By Gustavo Rodriguez Garro - Student of International Relations

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Polish-American diplomat and scholar, once said “A great deal of world politics is a fundamental struggle, but it is also a struggle that has to be waged intelligently.” The Theories of International Relations (IR), such as Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism, help us answer that call by logically understanding the world around us through multiple dimensions (i.e. political, cultural, economic, social). They aid us in promoting trade policies between nations, provide people with opportunities, and encourage nations to collaborate on global issues and elevation of human culture. For instance, Realism states that a nation’s principal interest is self-preservation by persistently gaining power over other nations. Liberalism focuses on international cooperation to advance each nation’s interests, while Constructivism emphasizes a nation’s value system to bring about its foreign policy efforts. A combination of these theories can help analyze the Latin American experience on crucial problems such as wealth inequality (Filgueira, 2008; Kacowicz, 2018).

In terms of economic development, IR theories let us analyze the disparities of wealth distribution across Latin American states. The gold standard for calculating wealth inequality among nations is a measure called the Gini coefficient used by the World bank, the CIA, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This number ranges from 0 to 1, 0 meaning perfect equality and 1 represents perfect inequality. For Latin America, as of 2018, Gini values for El Salvador (0.38), Uruguay (0.39) and Argentina (0.41) reflects higher equality than Brazil (0.53), Colombia (0.50) and Panama (0.49) (World Bank, 2018). A liberal perspective might suggest collaboration between the United States government, the international financial institutions and the multinational corporations in the region can give insights to overcome these disparities.

Moreover, IR theories also allow us to address the domestic and regional effects of globalization. The majority of the Latin American population, the poor, has not benefited from growth or economic development. Constructivism theory, for example, helps us examine the role of poor tax systems and unemployment which limit government investment in public services. Cultural aspects like sex, gender, education and social standing should be considered too. In terms of regional wealth inequality, Realism can aid us in understanding how peace stability among Latin American countries can coexist with internal unrest, driven by inequality. Liberalism can also address ways to strengthen states through mutual cooperation “so they can be more effective in providing solutions to cope with poverty and inequality” (Kacowicz, 2018).

To sum up, poverty and inequality remain major socio-economic struggles in the Latin American region. They have led in part to social unrest and crime, waves of migration, political instability, the rise of populist governments, and the reluctance of international investors to invest in these societies. IR theories can also inform the identification of factors involved in re-creating a Latin American-specific process of economic development targeting a gradual elimination of poverty and a reduction of inequality. Encouragement of entrepreneurship, innovation efforts, public investment and active participation in the globalized economy should be taken into account as well. This process can ultimately offer contributions to the general discipline of international relations.


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  • Filgueira, F. (2008). El Desarrollo Maniatado en América Latina: Estados Superficiales y Desigualdades Profundas.
  • Kacowicz, A. (2018). Learning about the World (Order) from the Latin American experience (and vice versa).
  • World Bank (2018). Gini index (World Bank Estimate).