integrated policy approach along the lines I have just mentioned.

5. To what degree do you think that microfinance contributes to promoting socio-economic inclusion and job creation?

I believe it is important to acknowledge that nowadays, when we talk about microfinance, we are not talking about microloans, but a package of services that includes savings, insurance and payment services.

Financial inclusion in general, which includes but is not limited to microlending, has made great strides. Estimates for Latin America and the Caribbean between 2011 and 2014 indicate that the percentage of people with access to financial services (at a bank, a microfinance institution, a financial cooperative, a debit card or mobile money) increased by 10 percentage points, up to 52% (Global Findex database for 2014). Of these, an estimated 18.5 million clients in the region have a microloan (FOMIN- Financial Inclusion and Financial Systems in Latin America and the Caribbean: Data and Trends 2016).

The digital revolution has brought costs down, made possible much wider penetration of financial services and has helped to extend financial inclusion. Despite this improvement, 48% of the population still does not have access to financial services.

The social, economic and employment outcomes of microfinance are varied and complex to assess. Evidence suggests that the impact depends to a large extent on how programs are implemented and how the add-on or support services are combined with them. An important lesson is that, for better effects, pro-active social and productive development policies (support for micro and small enterprises, work training) need to be run together, spearheaded by governments, highly localized and targeted at raising social and productive inclusion.

A plethora of microfinance research indicates that the major problem facing the very poor, who are carrying out some kind of commercial, productive or service activity, is that their income stream is very irregular, very low, and used mainly to survive from day to day. That is why they need the full spread of financial services, both to improve their businesses and to protect themselves from the different types of risk threatening them.

Being limited to supplying resources to meet a short-term consumer need or informal “survival” trading activity through micro-loans offers little hope to poor sectors that they will escape the poverty trap. However, it is when microfinance offers other, supplementary services that we see the best outcomes. These additional services include the empowerment of women, who have shown themselves to be better administrators and multipliers of the assets they are given; financial and technological training so as to make better use of the services that have been tailored to suit the conditions of poor segments; teaching of skills and business savvy; and collateral services such as insurance and saving. And in the case of rural areas, agricultural advisory and extension services.

As regards the impact of microfinance on job creation, there is little clear information. The ILO put in place a project called “Microfinance for Decent Work” to look at the impact of various specific programs developed by microfinance institutions in dimensions such as reducing child labor, formalizing employment, reducing vulnerable employment and entrepreneurial performance. It found positive, but modest, outcomes, in all of these dimensions (ILO Microfinance for Decent Work action research report: summary in English).

It is also important to remember that investors in microfinance institutions are increasingly adopting social performance indicators in their due diligence and monitoring processes to ensure that their investments produce positive impacts.

In order to guarantee positive outcomes, the way in which microfinance is monitored is vital. The Social Performance Task Force Group, of which the ILO is an active member, has developed standards for managing social performance. They provide guidelines for microfinance institutions to improve their social results. And the BBVA Microfinance Foundation does outstanding work in developing indicators to monitor its clients’ performance and not just the institution’s operational metrics. Very few financial institutions work with this type of indicator, despite the growth in financing volumes.

6. Latin America and the Caribbean have a notable number of micro and small enterprises which frequently do not manage to be sustainable because they are in the informal economy and because of their low productivity. What policies do you believe countries should support so that small and micro-enterprises can overcome these weaknesses?

Most of the micro and small companies in Latin America do not grow or become formalized. The latest data available indicate that in the region there are around 11 million economic units that have at least one employee as well as the employer, the vast majority of which are MSEs (around 10 million), leaving only a million medium and large enterprises. The latter generate just 19% of the region’s employment.

This predominance of MSEs and self-employed workers in Latin America and the Caribbean’s productive infrastructure, and the lack of medium-sized companies, holds back growth in the economy and in good-quality employment. The size of the economic units means that 80% of the workforce works in sectors where productivity is below the region’s average, and only 20% of the workforce works in sectors which have above-average productivity; this translates directly into inequalities in the job markets.

The reality is clear: most policies supporting SMEs in Latin America are not working. Why? For at least two reasons: many governments opt for special regimes instead of improving the business ecosystem. These “favorable microclimates” are generally not enough to stimulate sustained productive transformation processes. Even worse, these types of policies generate incentives that distort business growth, because the advantages expire when the company reaches a certain size. It behooves entrepreneurs to keep their businesses small-scale in order to continue receiving state subsidies.

What is to be done? The approach that this type of policy takes needs to be rethought. We should move from SME policies to productive transformation policies and developing clusters or value chains. These policies must go hand in hand, naturally, with job market policies to reduce the scarcity of decent jobs in the MSE sector. Using this approach, an entrepreneurial ecosystem must be fostered, one that eliminates barriers to growth for medium-sized companies and stimulates collaborative processes for continuous improvement in productivity, in collaboration and in internationalization between companies of all sizes, boosting the productive framework’s economic diversity, in order to be able to compete successfully in international markets.

To enforce this new productive policy approach effectively, it is indispensable to rethink the nature of public institutions. We need a new model of state management that is capable of taking on risk, under appropriate conditions of transparency and accountability, and of operating flexibly and innovating through close public/public sector and public/private sector cooperation. The agencies promoting innovation, productive development and support for clusters that operate in territories such as Chile, Ireland and the Spanish Basque Country, are examples of good practice in this field.

7. What do you think is stopping the gender gap from shrinking in the labor market in Latin America?

We should start by acknowledging that progress has been made. Women’s rate of participation in the labor market has increased steadily, crossing the frontier of 50% in 2016. Improvements in girls’ access to education and increased female participation in higher education are behind this significant advance. However, men’s rate of participation continues to be 25% higher than women’s, and women’s rate of unemployment is higher than men, standing at 10.4% in 2016. Informality hits women harder; women are concentrated in the low productivity sectors. Furthermore, the wage gap is 15%, despite a reduction in the last decade. These are the average figures for the region as a whole.

Why do these gaps persist? There are several factors in play. An ILO survey conducted in conjunction with Gallup in 2016 across 142 countries tried to identify the hurdles for women joining the job market under the same conditions as men. In Latin America, except in Brazil, the work/life balance –including the existence of affordable care services— was identified as the most important problem. Insufficient public investment in comprehensive care policies means that caring for dependents continues to be primarily a household responsibility, and men’s lack of involvement means that this burden falls on women. The combination of both factors has turned this issue into one of the greatest restrictions facing women who want to join the job market and, once they are working, to developing a professional career in similar conditions to men. Therefore, to move forward towards equality, the concept of shared responsibility in care needs to be taught, and care infrastructure developed.

Another reason for the gaps is the persistence of gender stereotypes, which continue to confine women to a very small number of occupations, many of them linked to the roles that they have traditionally performed at home. This segregation is partly the consequence of segregation in the classroom, which can be seen in the lower participation of women in the STEM disciplines -Science, Technology, Engineering and Math- and in the more technology-based areas in general, both at university and in vocational work training. Incorporating specific measures into educational policies in order to attract more women into these areas is critical. But, what is more, and above all in the era of technology revolutions and industry 4.0, these policies must be coordinated with productive development policies to ensure that the most dynamic sectors in that country’s development also introduce measures to attract and retain these women.

Violence and high crime rates are also a major obstacle to reaching equality. Criminality in townships and cities limits women’s freedom of movement. Furthermore, domestic violence has a terrible impact on their lives, including in many cases the loss of their jobs, and with it their financial independence, which makes it more difficult to escape this vicious circle. Violence in the workplace limits their possibilities of growing professionally, reduces their performance and can also lead to their losing their jobs.

The ILO is in the process of putting together regulations on violence and harassment in the workplace, which will be debated at the International Labor Conference this year and in 2020. Achieving violence-free workplaces is another key goal in the path towards equality.

The wage gap is an important indicator that distills all these inequality factors, and has been addressed in the Agenda 2030, in SDG 8 on decent jobs and economic growth, specifically target 8.5. The wage gap in the region, as I mentioned above, was 15% in 2016, 6% less than a decade earlier. To tackle it, at the beginning of the year the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) had its regional launch in Panama, led by the ILO, UN Women and the OECD, the goal of which is to work towards achieving target 8.5.

These 4 issues (social co-responsibility of care, the struggle against violence and discrimination, fighting gender stereotypes, and wage equality) are viewed by the ILO as the key causes that need to be tackled to make faster progress towards gender equality, That is why these are the priority issues in “Women at Work”, one of the organization’s 7 Centenary initiatives.  

8. You wrote the foreword to the ILO’s “2017 Labour Overview” report, published last December. What data would you highlight in the changes in the job market in 2017 and what can we expect in 2018?

In comparison with 2016, when the labor outlook worsened according to practically every indicator, 2017 was a year of mixed performance, with light and shade, some signs of improvement and others of deterioration in the regional and sub-regional averages, together with highly heterogeneous rates of performance by nations and sub-regions. In the context of these mixed results, growth in 2017 recovered to 1.2%, after slowing down for 4 years and shrinking for two.

The first figure I would highlight is that, despite the economic recovery of 1.2%, in 2017 the average regional rate of unemployment increased for the third year in a row, from 7.9% in 2016 to 8.4% at the end of 2017. This equates to 26.4 million unemployed people in the region, two million more than in 2016.

Brazil has a major influence on regional averages, as the biggest economy, and where around 40% of the region’s economically active population lives. When Brazil is stripped out of the figures, the average unemployment rate in the remaining countries in the region changed for the better, falling from 6.1% to 5.8%, according to year-on-year figures available to the end of the third quarter.

The picture is similar with the youth unemployment rate, which rose in 2017 for the region as a whole, but went down if Brazil is taken out of the figures. The rate for the entire region increased from 18.9% in 2016 to 19.5% in 2017. That is, for the first time in a decade, one in every five young people looking for a job is not finding one.

I would like to add something. The fact that economic growth in the region recovered to 1.2% in 2017, and is estimated at 2% in 2018, has been widely hailed as good news. But we should put it into perspective. The fact is that this “new normal” is not the level of growth the economics and societies in the region need. Growth rates of 1.2% and 2% do not provide the “escape velocity” needed to get poor populations out of their situations of poverty. Nor are they enough to meet the demands and expectations of the middle classes in terms of quality services and quality employment. And they are not enough to make a resounding difference to informality and the quality of employment.

Furthermore, 1.2% of economic growth in 2017 is a third of the world’s economic growth rate in the same year (3.6%) and less than a fifth of Asia’s growth rate (6.5%). In other words, we are lagging when compared with the dynamism of the global economy and of specific regions.

And we should not forget that this uptick in growth can be attributed to a large extent to a more favorable external environment, not to our own efforts to kindle new sources of sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth.

So, to move towards a future with better jobs, and to have truly transformational impacts on social indicators and labor markets, countries need to grow by at least 5% or 6% a year. This obliges us to face the low productivity challenge and the lack of productive development and diversification. That is the only way we can escape from the middle-income trap.  

9. On a certain occasion you said that there is a major interaction between the situation of labor markets and employment and that of social cohesion and democratic governability. How do you view this relationship?

I do believe that, yes, we have to start from the premise that labor markets can transmit and reproduce inequality and injustice, and thus can be corrosive to social cohesion. Or else they can work as powerful engines of social mobility, of income growth and rising living standards, and thus make a contribution to social cohesion.

So, what kind of labor markets do we have at the moment in Latin America?

  • Of a labor force of just over 260 million people, we have more than 26 million unemployed in 2017, a rate of 8.4%, the highest in a decade.
  • We have 135 million people working in the informal sector, 47% of the total labor force, most of whom cannot access healthcare, or a pension in their old age.
  • 30% of the population is under the poverty line.
  • 28% of all employment is self-employment, most of which is low grade.
  • Average youth unemployment is 19.5%, that is, one in every five young people of working age. That represents 10 million young people looking for jobs who cannot find one. More than one in every two young people who work do so in informal conditions. And there are more than 20 million young people who neither study nor work (NEETs).
  • We also suffer from persistent gender and race gaps and discrimination. For example, in practically all social, labor and income indicators, the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous populations are wide. Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the numbers of people who are victims of discrimination, child labor and forced labor. It is a clear and consistent pattern of exclusion from society and from productive systems.

Thus, in terms of the aspiration in the Agenda 2030 that no-one be left behind, it is very clear that in the region’s job markets and in the 21st century, many are being left behind. This state of affairs is linked to the high level of latent unrest in our societies, to the resentments and angers rooted in a primal sense of injustice, and the lack of a sensation that we are all in the same boat. That is, there is a link between the performance of labor markets and democratic governance.

There is one group that is particularly important in the political dynamics of all middle-income countries, and that is the middle class. When there are perceptions among the middle classes that they are falling behind, or that they are not making progress in line with their expectations; or that the quality services that the state should be providing are not of sufficiently high quality, and that they are obliged to take recourse to expensive private services… all this leads the middle classes to react with impatience and anger, and to mobilize on social media and in the streets to express that dissatisfaction and their demands.

These realities and perceptions are central for the functioning of social pacts, social cohesion, trust in the institutions and, naturally, in elections and their results.

10. What book have you read recently that has had an impact on you, that you found important or that you would like to recommend to our readers? Why?

I would choose Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, that makes the argument for why reason, science, humanism and progress are such important ideas and why, if we are to continue along the path of progress, humanity must strive to be led by these ideas and ideals, and not by tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization or magical thinking.

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