South-North Policy Learning in the Case of Pension Reforms

Kristin Makszin and I have a contribution to a special issue on Policy Innovation and South-North Policy Learning. The special issue deals with still underappreciated forms of policy diffusion and learning from the Global South to the Global North and the enormous potential for policy innovation in countries of the Global South.

Our contribution looks as a famous case: pension privatizations inspired by the Chilean pension reform 1980/1. Given the fact that Chile was a kind of pariah in the eyes of many Western politicians, direct learning from the Chilean pension reform was handicapped. Because of this the translation of the Chilean model became repackaged, i.e. transformed in such a way that made it more palpatable as a recipe for other countries, also in the industrialized world.

For instance, while it is obvious that Thatcher maintained a close connection to Pinochet’s Chile, direct references to the Chilean model were muted. Similarly, the World Bank only reported certain aspects of the model, and downplayed others. Just as an example: The famous World Bank report “Averting the Old-Age Crisis” created a leitmotif of multi-pillar pension systems, i.e. a system with several different systems of old-age protection complementing each other. Ironically though, the main inspiration came from the Chilean pension reform (see figure), which effectively introduced a mono-pillar system (with some exceptions). This is just one instance of the larger issue how policy learning becomes distorted – sometimes with dramatic consequences. We discuss the types of repackaging of policy learning in our contribution as well as their larger implications.


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